Articles Tagged with writing

Write clearly to avoid the reality gap

Sometimes we can spend too much time worrying about the latest Google update, smartphone or OS version and forget that effective communication – for that’s what all these tools are there to support – often needs to be clear and simple.

This runs throughout our lives, as I found when I was booked into my local hospital for a medical procedure. I had a preparatory appointment with a nurse to brief me and took home a leaflet giving detailed instructions. I also had a preparation to start taking on the day before the procedure.

On that day, I found some of the information from the nurse, the leaflet and on the box containing the preparation conflicted. It was a Sunday so I used my common sense to work out the problem: a minor niggle that didn’t matter much.

I was getting concerned because the leaflet said the procedure would take 30-40 minutes to complete and, knowing that it was likely to be uncomfortable and that sedation would not knock me out completely, I braced myself for this mentally. I felt it was going to be tough. As it turned out, just before my turn the doctor mentioned that he was timing each procedure for a study and that the average time was 6-7 minutes: I breathed a sigh of relief.

I am glad to say the procedure was quick, painless and the results were fine. However, I had approached it in completely the wrong frame of mind as a result of the details in the leaflet.

Such gaps between perception and reality can be created by any written instructions. Whether we’re selling a flat-pack wardrobe, an electrical gadget or a holiday, it can be easy to plant the wrong impression in a customer’s mind. Once planted, that seed can grow into a dream or worry that bears no relation to the real product, service or experience.

For businesses selling products and services, this can create unrealistic expectations, impossible to deliver; for doctors it can cause unnecessary worry in patients.

Consistency and clarity are essential when writing instructions or descriptions. Not only do they prevent confusion and wrong impressions, they help to create happy customers . . . and patients.

Use the phone to save hours of travel

Yesterday I could have arranged to travel to three face-to-face interviews for articles I am writing. The travel alone would have taken 3.5 hours. This morning I’ve just finished a 20-minute telephone interview that would have required a further 1.5-hour journey. Now when there are deadlines to meet, I just can’t spare that time.

I agree that face-to-face meetings can be valuable and enjoyable; I always enjoy guided tours of businesses I write about. Sometimes it is necessary to get a really thorough understanding through a visit, but this isn’t always the case. It’s like the TV news reporter standing outside 10 Downing Street on a dark, cold, rainy night relaying the news that nothing has happened back to the studio presenter who is probably more informed on the topic: they add nothing, but expend a lot of energy being there.

I’ve been conducting telephone interviews and doing research by email for many years. When working at British Airways, I used to compile a weekly report based on telexed information from cities around the world. Often it was all I had to go on.

Now I know that some people are wary of talking on the phone, even though nearly everyone working has a mobile these days. I was lucky enough to have excellent telephone training when I worked at British Airways, so I’ve always been comfortable talking to anyone remotely.

Sometimes when I suggest a telephone interview, people sound reticent. I like to give them some advance warning to get their thoughts together. When we come to do the interview, what is important is to make the subject feel comfortable, to ask questions that draw information out of them, to listen to their answers and build on these to ask further questions. Before they know it, they are talking away enthusiastically and telling an interesting story: just what I need for an article.

I can’t understand why some people don’t use the phone more but insist on travelling to meetings. I complete most of my work through remote collaboration. In fact, we never meet 90% of our clients, but still develop long-lasting relationships with them.

I am sure that many businesses and other organisations could improve efficiency and save time through better use of phone, internet and other communications technology, especially when transport costs are soaring.

Is there still a need for face-to-face meetings? Yes, and there always will be, but I think a lot more could be accomplished remotely.

What do you think?

Posted via email from z2zine

How to write the best social media profile . . . for you

Many of the best marketers learn the rules of marketing so they can break them to stand out from the crowd. Social media is a lot newer so the rules are still being written, if it’ll ever be possible to have rules in such a fast-moving, constantly shifting environment.
So how can you write an effective personal profile to post on social media sites?
It’s about you . . .
Whereas you’re probably used to writing about your business, not yourself, social media is about people. Potential followers will want to know about you, the person, and a combination of your business and personal interests, experience and expertise. Sometimes it can be the most unlikely topic that connects two people and creates a valuable business relationship, so your profile has to be as open as possible while remaining within the safe limits of what you are prepared to publish online.
. . . connecting with other people
You want to connect with other people. If you have a social media strategy, you’ll have already identified the type of person you want to attract and what interests they have. Perhaps you’re looking for new clients, suppliers, business partners, advisers, a business support network or friends in the same field. If you’re using social media for business, then your goals will probably include one or more of these.
By entering relevant keywords in your profile you can make it easier for your targeted group to find you in searches, while your profile’s content and style will then attract them to follow or contact you. The ideal reaction is “he sounds interesting” or “I need to connect with her”. If you achieve these, you’ll attract your target group to follow you by choice without using automated following tools.
Developing your personal style and tone
A quality portrait photograph and suitable logos to brand your business create a good visual first impression. Your text has to go beyond this to convince readers that you are a genuine, approachable and valuable contact.
Developing the right tone of voice is important. You want people to hear in their minds how you would greet them in real life at a business meeting or other event. You’ll probably want a mix of professional and friendly, although depending on your business sector people could expect you to be more formal/informal, conservative/modern or representative of the way people talk in your industry.
This is a very personal choice and you will have to decide what is suitable. Remember, nothing is set in stone and if you find your profile does not work effectively at first, you can refine it or even re-write it completely. Sometimes experimenting can be useful to discover what works and what doesn’t.
One thing to consider carefully is the use of humour. Everyone has a different sense of humour and what you find funny may strike others as anything other than funny. Humour can be very effective in communicating, but needs to be handled very carefully. There seem to be more failed comedians using social media than successful ones.
Heading
Where a site lets you post a heading, this gives you the opportunity to summarise yourself in five or six words. You could say “an accountant with 20 years’ experience”, but that sounds boring. “Award-winning accountant who understands business” suggests you are a leader in your field and are able to get beyond numbers and filing tax returns. “Approachable accountant helping Berkshire businesses” shows that you are easy to work with and serve clients in a specific place.
As with tone, your heading is a matter of personal choice. There are many different approaches, but all of them enable you to highlight the one or two most important characteristics you want readers to notice. Most sites let you edit your profile, so you can change your heading to reflect a change in interest, different times of year or events.
Profile text
What do you write when faced with an empty dialogue box? Well, what are you trying to achieve through your social media strategy? Who do you want to attract? What is it you want to interest them in? What balance of business and personal information do you want to give? The answers to these question will help you sort the information to include.
Also, how do you intend to participate in a specific service, such as twitter, or on a forum? Will you write tweets giving out advice, find people to help on a specific issue, publish blogs on a specialist topic? Will you be projecting a business persona or are your opinions going to be purely personal? Do you want to establish yourself as an expert in your field or do you just want to talk to people for fun? Again, these are serious questions that need to be answered if you want to achieve specific aims.
Even if you want to establish yourself as a serious expert, it’s going to be you talking, not your business. So write in the first person as if you were speaking, using I, rather than in the third person, using he/she/it, which is usually the case in business and could sound overly formal here. However, you probably don’t want to repeat I, I, I all the time as it will put many people off. If the profile has separate personal and business sections, you can write about the business as ‘it’ or ‘we’ in that section.
Highlight your achievements and expertise, but think how you would view someone who arrives at a business meeting, then launches into how successful they are, what awards they’ve won and much business they’ve got. Be careful that your achievements do not come across as bragging.
How will you know if what you’ve written is suitable? Let a trusted colleague or associate read it and give you constructive criticism. They could have some very good ideas for improving it. Don’t worry about criticism, because writing about yourself is one of the most difficult things anyone can do and probably the reason why so many people put off writing profiles.
Also, check you grammar, punctuation and spelling. If you can, ask someone else to check it: a fresh eye is more likely to pick up typos.
What’s the best length?
Some profiles limit how many words you can enter, so use this to focus on what you really want to say. If there is no limit, it’s still a good idea to be succinct. If you have several things to talk about, split these into sections. If you’re able to use html in the profile, you could create basic navigation so people can click on a heading to go to that section. However, if it’s too long, people could just give up. The best balance is where you write enough for a reader to find you interesting: not too little and not too much.
How do people find you?
Many social media services and sites feature keyword searching, so include relevant words to feature in search results. Think about what words and phrases your targets are likely to enter in the search box. Again, if you can use html, you could use the keywords to link to your web site to drive more web traffic to it.
Where do I start?
Taking this all into account, why not start writing your profile now? If you can’t decide on which approach is for you, look at other people’s profiles for inspiration. How do those in the same industry write their profiles? Don’t copy them, but decide what you like about them and what you don’t like. Adopt the approaches you like and apply these to writing your own original profile.
Let’s get personal
Remember that your profile is about you: it’s personal. It’s there to make you stand out, so the more individual you can make it, the more readers are likely to find it interesting. Don’t be afraid to experiment, as most sites let you edit your text. There are millions of profiles out there, so if you discover a unique way to present yourself that works well, then use it.
Do you have your own profile tips?
There are so many personal choices to be made when writing your profile. What do you find works particularly well? Please share your experience and tips.

Many of the best marketers learn the rules of marketing so they can break them to stand out from the crowd. Social media is a lot newer, so the rules are still being written, if it’ll ever be possible to have rules in such a fast-moving, constantly shifting environment.

So how can you write an effective personal profile to post on social media sites?

It’s about you . . .

Whereas you’re probably used to writing about your business, not yourself, social media is about people. Potential followers will want to know about you, the person, and a combination of your business and personal interests, experience and expertise. Sometimes it can be the most unlikely topic that connects two people and creates a valuable business relationship, so your profile has to be as open as possible while remaining within the safe limits of what you are prepared to publish online.

. . . connecting with other people

You want to connect with other people. If you have a social media strategy, you’ll have already identified the type of person you want to attract and what interests they have. Perhaps you’re looking for new clients, suppliers, business partners, advisers, a business support network or friends in the same field. If you’re using social media for business, then your goals will probably include one or more of these.

By entering relevant keywords in your profile you can make it easier for your targeted group to find you in searches, while your profile’s content and style will then attract them to follow or contact you. The ideal reaction is “he sounds interesting” or “I need to connect with her”. If you achieve these, you’ll attract your target group to follow you by choice without using automated following tools.

Developing your personal style and tone

A quality portrait photograph and suitable logos to brand your business create a good visual first impression. Your text has to go beyond this to convince readers that you are a genuine, approachable and valuable contact.

Developing the right tone of voice is important. You want people to hear in their minds how you would greet them in real life at a business meeting or other event. You’ll probably want a mix of professional and friendly, although depending on your business sector people could expect you to be more formal/informal, conservative/modern or representative of the way people talk in your industry.

This is a very personal choice and you will have to decide what is suitable. Remember, nothing is set in stone and if you find your profile does not work effectively at first, you can refine it or even re-write it completely. Sometimes experimenting can be useful to discover what works and what doesn’t.

One thing to consider carefully is the use of humour. Everyone has a different sense of humour and what you find funny may strike others as anything other than funny. Humour can be very effective in communicating, but needs to be handled carefully. There seem to be more failed comedians using social media than successful ones.

Attract followers with an interesting heading

Where a site lets you post a heading, this gives you the opportunity to summarise yourself in five or six words. You could say “an accountant with 20 years’ experience”, but that sounds boring. “Award-winning accountant who understands business” suggests you are a leader in your field and are able to get beyond numbers and filing tax returns. “Approachable accountant helping Berkshire businesses” shows that you are easy to work with and serve clients in a specific place.

As with tone, your heading is a matter of personal choice. There are many different approaches, but all of them enable you to highlight the one or two most important characteristics you want readers to notice. Most sites let you edit your profile, so you can change your heading to reflect a change in interest, different times of year or events.

Shaping your profile text

What do you write when faced with an empty dialogue box? Well, what are you trying to achieve through your social media strategy? Who do you want to attract? What is it you want to interest them in? What balance of business and personal information do you want to give? The answers to these question will help you sort the information to include.

Also, how do you intend to participate in a specific service, such as twitter, or on a forum? Will you write tweets giving out advice, find people to help on a specific issue, publish blogs on a specialist topic? Will you be projecting a business persona or are your opinions going to be purely personal? Do you want to establish yourself as an expert in your field or do you just want to talk to people for fun? Again, these are serious questions that need to be answered if you want to achieve specific aims.

Even if you want to establish yourself as a serious expert, it’s going to be you talking, not your business. So write in the first person as if you were speaking, using I, rather than in the third person, using he/she/it, which is usually the case in business and could sound overly formal here. However, you probably don’t want to repeat I, I, I all the time as it will put many people off. If the profile has separate personal and business sections, you can write about the business as ‘it’ or ‘we’ in that section.

Highlight your achievements and expertise, but think how you would view someone who arrives at a business meeting, then launches into how successful they are, what awards they’ve won and much business they’ve got. Be careful that your achievements do not come across as bragging.

How will you know if what you’ve written is suitable? Let a trusted colleague or associate read it and give you constructive criticism. They could have some very good ideas for improving it. Don’t worry about criticism, because writing about yourself is one of the most difficult things anyone can do and probably the reason why so many people put off writing profiles.

Also, check you grammar, punctuation and spelling. If you can, ask someone else to check it: a fresh eye is more likely to pick up typos.

What’s the best length for a profile?

Some profiles limit how many words you can enter, so use this to focus on what you really want to say. If there is no limit, it’s still a good idea to be succinct. If you have several things to talk about, split these into sections. If you’re able to use html in the profile, you could create basic navigation so people can click on a heading to go to that section. However, if it’s too long, people could just give up. The best balance is where you write enough for a reader to find you interesting: not too little and not too much.

How do people find you?

Many social media services and sites feature keyword searching, so include relevant words to feature in search results. Think about what words and phrases your targets are likely to enter in the search box. Again, if you can use html, you could use the keywords to link to your web site to drive more web traffic to it.

Where do you start?

Taking this all into account, why not start writing your profile now? If you can’t decide on which approach is for you, look at other people’s profiles for inspiration. How do those in the same industry write their profiles? Don’t copy them, but decide what you like about them and what you don’t like. Adopt the approaches you like and apply these to writing your own original profile.

Let’s get personal

Remember that your profile is about you: it’s personal. It’s there to make you stand out, so the more individual you can make it, the more readers are likely to find it interesting. Don’t be afraid to experiment, as most sites let you edit your text. There are millions of profiles out there, so if you discover a unique way to present yourself that works well, then use it.

Do you have your own profile tips?

There are so many personal choices to be made when writing your profile. What do you find works particularly well? Please share your experience and tips.

If a picture can paint a thousand words . . .

. . . why are they all questions?

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What is that? Where is it? When was it? Why was it there? What was the point? Who did it? Is it still there? Is that an inflatable? What gas was used to inflate it? Who chose the colours? Where did it come from? Will it be there again? Is that a mountain or a hill? Is it inland or on the coast? What are those brown patches on the hill/mountain?

That’s already 15 questions in just 72 words, so just think how many questions you could ask in a thousand words.

So does that mean words are more effective for communicating than pictures?

Of course not: both are useful in different ways. A picture or photograph can grab attention specifically because people want to find out more about a stunning image. For example, the BBC England website news page often has an ‘England’s Big Picture’ feature showing a partial image to tease viewers into opening it up to see if it is what they think it is. Stunning photography or images that tease can be useful in PR and marketing to attract people to read accompanying text.

In the same way, intriguing headlines can grab readers’ attention so that they read an accompanying article or text. News papers and websites make imaginative use of words in this way and, within reason, press releases and articles can do the same, as long as they do not mislead.

So what are more effective: words or pictures?

Neither. When applied with skill, one will not be more effective but will complement the other. If anything, a great photo will be let down by lousy writing, while a well-written article can be buried by poor illustration or layout.

When they work well together, the reader won’t take any notice of the composition of a photograph or style of writing but be totally engrossed in the message they convey.

That’s certainly our aim.

Cramming too many words on to a page

There is an option to stop writing.

There are also options to edit what’s already written, to cut, to shorten sentences.

More words don’t necessarily make it any easier to understand a message. As the 140-character limit of twitter demonstrates, communicating succinctly can be very effective: it concentrates the mind.

I can remember sitting in an exam and watching someone walk up to the front of the hall for more paper. I worried that I wasn’t writing enough. It didn’t matter: the few words I wrote answered the questions well enough for me to get an A.

I can remember a sales manager worrying about a tender and just writing more and more. In the end, they just repeated themselves to the point of confusion.

When standing up to deliver an elevator pitch, the most effective attention-grabber is often a pause.

Sometimes the words we leave out make those we do write and say even more powerful.

 

Making the right sounds

What’s the best tone in which to write? It all depends on what you want to say, who you say it to and what you want to achieve.

Just imagine the response to someone walking into a pub and talking like the press officer of a local council? Probably some strange looks and possibly a phone call for an ambulance to take them away.

Why? Because the institutional language of local government isn’t appropriate in a pub.

So how do you know what voice to use and how to develop a style of writing appropriate for your audience? One way is to read out loud what you write and listen to how it sounds. If you don’t feel you’re good at reading aloud, ask a colleague or associate you trust to read it out and listen to them. Is it language your audience will understand easily? Are they likely to respond to it? Ask what other people you know think of it.

It’s important to remember that words on screen or paper still have to sound right because they are spoken by the silent voices in people’s minds.

Try it and see how your voice sounds.

 

Writing those first words

Many people put off writing because it worries them. This is understandable if you don’t feel you’re a natural writer, but there really is nothing to worry about. If you don’t like what you’ve written, you can tear up your sheet of paper or delete your word processing file: it can’t actually hurt you.

Even experienced writers sometimes find it difficult to write, while on other days they find the words flow easily.

If you do worry about writing, especially for business, remember that you don’t have to publish anything until you’re happy with it. This means you can write as many versions as you want and ask as many people as you like to check it and proofread it before your readers see it.

If you don’t like what you’ve written, ask yourself why you don’t like it and how you can change it. Read it to a colleague and ask for their opinion. It can be easy to be too critical of your own writing and other people sometimes have a more balanced view. When you’re reading material written by other people, think about what you like and what you don’t like about how they write.

What’s important is to make a start and put some words down on a blank sheet of paper or type something on to the screen so that you have text to work on and can start building your confidence.

After our last blog, do you know what and why you need to communicate?

z2zine tomorrow: Moving your plan forward

Follow us on twitter @z2zine

Finding your voice

One of the biggest challenges when writing for business is in selecting the right tone of voice, both for you and your readers. There used to be a tendency to write in a very cold, formal, unwelcoming style, while now some people write very informally and can be too familiar. Depending on your target audience, the best style is probably somewhere in between these extremes.

What’s important is to develop a style that feels comfortable for you and your business and which your audience likes too. It’s no good developing a highly individual style of writing which your audience can’t understand, as business text has to be practical. If your main objective is to persuade people that your product is worth buying, they have to be able to understand that easily.

Style develops over time, so don’t agonise over your writing: you can only develop your style through practice. Also, most business materials have a very short shelf life these days, so focus on improving your writing every time you write a new brochure, report or blog.

While it’s important to be aware of the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, any piece of writing has to be interesting for people to read it all the way through. Finding the balance between a style that is easy to read and which also reflects the character of your business can take some practice, but it is worth it. There is so much boring text printed and published online that most people welcome the opportunity to read something interesting. This gives you the chance to shine through with an effective writing style.

So think about this every time you write something for your business, whether it’s a report, a letter or promotional material. It will also help you to measure what works as you see the effects of your developing style in terms of increased responses. If responses drop, you’ll know your style isn’t suitable for your readers and can work to change it.

We’ll talk more about this in the future, but bear it in mind for now.

After our last blog, have you thought about what interests your customers?

z2zine tomorrow: Know why you’re communicating

Follow us on twitter @z2zine

An obligation to entertain

When I write for pleasure, I write to entertain myself. There’s no point in doing it if my audience – me – is not entertained. If other people are entertained by my writing as well, that’s a bonus.

When writing for other people, either businesses or theatre audiences, I have an obligation to entertain them. If not, businesses won’t read what I write and audiences will lose interest and walk out of a show.

It doesn’t matter how factual or important content is, people need to be entertained to take note of the message that’s being communicated.

Often this gets lost in the scramble to use technology to communicate. It doesn’t matter whether the message is written in 140 characters on twitter or daubed on a plywood sign at the side of the road: if it isn’t entertaining, people won’t take notice.

So do you need a creative person to write for you? They certainly should be able to help, but there’s nothing to stop anyone writing entertaining copy.

Think of it as telling a story or joke to your friends or recounting your latest achievement in your favourite hobby or sport. If you can make these sound exciting and communicate your enthusiasm, then why not anything else? All right, I recently struggled to make a piece on sewers entertaining, so there are some topics where a little extra effort can be required.

Always remember that, whatever the format or delivery method, we are obliged to entertain our audience.

That’s all for now, folks!

Use a style guide for consistency when writing for print or web sites

We’ve been doing a lot of proofreading lately, which brings to mind just how useful a corporate style guide for writers can be.

It’s quite common for businesses and other organisations to have visual style guides, but the actual content is often forgotten until a proofreader points out all the inconsistencies.

A style guide can be as simple or as complex as you want: covering basics from always writing brand names in capitals – or not – to whether specific words are hyphenated.

Once simple rules are written down, it’s much easier to remember them when you come to write a word and think “company policy is to hyphenate this word” or “we write that with a capital”.

The result is greater consistency, more effective communication and less time spent ironing out inconsistencies every time you want to publish a brochure or web site content.

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