So you’re thinking of starting your own technical writing or content writing business?

Monday, December 3, 2018 14:25

I recently had the opportunity to talk about my STEM career path in two different spheres – one was an article on the BCIT website and another was at a recent BC Tech and Discovery Foundation Aspire to Tech workshop. These opportunities really got me thinking about what a journey it’s been and how much I’ve learned along the way (through definite trial and many an error), and I realised that there are lot of things I can share now that I had no clue about when I was starting out, and that may help you if you’re  just getting started in a career as a technical writer or content developer. Read on…

Tip #1: Think About What Sets You Apart

We all have something that can shape what we offer to our clients and our audience. Think about your background, your studies, what you excel at. If you’re a career changer, how can what you did before this change work to your advantage? I often have students in my Writing for the Web class (part of BCIT’s Technical Writing program) who have degrees and experience in other fields, so I encourage them to look at what subject matter expertise and transferable skills they have, along with their writing skills. For example, you may have worked in the finance or medical fields, so these would be excellent areas to look for clients in, because you’ll bring not just the writing talent, but the industry knowledge with you.

Tip #2: See What’s Already Out There

If you’re not sure what kinds of contracts are out there, what client you might suit, or specifically what skills you might need to take on clients, then do your research! Google Technical Writing jobs or Content Writer jobs (+ your area). Look at job descriptions, the type of companies and industries hiring, and get an idea of salaries to figure out what you should charge as a contractor/freelancer (you can also use PayScale to help you with this). You can get a sense of whether you need to take a course, brush up on a skill, etc. Also take a look at your competition. What are they doing well? What can you do differently or better? And see Tip #1 🙂 

Tip #3: Build a Portfolio and Self-Market

You may be working in a technical (or other kind of) workplace currently that needs better writing – for their website, their general documentation, marketing, etc. Offer to do some of this (but try to get it to be within your job, not as unpaid extra work on top it) so that you can build up portfolio pieces. Look for websites that may be looking for articles (just be sure you aren’t under valuing yourself, but doing some articles for free at the beginning can be good for building your online presence). Set up a blog and write, write, write!

Use all the free online marketing tools you can – namely LinkedIn and Twitter. These have great search engine rankings, so they will help get your name out there. LinkedIn also has a publishing tool, so you can write and contribute articles there (also don’t be afraid to use the same content across these – use Twitter to promote your blog posts or online articles; post your blog posts or articles on LinkedIn as posts on your profile – saves you time and drives readers to your writing). LinkedIn Jobs is also very useful for looking for clients, as you can often find contract work this way. There are also other sites like Upwork that allow you to find freelance jobs. 

If you can’t afford to set up your own website yet, then at the very least, put together a PDF of your services, with your contact information. This was a highly valuable piece of advice that a career coach and friend gave me. That way, you can email your PDF to potential clients without feeling embarrassed that you don’t have a website**. I also found that when I sat down to do this, it actually motivated me to set up my website, so I ended up not having to use the PDF and instead got my website done. 

** That said, get a website ASAP 🙂 (see Tip #5).

Tip #4: Volunteer (and Network)

I know that everyone always says that you need to network when you’re looking for a job, but I believe there are more creative ways to do it than just attending networking events. Try volunteering. You don’t have to give all your time up for this, but this is an excellent way to build relationships and, in so doing, build your networks. Talk to people. Tell them what you do and what you’re looking for. Print up a cheap business card with your name, LinkedIn URL (if you don’t have your own website), and your email and phone number. Attend events that include people that aren’t just your competition. My volunteer efforts helped me meet people who became or referred me to my first clients. I didn’t have the budget to join a formal networking group, and when I was starting out, something like a BNI group didn’t make sense, because I didn’t have a network to refer others to, but do what feels right and what makes sense for you. 

Tip #5: Do Trades

When you’re starting out running your own business, see who you know that you can do trades with for services (often referred to as “contras”). Make sure that you know the value of what you offer, and draw up a proper letter of agreement (you can find templates online). For example, a friend of mine who is a talented graphic designer created my business cards for me, and in return, I rewrote and reworked her resume. Another friend of mine generously helped with set up my website and designed my logo (and didn’t even ask for anything in return!). Think about what you need and what you can do in exchange. 

Tip #5: Build Partnerships

Something that was invaluable for me what I was starting out was to build a relationship with a graphic designer who ran her own business. It was a completely logical fit, as she was able to advertise “full service” offerings to her clients, and then sub-contract the writing work to me. This way, I built my client list and portfolio, earned money, and built a great relationship with a talented designer. It was win-win! 

Tip #6: Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do informational interviews. Get advice from experts like the fabulous folks at Small Business BC. Start following people who might be potential clients or partners on social media (but keep it professional). 

And finally…

Trust that you can do this! Keep learning, keep writing, and know that although it will take time to build up a client list (I didn’t want to believe it but it’s true what they say about it being about 5 years to build up a business), you will. Running your own technical writing business or content writing company can be incredibly rewarding – terrifying at times – but I can safely say that I love what I do. 

Brace Yourselves… CASL is Coming!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 12:13

Spam wallNoticed a lot of slightly desperate sounding emails popping up in your inbox recently asking if you still want to be friends a subscriber?  Well there’s a reason for that! On 1 July 2017,  Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) hits the deadline of its 3-year implementation plan that began in July 2014.

What is CASL? As the name suggests, it’s legislation put in place to reduce the amount of unwanted spam (wait, is any spam wanted?) we’re inundated with. Essentially it regulates commercial electronic messages (CEMs) sent to electronic addresses – including unsolicited emails, texts, and social media messages – and is an attempt to control the often hard-to-pin-down world of websites that capture and use your personal information.

It’s a blight on the scourge of unsolicited electronic messages. Yay!

CASL also, interestingly, prohibits and regulates the following:

  • the use of false or misleading representations online in the promotion of products or services (no false offers please!)
  • alteration of transmission data in an electronic message which results in the message being delivered to a different destination without express consent
  • installation of computer programs without the express consent of the owner of the computer system or its agent, such as an authorized employee
  • collection of personal information through accessing a computer system in violation of federal law
  • address harvesting, i.e. the collection of electronic addresses using computer programs or the use of these addresses without permission

Perhaps the complexity of all of this accounts for the 3-year roll out?

So, how does this affect you? 

Well, if you use electronic channels to promote or market your organisation, services, or products in, to, or from Canada, then you need to ensure that you’ve specifically asked for consent from those receiving your CEMs. Still not sure if this applies to you? The CASL website says it does if you answer “yes” to these three questions :

  1. Do you use email, SMS, social media or instant messaging to send commercial or promotional information about your organization to reach customers, prospects and other important audiences?
  2. Do you install software programs on people’s computers or mobile devices?
  3. Do you carry out these activities in or from Canada?

According to the Government of Canada, “Penalties for the most serious violations of the Act can go as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses.” So basically, if you engage in the activities listed above and don’t comply with CASL, then you’re in a world of trouble.

If you receive CEMs, then this is your opportunity to unsubscribe from those millions of newsletters that clog your inbox and to show your loyalty to those you still want to receive.

What are the current CASL challenges?

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after.” – Oscar Wilde

It seems like the slow roll out of this legislation (passed in Dec 2010, phase 1 July 2014, phase 2 Jan 2015, and now phase 3) has meant complacency on the part of a lot of companies and organisations, who are still lagging on getting consent to send CEMs. The fact that old email lists were grandfathered and that there has been a 3-year period to collect consent seems to have, according to Drive Digital, lead to laziness on the part of a lot of businesses to get up to CASL-speed.

Another challenge is that there are two types of consent outlined by CASL: express and implied. Implied consent (if I understand the legalese on the CRTC website correctly) relates to the period from July 2014 to the “expiry date” of 1 July 2017, i.e. you’ve had these 3 years to continue sending CEMs to those you’ve had an existing business or non-business relationship with. However, after 1 July 2017 (and this is why this upcoming deadline is so critical), you need to have express consent to continue to send CEMs to these same people. What does this mean? If someone has been on your mailing list since before July 2014, they have to have given their consent to receive your CEMs, otherwise you are in violation of CASL.

For example, if someone signed up for your e-newsletter in 2013, then that is express consent and you can keep mailing them after July 1 2017. If you added them to your mailing list in 2013 because, say, they were a client of yours, but they did not specifically give consent (but didn’t unsubscribe either), you cannot keep emailing them after July 1 2017 unless you’ve asked them for consent.

You can start to see why some businesses have procrastinated!

So what can/should you do to comply with CASL?

A big change a lot of companies and organizations will need to make is around the language they use around opting in and opting out of communications. It’s no longer acceptable for you to have an “opt out” option; instead, consent has to be given by the user by actively checking an “opt in” box. So, instead of the default being “I want to opt out”, it needs to be “I want to opt in”. It’s a subtle but potentially damaging (if you don’t comply) difference.

To make sure you’re CASL ready come July 1:

  • Make sure that you expressedly ask for consent (e.g. send out an email to all your e-newsletter contact lists asking if they want to keep receiving your newsletter)
  • Include an opt-in check box  that clearly and specifically asks if the person would like to receive information (e.g. promotions, newsletters, etc)
  • Ensure all pre-checked boxes are updated to be unchecked by default moving forward
  • Make that the name of your business/service/organisation is very clear on all correspondence (some organisations include their address, options for what types of messaging the user wants to receive, and as a best practice, a clear description of what form the correspondence will take)
  • Include a clear, obvious “unsubscribe” button

Basically, when in doubt, ask for consent, make it easy for people to unsubscribe, and ensure the option to say YES rather than NO is explicit.

And despite what Oscar Wilde said, don’t procrastinate; July 1 is just around the corner.

The Usefulness of Long-Form Content – for Sites and Readers

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 14:23

pencil and shavingsWhile I tend to focus on creating concise, focused web copy for my clients (for many reasons – reader attention spans, mobile phone use, effectiveness, “punch”, etc.), it’s important to also keep in mind that readers do actually also look for and enjoy long-form content. It has many benefits for site owners, including on the search engine ranking front, and can help you engage more with your specific audience. I think it can be argued that the more reliant we get on our devices, too, the more we use them for all types of reading – both long-form and short-form content.

So, What is Long-form Content?

Long-form content is usually defined as content longer than 2,000 words, so that might include white papers, research reports, or a long article (all of which I do write for clients as well). Yes, as online readers, we’re inundated with clickbait lists and ‘viral’ – what I’d hesitate to even classify as – articles. Much of what we see these days is designed to be shared or skimmed by a social media audience (think of the Facebook “news” section of trending topic “headlines”). However, a lot of readers are looking for depth and value, and longer articles do also get shared – actually quite a lot more than you might suppose. I firmly believe that well written, engaging content can be of any length – as long as you’ve thought about your audience and purpose. For example, I wouldn’t recommend long-form content for a Home page of a website, but it’d be a great for an in-depth case study.

How Does Long-Form Content Help Site Owners?

One of the reasons I advocate for a blog for many clients is that it allows you to show your audience that you are a source of knowledge and expertise on your particular service/product/industry. Long-form content can be an integral part of this same approach. It helps connect with readers and can actually increase your leads. As a recent article on Content Marketing states, “Users will not only stay on a page longer to read lengthier content, but also they’ll look at more pages than the average visitor. In addition, holding a reader’s attention for more than three minutes (as opposed to one minute) makes it over twice as likely that they’ll return to a website.” So the more engaged your readers are with your long-form content, the more likely they will actually come back to your website, which can lead to more business and a better bottom line.

One of the elements that counts when optimizing a site for Search Engines is fresh content, and it has been shown that Search Engines also like long-form content. This provides more opportunities to then include more keywords when optimizing a website, which then drives more leads. In simple terms, adding new, longer articles to your website can boost where you show up on search engine results pages. Given that most web users these days use search engines to find what they’re looking for online, you can see how this important and helpful this is!

What Should You Be Careful of with Long-Form Content?

As I mentioned, you do have to make sure you’re picking the right time and place for longer articles. The information still has to be well written and applicable to your audience, and it also has to fit into an overall marketing strategy. You can churn out content (or hire someone like me to do it for you), but if there is no strategy on how it will be used, where it’ll be shared, etc., then it won’t serve your purpose. You also have to be careful that you aren’t using “shovelware” (content that was created for a different medium that has been dumped online); long-form content still needs to be written and planned with web users and the medium of the web in mind.

Interested in finding out more about how long-form content can help your website and your business? Feel free to get in touch with me.




“So what do you actually do?”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 14:44

WriterIt’s funny (though sadly not surprising) how much we tend to define ourselves and be defined by our jobs and job titles. I find that to be true even more so in South Africa where I’m from, but also here in Canada. It’s often occurred to me that few people understand what I mean by copywriting, technical writing, or even business communication. In many ways this is a big plus. I can define my job without anyone make assumptions about what I can and can’t do. It does also mean, however, that I have to spend quite a bit of time clarifying what I can offer clients and justifying what I do with my day!

Friends and family often don’t ‘get it’ either, and although that can be annoying sometimes, it’s actually really useful too.  Having to explain what I do to others means I have to be very clear on what it all means to me. When I left full-time teaching to figure out what I wanted to do as my next career step, I had to think deeply about what my values and goals were and what’s important to me on the job, and so Meerkat Communications was born.

As I was muddling through the process of starting a business, I also knew I wanted some financial stability and more importantly, I didn’t want to stop teaching, so I had to figure out how to keep doing that at the same time.

So what do I actually do?


Because I love writing and had some experience  working as an online writer and editor, I decided to focus primarily on writing web content, as well as other forms of marketing writing. Although copywriting is traditionally a term for writing for advertising, as Wikipedia explains, it actually refers to any writing/content “conveyed through online media and print materials”. My focus is on writing the text you read on a website, a brochure, a rack card or any other marketing materials or content you might need. Because of my academic and research background, I’ve also worked on research reports and white papers, as well as other types of documents.

Whether it’s writing or editing, for me, the best part is about helping clients clarify their ideas, understand their audiences, and expand their businesses. It’s always super exciting to see a website or brochure or thesis take shape and to be able to reflect the client’s vision in the written form. As the Internet has changed and we’ve become so much more search engine focused, I’ve started to work more and more in Search Engine Optimization as well. After all, you can have amazing content, but if no one finds you, he or she can’t read it!

I’ve also been blogging for a looooong time, and as social media content has expanded, so has my work in that area. It’s an interesting challenge having to learn to express ideas in 140 characters without sacrificing quality, and I love setting up and managing social media campaigns too. To me, if you don’t have good content, then any social media strategy is a waste of time, so it’s about adding value for your followers through content marketing.

I mostly take on small to medium business clients, but have also worked for larger organisations and subcontract to other writers or graphic designers who want to offer a more full-service experience. I update websites, write newsletters, and am about to embark on hosting a podcast, too.


Since I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher. I was privileged to start in grad school at the University of Cape Town, and I was able to take that experience and get my full-time-turned-part-time teaching gig at BCIT, albeit in a slightly different field. I had to switch from English Lit and academic writing to Business and Technical Communication. So what does that mean?

Business and Technical communication focus on the essential skills needed to communicate in any job: using clear, concise language; correct formatting, and a reader-focused structure and tone (in short). Some of the courses I teach include grammar and language support for non-English speakers, but overall the focus is on learning to write and present business and technical information to all audiences. Technical Writing  or Technical Communication (as it is now being called) focuses specifically on more technical communication and document design. At BCIT, I teach a course that instructs students on how to write for the web.

I’m currently only teaching regular courses online, which has its pros and cons, but overall, I love the experience of working with students to improve their skills and teaching them something I know they’ll actually use on the job.

Corporate Training

What’s great about running your own business is being able to define your focus. Through my business, but also through BCIT’s corporate training department, I’m able to deliver workshops and courses to people already on the job but who need to improve or upgrade their communication skills. I love being able to talk to people about the challenges they face at work,and help them overcome these through better business and technical communication. I do short sessions, all day workshops, and full courses – all of these are rewarding, tiring, and exciting!

 So am I my job?

Above all, what I love about my job (jobs?) is the diversity. My days are never the same. There’s no 9-to-5 schedule, there’s no set tasks, and I have pretty flexible holidays too. It takes discipline and sometimes setting boundaries (when you work from home, you have to ensure the rest of the household understands you aren’t just farting around on the computer, but actually working!).

And yes, I would say that I do define myself as a teacher and writer, but above all, I believe in living a good, balanced life, doing what you love and encouraging others to do the same!


Do You Know Your Audience & Purpose?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 17:00

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 😉 )




The Art of Research and Critical Thinking

Saturday, August 30, 2014 23:32

Children's Dream LibraryI remember when I was studying, I had to battle many sneering remarks from Business Science students asking me what I’d do with my B.A. And then my Honours degree. And then my MA… I got all the ‘oh you’re getting a “Bugger All” degree’ and then the  ‘oh so now you’re the “Master of Bugger All”‘ type reactions, followed by the quizzical and somewhat sceptical  ‘so what can you actually do with that?’

When I started studying, I had a general idea of what I’d like to focus on (writing, teaching, English) but didn’t have a ‘career’ job in mind. And as I carried on studying, more and more what I realised was that I was learning some of the most important skills I would use in all aspects of my life: critical thinking and research skills. Literary analysis may seem pointless to many, but it teaches you to dig deeper, think wider, look at subtext and context, and examine your own reactions. It teaches you to think about the meaning of what the author is saying. It teaches you to love the complexity of language and increases your vocabulary. And while I was studying, I also learned how to do proper research and to really think about the information I found. It made me realise the importance of not just believing the first thing you come across, and it also taught me that there can be many interpretations and opinions, as well as theory to understand information.

Improving Your Research Skills

One of the first things to do when researching a topic is to consider the purpose for the research, as well as who it’s for. You can then start to narrow your research by creating a research question. So what exactly does that mean? A research question is a clear, focused, arguable question that you can centre your research around.  This allows you to

  • save time
  • focus your research and analysis
  • create the  main problem/issue that your thesis will resolve

Think about what makes the most sense in terms of your topic. For example, if you’re trying to find out how to reduce absenteeism due to repetitive stess injury in your workplace, your research question might be “how do we reduce RSIs in an office environment?” or “what equipment will help reduce RSIs?” Once you have your question, do some preliminary research (case studies, examples, terminology). Next, collect and consult a variety of sources (don’t just use Google – talk to people, go the library, etc.). Next, start reading your sources and take notes. Record your sources as you go. And then hypothesize. Where do you think your research will lead? What is your planned argument? What will you do if your research doesn’t support that planned argument?

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

When you’re gathering your sources, look at how reputable they are. If, for example, you’re researching a company, don’t just look at the company website, but try to find independent information about that company. Look for publication dates to see if the information is up to date. And when you’re looking at the sources, see if you can find clues as to what else to look for/what other sources to consult. Sometimes even the URL of a website can show you whether it’s a credible looking source or not. Then, as you go through the information you’ve gathered, look for coherent data to support your argument (or contradict it). If you have to put together written documentation to support your argument, then look for quality quotes you might be able to use. Take more notes. Research the authors. Keep asking questions. And don’t just look at the first page. Dig deeper. Then, take a step back, and try to see the bigger picture. What have you learned? What is still missing? And finally to quote Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

It may seem extremely elementary (pardon the pun), but if you’re going to be an effective researcher, you must  go beyond Google. Be curious. Think. Ask. Question. Reason. And follow your instincts. If it doesn’t seem right, it may not be. By having to write and research papers, I learned how to sift and how to select. I learned how to create well reasoned arguments and how to put together information. I think it’s also helped me read people better and has vastly contributed to my communication skills.  It made me a better writer, a better teacher, and, I hope, a better thinker.


Confession: I am a writer

Friday, August 8, 2014 19:38

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, June 10, 2014 11:55

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, May 20, 2014 19:49

“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

Christmas Collection for Downtown Eastside Women`s Centre

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 17:56

I know there are a lot of pleas this time of year, but I’m starting a collection of goodies for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre ìn Vancouver to bring a bit of Christmas joy and glam to the ladies and children who use the excellent services they offer.

I’m collecting the following items and would love your support:

  • Make up (including lipstick, lip gloss and chapsticks; nail polish; nail files)
  • Toiletries (deodorant, body spray, travel size shampoo and conditioners, moisturisers, hand creams, facial wipes, toothpaste and tooth brushes, floss etc.)
  • Sanitary pads/tampons/incontinence products (Tena/Poise)
  • Socks, mittens, underwear
  • Hair brushes & combs
  • Costume jewellery
  • Used women’s clothing (including footwear, raincoats)
  • Linens and towels
  • Umbrellas
  • Art and craft supplies
  • Reading glasses
  • Used DVDs
  • Flash drives/USB sticks

It would be great to collect things other than clothes as this is the most common donation.

I can collect from anywhere and hope to deliver these by the 20th December. I’m also accepting cash – I will go and buy supplies for the centre (any bit helps as many of these items can be bought at the Dollar Store). You can find out more about their excellent work at

Please let me know if you can help by emailing me at  geraldine(at)

And spread the word!