Category “Writing and Editing Skills”

Do You Know Your Audience & Purpose?

Tuesday, 5 May, 2015

I know I’ve written about this topic before and probably talk about it just as much to anyone and everyone (students, friends, clients), but when I think about what is most important in communication, for me it always comes down to two central elements:

  • do you know who your audience is ?
  • are you clear on your main purpose?

Without in-depth knowledge of these two elements, you can’t formulate any form of coherent, well organized communication, nor can you succeed with that communication. To me, this applies in a business context as well as  a personal context.

3D Movie AudienceFirstly, you need to think carefully about your audience and conduct an audience analysis, whether in your head, on paper, in a mind map or scribble. You can do this in a very formal way, using demographics and psychographics, but a lot of it is common sense and putting yourself in that person’s shoes.

See if you can answer these types of questions:

  • what does my audience already know and not know about this issue?
  • what does she expect from me in terms of tone, formality, language?
  • what are her information preferences (e.g. does she prefer a phone call to an email?)
  • what are her biases? likes and dislikes?

The more you can pin down exactly who you’re communicating with and what they need and like, the easier your job will be. Sometimes, though, we have no clue who our audience is. In that case, do the best you can with making an educated guess based on the person’s job title (and don’t forget that a sometimes a simple Googling or a quick look on LinkedIn can yield a lot of information).

Once you have some clarity on who your message is for, you then need assess the point of your message. Ask yourself:

  • what is the main idea I need to get across to my reader? what do I need her to know/do/think?
  • what type of detail supports that main idea? what doesn’t?
  • will it make sense to the reader as is or do I need to include more background?
  • will anything change if I send this message?
  • is there a specific action I need her to complete?
  • is the timing right?
  • what can I take out to keep the message concise but clear?

When you can start to make a habit of this type of process, I can guarantee you’ll find that it makes creating the message so much easier, and you are more likely to get the response you want because you’ve anticipated objections or questions. You’ve also packaged the message in a way that takes your audience into account in all aspects (from information to organization to language and tone).

When you have absolute clarity on what you’re trying to achieve, your audience will too.

(and you’ll be surprised how often it can get you out of doing the dishes 😉 )

Geraldine

 

 

Confession: I am a writer

Friday, 8 August, 2014

Here’s my big, dark secret: I am a writer. There. I confessed.

Writing and ReadingIt’s funny how often I don’t tell people this when they ask what I do. I say things like “Oh, I teach business communication and technical writing, and I run a copywriting and editing business.” And yes, it’s not like I’m claiming I’m an astronaut or elephant wrangler… or an axe murderer. It’s  pretty much the same thing, but I never straight up say I WRITE. I am a writer. I hide behind “instructor” or “entrepreneur”. I never make the shameful, out-loud proclamation that I am actually a writer of (fledgling) novels and poetry (published), along with websites and brochures and pretty much anything you need words for. It’s like I’m ashamed to say it out loud because isn’t everyone writing  a novel? Don’t only angsty 16 year olds and angsty 16th century people write poetry?

In my heart and soul, I am writer and a teacher. It doesn’t matter what I teach or what I write, this is who I am and what I am. I love words. I love their music. I love their ability to sting (not when aimed at me though, of course). I love that they can make one smile, laugh, cry, fume… Words! Black scrawls on a white page. Sticks tracing in the dirt. Finger paint on a cave wall. WORDS. I don’t know what drives me to write. I don’t write enough. I sometimes write too much. Often I write crap. But when I look at when I’m really, truly happy, writing is a big part of that.

I recently wrote about the anxiety of writing and did in a less direct way confess that I’m writing stories, but I’ve realised I need to be far bolder. I changed my LinkedIn profile description to Writer.  I’ve done the same on Twitter. I’ve also started talking about my writing plans more. And I’ve actually started doing more writing. I am currently working on three things: a manual for my web writing class (this is more academic but no less interesting; just a little easier in a lot of ways because it’s not quite the same as creative writing), a children’s story, and a full novel. I don’t want to share the plots of the latter two, mainly because I’m not entirely sure where they’re heading, and I’m still shy about it, but I AM at least telling people more. I’ve also started making time for these projects (not as much as I’d like, but still, it’s better than nothing) and have deliberately lightened my teaching and project load to do so. Writing a novel

I’ve realised that a lot of it boils down to anxiety. What does it mean if I really put myself out there and do something I feel I was born to do? And then – GASP – I fail? or (even worse?) succeed? The horror! But if not now, then when? My soul needs the nourishment. Creativity is just a part of who I am, and I’m starting to be okay with that…

Speaking of creativity, something else I’m really enjoying that is helping my creative juices is a drawing class. It’s been a wonderful way to do more drawing, but I find it also sparks my imagination and is helping me think more about my writing work. Of course I’m also working on client projects and trying to blog more (failing miserably but hey, this is better than nothing)… so it’s words, words, words but also shapes and light and shadow – helping me think more about my ideas, looking at the world in different ways, as well as working on positive habit building.

So, yes, I am a writer. And I’m okay with that.

Less is Definitely More When Writing Web Content

Tuesday, 10 June, 2014

Man surrounded by paperwork

I wrote the following post on the new LinkedIn publishing tool, and I know I’ve written similar topics before, but I thought it was worth reproducing here:

The architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously stated that “less is more” when it comes to good design. The same applies to many things in life such as asking for favours, applying make up, McDonald’s, and above all, web content.

The challenge all web writers have is not only how to write engaging content but also how to keep visitors on a website long enough to actually read that content so they’ll do what you want them to do (e.g. buy your product, hire your company, etc.). One of the recommended rules of writing is that you should take what you’ve written, halve it, and then halve it again – leaving you with the core of the message.

It’s definitely something I’ve found hard, as a lover of words and coming from an academic background, but there is a certain satisfaction in knowing you’ve picked the most precise language, used one word instead of five (what’s wrong with using “because” instead of “due to the fact that”?), and kept it simple but eloquent.

So when you’re considering writing web content, remember the following tips:

  • lists and headings/sub-headings can often replace a chunk of text (but make these count – engage the reader and focus on your main ideas and calls to action)
  • images really can be worth 1000 words
  • paragraphs should be short and start or end with the main idea (think about how seldom we read everything on the page)
  • nouns and verbs should be concrete and precise
  • language should be easy to understand, concise, and conversational
  • meaning should be very clear – don’t make the reader search for key information (hint: they won’t!)
  • links and sub-pages can divide up long chunks of text and add value for the reader (remember we don’t read web content in a linear way like a book)

So, focus on what you want the reader to do on your page, help them navigate the information and the website as a whole with logical ideas and design, and make sure that whatever content you include answers all the reader’s potential questions.

Finally, Van der Rohe also said “God is in the details,” so don’t forget to do a thorough proofread, spell check, and fact check before you publish. Heaven forbid you include an incorrect phone number or broken link.

PS – If this sounds like your worst nightmare, despite my tips, then why not hire me to do it for you?

The Anxiety of Writing

Tuesday, 20 May, 2014

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: 

“Fool!” said my muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”

 – Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella

It’s a strange thing that to writers, writing can be utterly terrifying. One would assume that given this is the person’s chosen profession, he or she would be happy to write! begging to write! willing, able, and eager to write!  but sometimes that really isn’t the case. In fact. sometimes it feels like utter madness choosing to do this for a career. In any creative profession, it’s very hard to go “Okay, 1-2-3, create!” but at the same time, there is no right time to create – one has to be diligent and disciplined and actually create a writing habit.

There are books, courses, quotes, blog posts, dedicated to creating a writing habit. And yet it is all still easier said than done. I have been trying to make time for my own writing, something I’ve promised myself I will concentrate more on this summer in particular as I have a lighter teaching load near the end of the term and yet the thought of it (doing something I love and that brings me immense satisfaction) completely paralyses me.

Isn’t it funny? Writing is what I feel compelled to do with my life (in fact, I started Meerkat in order to be able to do it as part of my career). Writing is what I dream about. Perhaps it’s that I fear really, really putting it all out there and confessing that I’m working on a novel. Then  a) I’ll actually have to do it b) people will want to know what it’s about and actually want to read it (gasp!) and c) I’ll actually have to do it!

I’m trying to combine some ideas from Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Gilbert (check out some of her thoughts on writing)- though I have a suspicion I’m stalling on Idea 1 to avoid Idea 2. Rubin suggests de-cluttering to aid in happiness and productivity, and my office is a total disaster. It doesn’t help that it’s also our music room (this includes an antique organ, guitars, and amps) or that as the term goes on, I end up with piles of extra handouts, papers, etc. from teaching, or that I really need a new desk… At the same time, it’s not as if I have to write in my office or that I have to have a pristine space in which to write (though it certainly helps, I do often do my best work while at a coffee shop/some public sphere – I’m writing this as my students write their midterm). Gilbert suggests setting a timer and writing for 30 minutes; making manageable blocks of time and getting things done. Whenever, wherever. Again, this would mean I actually have to do it!

Baby steps, baby steps. At least I’ve taken some time to update my blogs. Next step, more tidying, but also MORE DISCIPLINE, LESS FEAR!

“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.”  – Lilia St. Crow

Plain Language and Clear Communication

Friday, 18 October, 2013

Last week I had the fortune to attend the Plain Language Conference (PLAIN2013) that was held here in Vancouver. I have to admit that I had never heard of the plain language movement, but after this great event, I certainly do now.

I met a lot of very interesting people from different backgrounds, including one of the plenary speakers, the highly entertaining and informative Dr Neil James who is the Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation based in Australia. In essence, the conference was an opportunity to meet and hear from plain language advocates. So just what is plain language?

Plain language is also often referred to as clear communication, and as these names imply, focus is on trying to craft easy-to-read and consume documents. The following is a slide from Dr. James’ presentation and it explains it in more depth:

Definition of Clear Communication

 

 

What was enlightening (and reassuring) about all the talks I attended is that I realised that this is what I am trying to teach my students and also trying to apply to the work I do for my clients. I just didn’t know it had a support group.

Although there was a volume of information, all the talks I went to taught me something new, and I came back inspired and more confident in what I do. I especially enjoyed a talk by Rachel McAlpine, an author, teacher, trainer, and generally all round fabulous person. She spoke about her experiences as a writer, trying to bridge the gap of what she calls “joy writing” with “work writing” and how one can feed the other. It was a good reminder of needing to slow down, feed one’s passions, and not let the ‘everyday’ get one down. Good life lessons.

Some of the ideas and information I absorbed included information on  rethinking how people read (getting rid of this polarization of good and bad readers and adding an intermediate level), needing to accommodate mobile users, and being aware of the stories of those around us.

I came back brimming with ideas and inspiration, a ton of excellent resources, a great sense of reassurance that I know what I’m doing, and  some new friends to top it off.

For more inspiration about plain language, you should check out this TED talk by Sandra Fisher-Martins, titled “The Right to Understand” and you can also access speaker videos, presentations etc, from the PLAIN2013 website.

Geraldine

 

 

 

Using Operators to Determine Keyword Popularity

Tuesday, 6 August, 2013

An alternative or perhaps companion to keyword research tools, operators can help you identify the popularity of certain keywords and keyword phrases when you are optimizing a site. Although very limited in the level of information you receive, I find them a quick way to check for popularity, as you simply type in a word before your search term/keyword phrase into Google and hit ‘search’ to get your results.

There are three main types of operators you can use:

1) Allintitle This operator tells you how many web pages globally have the same keywords listed in their title tags.

E.g.  “Allintitle: thai restaurants” is typed into the search field. The SERP then reports back that 744,000 web pages on the web contain both these words in their title tag.

Using Operators for Keyword Popularity

2) Intitle: This works the same way as Allintitle, but shows all web pages that list any of the keywords. So in the example above, if you used “intitle:” instead of “allintitle:” the SERP would reflect all websites that contained either the keyword “thai” OR the keyword “restaurants” in their title tags.

3) Allinanchor: This operator allows you to see how many links on the web are using the specific keywords.

If you’d like to know more about using keyword research tools for SEO, I recently wrote a post on the new Google Keyword Planner and how it differs from the Keyword Tool.