I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

Refer to older posts…

Blogging services

HCI chat


It shouldn’t need saying, but it must make sense!

Ahh the irony of people giving advice without the skills!

Collage of photos showing a man's face looking confused

Good writing won’t leave your audience confused

Helping my daughter, I came across an article giving tips on how to write an ‘extraordinary’ speech for school, but much of it does not make sense. I’m really not sure how a student is meant to improve their speech writing via this article.

Examples like this show the value in having someone else reading your work to ensure it makes sense and meets basic grammar rules. The more skilled the person checking it, the better feedback you will obviously get, but even a less skilled person could point out any confusions.

So lets look at parts of that article and see how it could have been less confusing…


Article text: …appreciated by your teachers, individual understudies…

My comment: do student usually have understudies listening to a speech? I assume they mean ‘fellow students’ or simply ‘classmates’.

meaning of relief

Article text: …write the same data in each of the paragraphs that are the relief of this subheading.

My comment: Apart from being boring to read if they actually use the same data in every paragraph, I think the article writer needs to learn that relief means to ease or alleviate stress, pain, discomfort and so on. It is unlikely that a subheading feels anything that needs relieving – although I felt relief to stop reading this article!


Article text: If your subheadings and speech are moving farewell then they can make the Audience bored, otherwise, your speech will be very good.

My comment: I don’t know what this sentence is meant to say! “If your content is moving forward” is what I first thought it should be, but that doesn’t work with making the audience bored. Maybe farewell should be replaced with slowly?

A much smaller issue is the capital A for audience as it is totally unnecessary and visually stood out to me as wrong.

becoming insensitive

Article text: The first lines … are to speak at certain points so that … everyone becomes insensitive and attracts all the speech. Your first lines are the first impression on your audience.

Comment: This implies that the aim of a school speech is to make people insensitive which is a pretty strange aim – again, a use of vocabulary that is not understood causes big problems in writing. If you aren’t sure of a word, use one you do know – big words are not impressive if used poorly.

As for “attracts all the speech”, I think this means “engages the audience quickly so they listen to all the speech”.

avoid disturbance!

Article text: Between the teachers day speech looking at the Audience is not to be disturbed and you have to control your emotions and to point with your hands so that Audiences are attracted and keep their voice down and down.

Comment so it makes sense: oh my goodness, where do I start with this paragraph?

  • using ‘between’ requires two end points (between 5 and 6, between the start and finish, between the speaker and audience) – clearly this sentence does not have that
  • ‘looking is not to be disturbed’ would be simpler and more relatable as ‘maintain eye contact’ or ‘look at your audience’. Disturbed also implies external distraction and that is pretty hard to prevent whilst writing a speech!
  • ‘control your emotions’ makes sense but I disagree with it – no emotion in a speech makes it bland and less likely to be listened to
  • ‘point with your hands’ is out of context and would not help a student learn – what do they point out? how much pointing should they do? does lots of hand pointing really work with controlled emotions? what has pointing hands got to do with writing a speech (the purpose of the article)?
  • ‘audiences are attracted’ – again, vocabulary has let the writer down again. Attentive would be a much better word here
  • ‘keep their voices down and down’ – personally, I’d prefer my audience to be silent and attentive rather than just talking in low voices

what can you do?

Well, the above hopefully gave you a giggle at some poorly worded tips! And hopefully reminded you of the importance to checking that your work makes sense and reads as you intend.

The key lessons from this article are


How to get writing, no matter what

Finding it hard to write on demand, struggling with ‘writer’s block’ or doubting your ability to get something written?

Staring not writing on laptop

Do you have the time to waste on not writing?

Long ago I decided I didn’t have the luxury of ‘writer’s block’ and I can write on demand rather than waiting for inspiration or the right mood. There are certainly times when I really don’t feel like it, but I have found ways to keep writing anyway.

Some people will say writing when you don’t feel like it means your writing isn’t as good. That maybe true for creative writing (although many novelists would disagree) but if you write professionally you have to meet deadlines for clients whether or not the whim takes you.

Tips for overcoming writer’s block – or writer’s hesitation

Here are some useful techniques, some are well known and some have been really valuable for me over the last nine or so years.

If you have any great tips on how you overcome writer’s block, please share your ideas in the comments section below.

  1. just write. It doesn’t matter what you write – just sit at a keyboard or with pen in hand and write for five minutes without stopping. It gets ideas flowing and sometimes gets doubts out of your head. You may find you are ‘in the mood’ well before your five minutes is up…
  2. forget the start. If you’re sitting in front of a blank page not knowing how to introduce a document, or what title to give it, start writing the middle of it. For an article, write the middle and come back to the introduction and title; for a longer document, choose any chapter but the first and write that. Apart from getting you started, an intro or title often needs revising once the rest is written anyway so leaving it to last makes a lot of sense
  3. if you know broadly what has to be written, write out all your headings and sub-headings for the document. It’s much easier then to just fill in the text between headings in whatever order you feel like
  4. give yourself permission to just write – don’t worry about typing perfectly, getting spelling and grammar right, or having the perfect word in every instance. Get your first draft written and your project is underway – much better to have it all written and spend time proof reading than to have only a paragraph or two written in the same time.
  5. know yourself so you can set up the best conditions for writing. It may be first thing in the morning, after doing some exercise, with music playing or in silence, at a keyboard on a desk, or any combination of circumstances but use your environment to encourage your writing
  6. like that proverbial elephant, don’t expect to tackle a big project in one go. Set yourself small targets – yes it can be ‘have the first draft finished by Thursday’ but it can also be goals like ‘write for 20 minutes then check emails’ as doing something hard or unpleasant is easier to face for a short time
  7. build habits – if you sit at your computer to write at 10 o’clock every day, your mind will expect that and be ready to write

When it comes down to it, the only solution is DO IT!

I find that if I don’t feel like it but start typing I get into it and can write the document easily – and often finish it ready for another! If none of the above helps get you writing, your other option is to ask someone else to write the document or web content for you.

Making legalese clear

Converting legalese into Plain English which is easier to understand, while keeping the legal message, is possible and doesn’t have to be that hard, either.

With the overall aim being to make the content shorter and to use simpler words, you can greatly improve a piece of legalese writing into something more readable.

Try swapping the phrases and words next time you are writing or editing any legal-based statements to see what a difference they make.

in respect of                                 about

due to                                             because

wherefore                                      why (or what)

herein                                             in (or within)

in the event                                   if

defaults in the payment             doesn’t pay

vendor                                             buyer or customer

three (3)                                         three

at this time                                     now

for the purpose of                         for (or to)

in order to                                      to

in point of fact                              in fact {or nothing is probably the best option!}

is required to                                 must

inasmuch as                                  because (or since)

making a determination             determining (or better, try ‘deciding’)

subsequent to the use of              after using

whether or not                               whether

with reference to                            regarding (or ‘about’ for real simplicity)

commence                                        start (or begin)

utilise                                                use

in light of the fact that                 because ( or the really short option ‘as’)

And remember that ‘include’ means ‘here is part of the full list’ so there is no reason to write ‘including but not limited to …’

Are there particular words or phrases in legalese (or other hard to read dialects) that stand out for you? What words would you use in stead, or do you need some suggestions of alternatives?

Twenty starts

When writing numbers at the beginning of a sentence, always write the words out in full.

So, “Twenty sailors were on deck at the time” is correct.

Within a sentence, numbers can be written in words – “There were twenty sailors on deck” – or in numerals – “There were 20 sailors on deck.”

There are different styles, so the use of words or figures in text can vary. If in doubt, the most common rule is that single digits (one, two, three, etc) are written in words and the number 10 and greater are written in figures.

“Of the 18 children in class, only five were in yellow house.”

Importance of words

I have been reading an old newsletter and came across a message I thought I’d share with you – words are important to humans.

Think about the impact of the words you choose and use.

Think about what words have done to/for our world:

  • started wars
  • made people cry (or worse)
  • made people laugh
  • started deep emotional relationships
  • ended people’s lives
  • made people rich
  • given a lot of pleasure (doubt that? Think of your favourite book…)

Think of the impact of words on the careers of

  • ACDC, Midnight Oil, Silver Chair, Michael Jackson and Cold Play – would their music be as popular without their lyrics?
  • Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Kate Winslet, Cameron Dias and Bud Tingwell – how good would their movies had been without a script or with a mediocre script?
  • Kevin Rudd, Barack Obama, Julia Gillard, John Howard, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi – a speechless politician wouldn’t get very far
  • your favourite school teacher, sports coach and music teacher all needed words to make a career and help you

So remember the importance of words, and using the right words, when planning your business and your marketing. Don’t be fooled – the words you choose in your promotions and materials will impact on your success – or not.

Words are important so

  • choose appropriate words
  • proof read to be sure your spelling and grammar support your choice of words
  • check how words are perceived, not just what they mean (as a drastic example, the word gay means happy and cheerful but many people perceive it differently now)
  • use as few words as necessary to get the message across – think of words as important and limited

Use your words wisely!

Keep your emails out of junk folders…

note: we're sick of spamLast week, I wrote about reducing the amount of spam you receive in your inbox. The other side of the issue is having your legitimate emails being caught by a spam filter and not reaching the recipient.

isp providers and email programs both use rules to sort out real emails from spam – that’s how some emails never reach you and others go into your junk folder instead of your inbox. That’s great for keeping your inbox clear, but not so good when your emails aren’t arriving…

I spoke this morning at a seminar for the Yarra Ranges council and mentioned how certain words can get your email classed as spam even if you use those words in an innocent way. Many mass email tools can review your emails and tell you which words may cause a problem, which is handy. Alternatively, you can find lists of such words online (some examples are here  and here.)

For words that are in the spam rules, you have a few choices:

  • use the word where necessary  as some words are just too hard to avoid – for example if you sell fishing rods it is very hard to avoid writing ‘fishing’ (yes, fishing is a word to avoid!) If you only use one or two words and otherwise pass the spam tests, your email has a fair chance of getting through
  • find an alternative word to use. For example, use ‘go to’ instead of ‘visit’ or ‘click here’
  • write the sentence differently – to stay with our fishing example, we could write ‘we went to catch some fish’ to replace ‘we went fishing’
  • break the word with symbol (this is why you see ‘V.isit us for a f.ree valu.ation’ and the like.) This divides trigger words into two part words which spam filters don’t worry about, although some are also being added to rules. I hate the look of doing this but am coming to accept the necessity of it unfortunately.

Avoiding the use of such trigger words can help you get past spam filters, but these are not the only rules to be aware of. Spam assassin provides some tips for keeping your emails out of spam folders, as does Bob Thomson.

It’s reigning outside

Reign: period of leadership and power, especially for royalty.
During the reign of Henry VII, people mostly travelled on foot.

Rein: a tie to maintain control over another being
The horse rider kept tight hold of the rein in each hand.

Rain: water falling from clouds in the sky – a form of precipitation
The farmers are hoping for a lot of rain this month.

Have you recently resent that?

Sometimes, I really wonder how people learn English as a second language – it can be so tricky! For instance, the letters s and c can sound exactly the same but using the wrong one can totally change the meaning of a word, such as in recent and resent.

Recent: of a similar time to the present – not long ago or far into the future.
The recent rains have helped our water supply.

Resent: to send something again.
I resent the email after he said he hadn’t received it the first time.

If English isn’t your first language, do you find learning such words difficult?

You look ravishingly ravenous today

Today’s meanings are not words that sound alike (well, except for starting with rav!) but can be easily confused…

Ravaging: causing destruction, destroying something
The Vikings are known for ravaging many towns and villages.

Ravishing: taking by force; raping. It is more commonly used to mean ‘of great beauty and delight’ which derives from women of great beauty ‘raping’ men of their senses with their beauty!
Ravishing rich women was one of the old pirate’s delights.

Ravenous: very hungry {as hungry as a beast came from the devouring aspect of ravish.}
They were ravenous after their long hike.

Don’t get court…

The Victoria Police have a sign that is used by some shops that amuses me. It aims to reduce shoplifting and finishes “why risk getting court?” Obviously, it is a play on words and catches attention, which is what I like about it.

In case you are struggling with why this amuses me, here are the definitions of the words court and caught.

caught: the past tense of to catch
She caught the ball and won the game.

court:an institution that applies law and justice for society; a defined area, usually with markings, for the playing of a specific game.
Judges, lawyers and jurors come together in court.
A tennis net is strung across the court.

The legal system is there for us, as as games – you could say they are ours. So the word our is in our court…