Posts tagged ‘Writing tips’

Becoming best friends with Subject Matter Experts

A subject matter expert or SME (commonly said ‘smee’) is a person who has expert knowledge on a particular topic. This is normally due to the topic being the job they do or system they use every day. When on project as a technical writer, a SME is your best friend. In fact, SMEs tend to be the ones who will be using what you’re working on when you’re finished, so not only do you have to extract the information from them, you have to present it in a way they like too. You basically have to be their best friend.

Establishing this relationship with SMEs can sometimes be the most challenging part of the project. They’re often still doing their normal job while the project runs, so straight away you’re coming in from an annoying angle. But if you do the work well, and get them involved early, you’ll find it’s far easier.

The best way, both professionally and personally, to get SMEs on board with a project and its aim, is to get them involved as soon as possible. And by involved I mean with the project purpose, direction and expected outcomes, not just with the piece of work they can help with. If they know where their piece fits in the project puzzle they’ll naturally want to have more of an input.

It also helps if you explain your involvement to a SME. Like why you’re there, what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it. A useful approach when explaining this is to have already got stuck into the work and created what I call a ‘skeleton draft’ (or two). Having something to put in front of the SME is always helpful. The drafts make it easy to identify gaps and ask good questions, and show the SME straight away the style of work you are going to produce. If you’ve got time you can also work with the SME to scribble all over it touching up content, removing things that don’t work and highlighting the things that do. Then after a bit of a touch up you not only have a template, your SME has been involved in its creation from the get-go.

When a project changes from an interruption to being interesting, meetings are suddenly accepted and new records are set for turnaround times. Without any work tension you’ll often find that the SME is a really cool person too, while some even have an opinion on sport (a good thing)! I’ll admit that there are occasions where this isn’t foolproof, like if you’re developing something that will remove someone’s job, and that someone is the SME… but ideally, knowing how to do the job well leads to good SME relationships.

Do you have any pointers for building a good relationship with SMEs? Have you worked on any projects where your relationship with them was particularly good, or particularly awful? I’d love to hear your examples.



June 29, 2011 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Corporate Governance

Corporate governance is defined as the structures and behaviours by which a company is directed and managed. It influences all company decisions, and guides how directors and managers meet expectations, ensuring they are responsible and accountable in their respective roles.

The companies that maintain good corporate governance are the ones that are transparent, and nowadays transparent means having a user-friendly intranet system. The ideal is that any employee can look up your company’s structures, processes, procedures, systems etc. and readily describe how the organisation works. Oh, and perform their jobs productively.

Companies looking to assess their corporate governance generally need to start by looking at how well defined their processes are. When high level processes are in order, and are visible to employees (transparent), everything else starts to fit into place. Divisions know who they work with and if/when they deal with other divisions, and instructions for individual procedures (such as loading an item into a computer) are accessed through the main process diagram.

Once transparency is obtained, the key is maintaining, reviewing and improving the content.

A comparison I like is one to the rules for a professional sport. Whatever sport it is it will be at its best when everyone knows how to play and there are no contentious issues. When a referee blows the whistle, it must be clear cut why, and spelt out in the rules in a manner that avoids all confusion. Then when something starts to become an issue, the rules are reviewed and adjusted as appropriate.

Technically professional sport is a business though, so that may be why it is governed in much the same way.

June 17, 2010 at 3:10 am Leave a comment

Articles vs Blog Posts

When does an online article become a blog post? When does a blog post turn into an article? What exactly is the difference?

The general consensus is that blogs are written more in the nature of a conversation than an article, with grammatical orderliness mostly ignored. Blog writers take full advantage of the writing freedom this allows and, due to the fact everyone seems to be able to type so fast these days, blogs have basically become the modern day soliloquy.

Many websites have a blog specifically in order to build site traffic and increase their search results. Having a lot of links in the content does this, and in blogs that are somewhat abstract you can turn specific words into links that lead to explanations for those not on the same wavelength. Although articles have started to do this more and more, especially those on the tabloid newspaper websites, the ideas and points still have to be introduced and structured properly.

For a blog to work it needs to keep churning out content, so it’s common to see writers post about things because they are topical, even though they haven’t given it much thought yet. There will no doubt be a superficial promise to give more details later, but this type of blog post is a conversation starter. The comments section is going to provide the body for the piece.

Articles aren’t quite as temporary as blog posts and are considered to be more informative and accurate where details are concerned. While a blog post is generally anywhere from 200-500 words (if you can even narrow it down), articles tend to be 800 words plus. You tend to need to do a bit of research for an article, and even when its finished it needs to be edited to ensure immaculate language free of flaws.

That’s not to say some people don’t blog like that… it’s just not that common.

June 1, 2010 at 4:20 am Leave a comment

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?

April 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm 4 comments

Are you linked in effectively?

LinkedIn is a powerful professional networking tool. Or it can be, if you know how to use it effectively. Meryl K Evans listed 14 useful tips in her blog. There are three that stand out for me:

1. Use the name your clients know you by.

2. Create an effective professional headline.This should be succinct and to the point, yet descriptive enough so that your readers are not left doing the guesswork.

3. Write a summary that highlights your most important business information. This can be a summary of the services or products you offer, a list of your skills, a summary of your biggest achievements, etc. In any case, keep paragraphs short and to the point.

Need help in writing an efficient LinkedIn profile? We’re happy to point you in the ‘write’ direction.  Simply post a comment with your question.

April 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm Leave a comment

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

In principal, the principle is right…

Wondering what’s wrong here? Or do you find this sentence completely acceptable? In case of the latter, you may need some help with your spelling.

Common mistakes

Some common spelling mistakes apart from the ‘principal’ who generally leads a school and hopefully has some ‘principles’, include:

–          accommodation spelled as ‘accomodation’

–          sought after spelled as ‘sort after’

–          stationery as in writing utensils spelled as ‘stationary’ as in not moving

–          their as in their house, i.e. the house they own, spelled as either ’they’re’ meaning they are or ‘there’ as in there’s a good boy

Why is this important for me?

In the age of social media, open resources and open communication, it is important to be professional. Spelling mistakes certainly undermine this image. Spelling and grammar mistakes are also still one of the most common pitfalls in CVs.

Where can I get help?

There are plenty of resources on the web that can help, for example you can check the 100 most often mispelled misspelled words in English or view an extensive list of commonly misspelled words on good old Wikipedia.

The safer and more professional option, however, is to use a local provider of proofreading and editing services.

March 24, 2010 at 7:08 am Leave a comment

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