Posts tagged ‘Effective writing’

Content Strategists

Why does business writing have such a bad reputation? Not just the policy or procedural stuff either, even the new-age marketing blurbs are stale. The words you see on every second business website like “cost-effective end-to-end solutions” or “value-added services” tell you next to nothing, and what businesses need to remember is that for the trigger-happy internet consumer, the click of a mouse button is all it takes to leave.

To stand out as a business nowadays, especially on the internet, you must be different. And the best way to do that is to be yourself, or at least be as human as possible. Social networking has changed the way people “take in” what they read on the internet by almost allowing them to picture the people entering the content. Websites that are impersonal no longer engage the audience.

This is part of the reason we have seen the emergence of the “Content Strategist”. It’s not the easiest job role to define, but to put it simply it is the planning of content creation, delivery and its governance, which is no longer part of a web-designers role (if it ever was). The notion of content management has been around for a long time; creating, editing, approving, publishing and removing content. Content strategy however, as the name implies, takes a strategic view of this content and examines how the goals of the organisation are served by the content it produces.

The knowledge of how to manipulate search engines is crucial for a content strategist. On the very surface it’s as simple as knowing the words a potential customer would type into a search engine, and placing them on your website (or in a tagline), but it goes much further than that. You can make the most of Google advertisements on these searches, or have your website improve its search “rank” just by having links in the right places.

My initial reaction to finding out about Content Strategists was of relief. Someone had finally blended the technical writers with the marketing team, divisions that never seemed to previously coordinate with each other. Nowadays businesses are challenged to serve up content in increasingly innovative ways, and it is those whose focus has shifted from visually appealing graphics and words to how the content is actually delivered who are really prospering.

Part of the content delivery solution is the way that content is structured. For more information on this see the following links:

Information Mapping

–      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_mapping

–      http://www.infomap.com/

Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)

–      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_Information_Typing_Architecture

–      http://dita.xml.org/

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May 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm 3 comments

Writing effective email subject lines

After seeing some particularly bad email subject lines lately, we thought it was about time for a blog about writing effective email subject lines. Here are a few tips:

  • Put the important words near the beginning of the subject line (e.g. Office party: Ideas for venue?). This is especially important if the subject line is long.
  • If the email is about an action that someone needs to do, indicate this action in the subject line (e.g. Status reports due Tuesday).
  • Don’t write half the sentence in the subject line, then continue the rest of the sentence in the email. Not only is it annoying, but it makes the subject of the email unclear for the reader.
  • Don’t write the subject line in all caps. All caps are harder to read.
  • If you have replied to an email several times and the subject no longer applies, write a new subject line to signal a change of focus.
  • If an email contains multiple topics, consider writing shorter emails with specific subject lines.

Do you have any more tips? Have you got any examples of really unclear subject lines?

Dilbert.com

April 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm 4 comments

Emotive proposals

Yesterday I was re-working a proposal document for a client. The document was filled with adjectives, and it was a very emotional read.

This brings up the question, though – when is it appropriate to use emotive language? Is it appropriate in a proposal? Is it appropriate in a training manual? Is it appropriate in a marketing brochure?

It all depends, of course, on:

  • the document purpose, and
  • the audience that will be reading the document.

In an advertising document, emotive language sells. People are more attracted to products that appeal to our emotions – sex, hunger, vanity, love and family are just a few examples. Journalists use emotive language to get the reader to empathise with a story.

However, sometimes the emotive language can obscure the facts. I think when you are writing a business document, such as a proposal, it is better to stick to the facts and keep the emotion ambiguous. Your tone should be warm but professional, and you should let the facts do the talking. Too much emotive language can come across as unprofessional, and if the language is very strong, you can come across as one-sided, or even a little crazy.

What do you think? Do you ever use strong emotive language in a proposal? Have you ever read a proposal and been put off because of the language? Post a comment!

April 8, 2010 at 1:58 am Leave a comment

Honing your editing skills

I went to a TCANZ workshop called “Honing your editing skills” at the end of last month and wanted to share some of the stuff I learnt.

The instructor

The instructor, Howard Warner, is an experienced editor and plain English enthusiast from Auckland. He is the founder and director of Plain English People.

Types of editing

I found that the most valuable thing I learnt was to define the “discrete stages” that make up the editing process which are:

  • Structural editing
  • Sentence level editing
  • Proofreading

Structural editing

Make sure the necessary sections are there, ordered correctly and weighted appropriately; and that text is divided up into manageable, readable chunks.

Sentence level editing

Check for “a light texture”, consistency, clarity, and accuracy. Ensure short sentences, active voice, common words, etc.

Proofreading

Ensure correct, consistent punctuation; correct spelling, capital letters, consistent terminology, consistent formatting.

Editing & Information Mapping

A properly Information-Mapped document won’t need structural editing. It also helps with some parts of copy editing and formatting, though I think these are still quite separate and still need to be done.

March 11, 2010 at 5:40 am Leave a comment

I hear what you’re saying!

Let’s think outside the box for a minute: who, at this moment in time, wouldn’t like to see a paradigm shift?

Got a problem or two with the sentence above? So do I. And you and I are not alone. It seems that Kiwis are really fed up when it comes to management speak – read a refreshing discussion on the worst office jargon here. An article in the National Business Review also triggered a number of interesting comments on the same subject.

A recent survey by Opinium research in the UK found that after grumpy or moody colleagues (37%), slow computers (36%) and small talk/gossip (19), the use of office jargon is the fourth-biggest office annoyance (18%). The 1,836 people surveyed voted the most annoying phrases to be ‘thinking outside the box’ (21%), ‘let’s touch base’ (20%) and ‘blue sky thinking’ (19%). The readers’ comments on Yahoo!xtra NEWS are rather entertaining to read!

Do you have an opinion on the use of office jargon or a particularly good example to add? Leave a comment!

February 18, 2010 at 4:17 am 2 comments

Documents that (don’t) work

Have you ever come across a document that didn’t work for you? I bet you have. Just last week, I encountered a small yet relevant example myself.

The document…

I was delivered a parcel and because I wasn’t home, the courier service left me a card detailing what to do to arrange for a re-delivery or pick-up. I had the choice of having the parcel re-delivered to the same address, to a different address or picking it up myself. The card also provided additional instructions; it told me how soon items could be re-delivered and that I needed to present an ID when I wanted my item re-delivered to a different address. So far, so good.

worked for me…

I decided to pick up my parcel. The card provided the pick-up location and opening hours which was great. Of course, the pick-up location for couriers often happens to be a bit further out of town. I have a car, so I’m lucky. I got there, parked my car close-by (plenty of parking available) and made my way to the counter where I was greeted not only by a friendly member of staff but also by a sign stating that an ID must be presented to collect the item.

but wouldn’t have worked for Bob…

I said I was lucky. All I had to do is march back to my car and get my driver licence. However, I could have been an elderly person without a car and no driver licence. Let’s call him Bob. Since the card did not tell Bob to bring along an ID to pick up his parcel, I doubt that he would have thought of taking his passport (or birth certificate).

yet could work easily for everyone…

One additional instruction on the card could have helped Bob and prevented him from having to embark on a strenuous bus journey across town twice.

Sometimes it’s only one extra line that can make a document so much more user-friendly, but often it’s more than that. Think of seemingly contradicting instructions on how to put together a shelf, or the latest letter from your bank that requires a degree in accounting or finance to understand it.

If you want to know how to write documents that work, check out our free information session.

January 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm Leave a comment


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