Notes on DL brochures

How words sit on the page is so important in these haven’t-got-time-to-deal-with-hard-to-read-stuff days.
The Feisty Empire copywriter and editor, Paul Hassing, shares his thoughts.
Enjoy!

Practical Copywriting Tips

An easy way so see DL. An easy way so see DL.

A client asked me to edit a brochure and suggest a format.

Once I saw what the brochure was for (promoting a course to time-poor execs) I suggested ‘DL’ format.

So what the hell is DL? Swim Communications puts it very well.

In short, DL is a third the size of A4 (the size you stick in your printer).

My client, who had imagined an A4 format, asked why I preferred DL.

So I said:

‘DL is easier and cheaper to post to many prospects.

Also, I feel it looks more businesslike.

If you go flat A4, you’ll either have to post it folded anyway, or add cardboard to stop it getting mangled en route.

But if you hit a non-A4 letterbox, it’ll get mangled anyway.

Not a good look for your brand.

Folded DLs are also easier to hand out at events,

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Finding your voice

Have you found your voice yet?

No, not your speaking voice.

The voice you use when you write.

Fiction writers work hard to develop their style and voice – we readers very quickly know if a story was really written by the author whose work we’ve read before. Long or short sentences, presence or absence of descriptive passages, how the words flow, use of familiar words (or ones that send us scurrying to the dictionary) – all indicators of their voice.

So it needs to be with nonfiction writers, especially when it comes to business writing. Your clients recognise the way you write, and it comes as a jolt when they read something that doesn’t quite line up with the style they expect. And the greater the number of writers in your organisation and the greater the number of document types you use, the greater the possibility of variations in your voice.

In business, we know the importance of our brand. We may have spent considerable dollars on getting it just right, and we’re persnickety about its use. Your voice, your writing style, is equally as important.

Before we look at the benefits of finding and recording your voice, let’s understand what I mean by ‘voice’.

  • Do you tend to write formally – very correctly every time – or in a chattier, friendlier way? Are your letter or email recipients addressed by their given name, or as ‘Mx Smith’?
  • How do you abbreviate your organisation’s name – Petersons Engineering Consultancy, PEC, Petersons? How do you refer to your organisation – ABC is … or ABC are ?
  • How do you format dates and times? Captions for tables, figures and illustrations? Lists? Measurements?
  • What specialised terms can you use without having to explain them?
  • Do you capitalise every word in headings? What about positions or roles in your organisation?
  • Are there certain text segments that need to be emphasised in a particular way?
  • How do you refer to a person of unknown gender?

These are just a few of the elements that make up your voice.
Your aim is to use ‘that’ voice for all written communications from your business
– regardless of the writer or the type of document.

But why? you may ask.

  •  It’s about professionalism and credibility, and sets the writing standard expected in your organisation.
  • Consistency reflects, protects and enhances your corporate identity and brand.
  • You’ll save time and money when you have unified written communications.
  • If you hire an external writer or editor, they will thank you – and their service will be speedier and less expensive, because they don’t have to ask you.
  • New writers in your business will become productive more quickly.

Capture and record all this information in your style guide.

Make sure every writer is familiar with it – and uses it every time.

So set to work and begin to build your style guide.

Remember that I’m here to advise or to lend a hand.

Avoiding confusion
Avoiding confusion

Oops! In the wrong place

Rather than trying to explain, I’m simply going to give you some examples.

Have a chuckle while you decipher the underlying principle.

There was a discussion yesterday on the worrying of sheep by dogs in the Minister’s room.

I have discussed the question of stocking the proposed poultry plant with my colleagues.

Lipolysis can occur in the milk of cows when chilled too quickly.

Born two weeks ago, zookeepers feared Shuffles would not live past her first few days.

Previously thought responsible for the damage, scientists found that the coral crab was in reality helping to repair the coral.

Standing just 5’7” tall, the other players nicknamed him ‘Muscles’.

Being a family company, these eggs are produced …

As the person that makes the purchase, Old Spice have recognised that they need to appeal to the female audience.

At only 23 weeks gestation, nursing staff said they had not expected the newborn would survive.

McEwan, an avid hiker, took part in a British expedition interested in climate change to Spitsbergen …

Crown Princess Mary has been given a reported dressing-down from her mother-in-law …

Now, how would you rewrite those examples for clarity?

 

Not sure about any of the examples?
Leave a comment and I’ll help you out.

I’d love you to share the ‘danglers’ you’ve met – just leave a comment 🙂

 

Perfect Pages sharpening your writing
Perfect Pages
sharpening your writing

Planning your writing

business writing
Plan your business writing

This morning I gave a 10-minute talk at the Samford Chamber of Commerce. So you don’t feel left out, this is what I wrote as I prepared – I think I managed to remember most of it, and only ad libbed a little (not too many of them were ums).

Writing is a reality of business life. Many of us think of it as a chore, which we then put off till the last moment, are unhappy with the result,  so we dislike writing even more… and so continues that spiral of negativity.

What we need is a strategy – a system that breaks the chore down into manageable chunks.

So the strategy I use has three parts: plan, write and review. I read recently that professional non-fiction writers spend 50% of their time planning, 20% writing and 30% reviewing.

Today we look at planning.

  1. Plan your time. Allow time to plan, write, review, and prepare for publication. Starting on the planning as early as possible is valuable because your brain will continue to mull it over while you’re doing other things. Just remember to catch those thoughts and write them down.
  2. What is your message? What, exactly, do you want your readers to think, know, do? Write down that concise statement – that’s your focus, your destination. Everything you write must lead your readers to your message. Craft your message in terms like: contact me; I recommend this solution; book your tickets now.
  3. Who will read this document? Be specific. That’s easy if you’re writing a letter to a client, supplier, contractor. But when you’re writing marketing collateral, articles and such, you need to picture your ideal client – you know the drill on that one. Perhaps cut out a picture and paste it in your office to keep you focused. When I write blogs and articles, I picture one of my loyal followers. Why focus on your reader? It will help you decide how chatty or formal you need to be; how many technical terms and industry-specific words to use; how to explain terms if you must use them; if and how you can use illustrations, tables, graphs, etc.
  4. Record these decisions  – your time plan, message, and reader – and the spelling of any tricky words or ones you know you have difficulty with, the spelling of names, any abbreviations you plan to use. This is your style sheet that you can add to as you write.
  5. Now for your content. This is a solo brainstorming or mind-mapping session. Write down key words and things you know you want to say; just words and phrases. Group related ideas, and give each group a name. Sort those groups into a logical order. Unless you’re a genius, we all need pen and paper as the intermediary between the idea, creative side of our brain and the logical, organising side.
  6. Set up your document. Turn those organised, named groups into headings. Add any sub-headings. You now have your document in outline form. If you don’t want the headings in the final document, just remove them during the reviewing stage.

So there we are:

plan your time                   clarify your message                       picture your reader

establish your style sheet         group and organise your content         set up your document.

Now you’re ready to write.

During the brief question time, I was asked if I follow my strategy. I replied that the longer the writing project, the more particular I am. But I use a more relaxed approach for shorter or familiar projects.

Later my graphic friend Brad commented that he hadn’t realised how much planning needed to go into writing.

And my marketing friend Tony stated that what he took away from it was

Engage your brain before you pick up your pen.

Do you use a writing strategy? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Persnickety

Wandering through the Thesaurus recently (as one does), I came across persnickety. What a fun word, rolling off my tongue so delightfully.

My mind presented me with the image of a little animal scuttling around, sniffing out that pesky misused apostrophe, tossing out unnecessary commas, tweaking passive sentences …

When my daughter objected to the ‘snobby’ connotations of persnickety, I sort of agreed with her.

But I remembered my enjoyment at listening to The Muddled-headed Wombat* on ABC radio many, many years ago. His very ‘sens-e-bubble’ friend Mouse often had to disentangle him and Tabby Cat from all sorts of interesting adventures. But— she also knew how to enjoy herself on their hair-brained antics.

And I also seem to recall a Missy Mouse that I gave my daughter when she was a toddler: Missy Mouse now resides on her daughter’s toy-shelf.

When I shared my word on Facebook, Tony Harris (author of Wombat Stories) rattled off a list of synonyms— pedantic, fussalacious, fastidious, finicky, pernicious and picnic-y—then wrote this verse for me.

A mouse in the house is fastidious and tidy

A mouse on the run has to be play hidey

From the cats and the possums

they must run away

no time for persnickety

when you’re lunch of the day…

So I’ll continue on my persnickety way, primping, polishing and perfecting your words,
but keeping a close watch for those cats and possums.

I’m sure you’ve come up with your own perception of persnickity.

I’d love you to share, or to tell me your favourite or fun word.

*The Muddled-headed Wombat, Ruth Park, 1962, Educational Press Ltd.

Desolie Page, editor
Being persnickety?

You didn’t proofread? What were you thinking?

Before the summer holidays, I bought a couple of easy-to-read books, knowing that I needed to switch off my editor’s brain for a while.

I was not disappointed with the Reginald Hill ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’ mystery: tight writing, intriguing plot, evocative descriptions, smattering of words that I hadn’t met before, references to classical literature (and music, in this story). All in all, a very satisfying and enjoyable experience, and my editor’s hackles weren’t given a reason to rise.

However, I can’t say the same for the other book. I’d chosen it on a bit of a whim, the blurb that included ‘The Top Ten Sunday Times Bestselling Author’, and the 1920s setting in Liverpool and Dublin. (I have a liking for fiction set in Dublin and Cornwall.)

I couldn’t keep my editor’s antenna quiet when the author’s acknowledgment of the help of her expert included ‘…but because of a rush to get this book ready for the printers, he has not been able to check the MS…’ OK, so I can live with a few inaccuracies that don’t detract from the plot.

But, it made me wonder.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to spot some typos – and I’m not talking complex grammar or punctuation. Most readers would notice missing quote marks at the end of dialogue, inconsistent spelling of character and place names, lack of subject–verb agreement.

A final proofread would surely have rectified those simple mistakes.

Although the story was enjoyable enough (despite the lack of surprises in the plot or character development), I won’t be buying any other books by that author. And I now question the professionalism and credibility of the publishing house.

So what does this mean for you and your writing?

Please have someone edit or proofread anything that will possibly influence your reputation. A potential client experiencing disappointment in your writing can decide not to use your product or service, simply because they wonder if your business is as sloppy as your writing.

As difficult as I know it is, try to plan your writing tasks to include time for reviewing. I see so much writing that could easily move from the ordinary to the excellent because of a review by editor or proofreader. An earlier post gives insight into how editing adds value to your writing.

What has been your experience with writing that could have benefitted from an editor’s eye for detail?

 

 

Beautiful writing (digitalart ID10043412)
Beautiful writing
(digitalart ID10043412)

Technical writing for non-technical readers – keep it simple!

When you write for your peers, you can use as many technical and esoteric terms as you like.

Why?

You know they will understand what you’re saying; you don’t need to explain what, to you, are everyday concepts.

But it’s a different story when you need to write for non-technical readers.

Your first task is to really think about your audience, and how you might present your expert knowledge in a way they will understand. Ask yourself:

  1. What are your assumptions about their exposure to your field of expertise, and to the technical terms you use every day?
  2. How many concepts are they likely to understand? How will you explain or illustrate them?
  3. In simple terms, what is your message? What do you want your readers to know or do?

With those answers in mind, use these tips to help you achieve clear, engaging and sharp writing. At the heart of your thinking is:

The more complex your content or the concepts you’re writing about,
the simpler your writing needs to be.

  • This is about expressing your thoughts with simplicity, not simplifying your work. Remember your readers: you want to show them the value of your work, not what a good writer you are.
  • Make sure you’ve thought about the logical progression of your report. Plan the structure of your document so that you lead your readers to the conclusion you’ve reached.
  • The simplicity inherent in the use of plain English (active voice, reasonable sentence length, wise use of specialised terms, no verbosity) will serve you well.

Let’s look at some particular areas this simplicity will help your readers.

Structure:

  • Determine the logical structure of your argument. Brainstorming and mind mapping can be valuable tools.
  • If possible, use headings: they are sign-posts for your readers. Headings give readers an overview and help orientate them, for which your readers will thank you if your content is complex.
  • Aim for a logical flow in the overall document, within its sections, paragraphs and sentences.

Words:

  • Use familiar words: use instead of utilise, on-going instead of chronic.
  • Explain unfamiliar concepts. Perhaps footnotes, diagram, glossary or appendix can be helpful – what will be easiest for your readers?
  • Explain abbreviations, and then use them consistently. You may have to remind readers of their meanings more frequently than you would for your peers.
  • Watch out for tautologies (new innovations, combine together) and clichés (the bottom line, explore every avenue, moot point).

Sentences:

  • Keep sentences shorter with a straight-forward, familiar construction.
  • It’s best to address only one concept in each sentence: that can be a main thought with supporting information.
  • Place your main idea at beginning of sentence: Writing Preventing disruption is our most important issue is preferable to Our bottom line is preventing disruption. The readers’ attention is immediately focused on what it is that is so important.
  • Check that you’re not providing unintended humour. A phrase in the wrong place in a sentence can be confusing or laughable.

Yesterday a lively discussion took place about the problem of wild dogs in the council meeting room.

I have discussed the problems of stocking the proposed poultry plant with my colleagues.

Lipolysis can occur in the milk of cows when chilled too quickly.

Paragraphs:

  • As with sentences, it’s best to have just one main idea (with supporting information) in each paragraph.
  • That doesn’t mean you must confine each concept to just one paragraph. Use as many paragraphs as you need, because a number of shorter paragraphs doesn’t intimidate readers as would one long paragraph.
  • Again, keep the logical progression of your paragraphs within each section.

Lists:

  • Bullet point lists can be a useful way to present complex information.
  • Use a numbered list if order or priority is important.
  • Maintain structural consistency of points, eg each point as a complete sentence, or each point as a sentence fragment; same part of speech to open each point.
  • Be consistent in the way you punctuate your lists.

Non-verbal elements:

  • Illustrations, figures, graphs, charts or other graphics will often be easier for your readers than text.
  • In the text, make clear cross-references to the graphics, so there can be no question about how the text and the illustration are related.
  • Use table and figure captions consistently; check that the caption accurately reflects the information.
  • Review how both text and graphics sit on the page.

When you’ve finished writing, ask a non-technical ‘outsider’ to read your work, then tell you what they’ve understood. That should give you some indication of how well you’ve done your job.

Your final task – always, every time – is to review what you’ve written.

You might like to read my other blogs Writing for your readers and What readers want for other tips about ways to write while focusing on your readers.

Looking for extra information about any of these techniques? Ask me about other resources, using the contact form on my website.

What difficulties have you met when you’ve had to read outside your area of expertise?

Perfect Pages sharpening your writing
Perfect Pages
sharpening your writing