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Blog Description:

40-something hippy metalhead negotiating my way through middle-age and all the joys, and challenges, it brings. Blogging about my life and sharing the lessons I’ve learned.
Blog Tags: meaning - wellbeing - growth - nature
Blog Added: October 11, 2016 06:26:53 PM
Audience Rating: General Audience
Blog Platform: WordPress
Blog Country: United-Kingdom   United-Kingdom
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Total Visits: 304
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100% Proof. Communications that hit the mark

There’s something oddly satisfying about the process of editing. Sure, it can be a challenge, but taking something average and making it shine is very rewarding.  

There’s something oddly satisfying about the process of editing. Sure, it can be a challenge, but taking something average and making it shine is very rewarding.  

Even though it’s something I spend a lot of my time doing, until recently I hadn’t had any formal training. I recently attended a workshop by the society for editors and proofreaders and I  wanted to share some of the valuable nuggets I picked up.

What’s the difference between an editor and a proofreader?

Nowadays it’s pretty common that most of us are responsible for both editing and proofreading (probably having written the piece too). There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s useful to know the difference so you can ensure you do both well.

An editor makes sure the text is fit for purpose. This may involve restructuring the document, removing sections or even rewriting parts to make sure the text conveys the right (and intended) message.

A proofreader provides a quality check, looking at things like consistency and typos.

If you’re responsible for both, start by editing the document.

Read it? Edit!

As editor, you need to check that:

  • the content is structured in a logical way. Visualise how the message should flow and structure accordingly. Think about headings, sub-headings, use of lists and text boxes. Your ultimate goal is to help the reader successfully navigate the text.
  • the length is appropriate for the purpose, and the intended audience.
  •  the writing style is appropriate for the intended audience. Sometimes technical writing is ok, but most of the time try to stick to plain English.
  • the text communicates the intended message. Consider whether the text actually says what it means to say and if the audience will understand it. Sometimes it could just be a case of poor punctuation or use of language. Other things to look out for are repetition, redundant words, jargon, acronyms and words with more than one meaning.
  • the text adheres to house style. How should dates be written? What’s the policy for writing numbers (1 or one)?
  • the text is consistent. If the text refers to four buildings in one section and five in another, it’s going to be confusing and undermine the validity of what you’re saying.
  • the text is free of spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors.
  • it’s factually correct. You may need the original contributors to check you haven’t inadvertently changed the meaning of something when rephrasing it.

Top tip:

Skim read the document first. It’s very tempting to dive straight in at the first typo you spot. Resist the urge (I know it’s tough!).

Reading the whole document will give you a better feel for it and allow you to consider whether the overall structure works, as well as get an idea of the other issues to address. 

Strategies for proofreading

Proofreading is notoriously difficult (that’s why organisations often hire professionals) but the following tips can help.

  • read out loud in a monotonous tone. It’s really easy to miss typos when you’re reading. You’re much more likely to notice a mistake if you hear it.
  • read the item backwards. Humans are inherently wired to find the most efficient or easiest way to do things (it helps us conserve energy), so if we’re doing something familiar to us, our brain naturally switches down a gear. Reading backwards challenges our brain and forces us to pay closer attention.
  • ask someone else to read it for you, or wait until the next morning and reread it. A fresh pair of eyes is invaluable.
  • if you’re proofing a word document, make sure the dictionary is set to the correct language. That way words spelled incorrectly will instantly be highlighted.
  • but….you still need to read the document (see ‘Avoid the common pitfalls’)
  • if you notice incorrect spelling of a word that features regularly through the document, use the find and replace tool on your home tab to correct them all at once

Top tip:

Have a strategy.

Breaking the document down into different parts to be checked will make you far more vigilant than working your way from start to finish. You could go through the document and check headings first, then ensure that tables and images are captioned/labelled correctly, then check all the acronyms are correct… you get the idea.

Avoid the common pitfalls

Finally, here are some common mistakes to help you avoid them

  • check the headings. For some reason, the eye seems to skip headings even though they appear to be the most obvious thing on the page. Having a strategy will help with things like this.
  • watch out for frequently misused words – practice and practise, discreet and discrete.
  • …and frequently misspelled words (to and too, your and you’re for example).
  • your brain will often also miss too many consonants in a row (illliterate).
  • and won’t always pick up on missing ‘little’ letters, especially after tall ones (travellng, specifcally), or missing or extra words, particularly short ones like at, in, on, and it.
  • another thing to watch out is words that the spellcheck will miss (form/from, for example), as well as…
  • wrong letters in short words, such as or/of, it/in, not/now.

Good luck, and consider any typos in the above part of your training!

PS. there aren’t any.

 



Five easy steps to great copy

We’ve all been there. You’re asked to write an article at short notice and you have no idea where to begin. Your mind races, randomly grabbing at

We’ve all been there. You’re asked to write an article at short notice and you have no idea where to begin.

Your mind races, randomly grabbing at and then dismissing different ideas and facts. You make numerous frantic starts before deciding they’re crap and deleting them. Panic rises in your throat…

Step one: stop and breathe.

Simple. Now move on to step two.

Step two: think about your reader

The objective of any writing is to effectively communicate with your reader, so start by asking yourself:

  • What you want the reader to do as a result of reading the item
  • What you need to tell them to get them to do that

If you’re writing marketing copy, your objective is probably to encourage potential customers to get in touch and find out more.

But first you need to tell your readers why they should get in touch and this is where it gets a little tricky.

Step three: tell them a story

Resist the temptation to cram as much information into the piece as possible. Too much information makes for difficult reading, difficult reading leads to bored readers and bored readers stop reading.

Instead of overloading your writing with enough facts and figures to make a statistician sweat, try to think of just one example where you went the extra mile, provided more than promised and delivered great value for money. Write that and ignore the urge to overcomplicate it.

Step four (and possibly the most important one to remember): Just start

So now you know what you want to say, but you still don’t know where to start. As much as I hate to disagree with Julie Andrews, the very beginning is not always a very good place to start.

The best place to start is with the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t worry about the order of sentences or typos, just get the information you need down on the page.

Writing can be a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. You know what you want the picture to look like, but until it’s finished there’s an element of trial and error, of rearranging pieces and seeing what fits and what doesn’t.

That’s the process and it’s normal, don’t be put off.

Step five: Take a break. Yes, really.

Once you’re happy with your content and structure, you’ll be so relieved you’ll just want to get the damn thing off your desk.

Don’t press send just yet!

I like to leave at least a day between finishing something and publishing it, but you won’t always have that luxury. Even if you only have ten minutes, get away from your computer and do something totally different, then come back and look at your writing with a fresh pair of eyes.

When you’re fully immersed in something, you stop really seeing it. There will always be typos you didn’t spot or sentences that don’t quite fit. Taking a break gives you the headspace needed to fine tune your work.



Five tips to help your writing stand out from the crowd

Day job aside, an extraordinary amount of my day consists of writing – emails, social media posts, letters, shopping lists, to do lists (otherwise known

Day job aside, an extraordinary amount of my day consists of writing – emails, social media posts, letters, shopping lists, to do lists (otherwise known as the masochistic ritual of writing a long list of tasks purely for the pleasure of crossing them out). I’m sure I’m not alone.

UNESCO report that nearly 17% of the world’s adult population are illiterate, so if you’re reading this you’re among the lucky ones, but most of us still don’t get taught how to write really well. We’re taught vocabulary and grammar, but we don’t get taught how to write engaging content or easily convey a complex task.

Writing is such an integral part of everyday life that it’s easy to take it for granted, but the most interesting and enjoyable reads are often the ones that are hardest to write.

We all know how satisfying it is when, after hours of hard work, you manage to pen something that expresses exactly what you want to say and, more importantly, articulates those thoughts and feelings perfectly to the reader.

Good writing takes practice, it involves making mistakes (and learning from them) and, like any skill worth having, honing it takes a lifetime. I’ve been writing professionally for 16 years and I still try to improve my writing with every job I do.

Here are a few tips that I wish someone had shared with me when I first started copywriting:

  1. Value content, not word count. When it comes to writing, less is definitely more. If your college memories include a 20,000 word essay versus a looming deadline, you can be forgiven for thinking word count is king. Academia places a lot of value on this but, while it is valid for those purposes, word count should never be used as a measure of good writing. The best writing tells you what you need to know as painlessly as possible. Length will vary according to the subject and the audience, but never be tempted to pad your work.
  2. Don’t use long words to try and sound like you know more than you do. Write to inform, not to impress. Think about the books you read. The most enjoyable ones paint the scene in your mind without you even realising it’s happening. Then there are those with sentences you have to reread several times to understand. Which ones end up bound for the charity shop? Exactly.
  3. Think about what the reader wants to know, rather than what you want to say. Whatever it is we’re writing, we want the reader to be engaged. We all have stories we want to tell, but unless other people can relate to them, yours will be overlooked. Think about what it is you want the reader to take away from your writing and write with that one objective in mind.
  4. Ask questions. I often have to write about technical subjects that I have very little understanding of (flood attenuation anyone?). I could be lazy and simply write down what the engineers tell me, but that serves no one. The average person is unlikely to get beyond the first sentence without falling into a deep and heavy sleep. So I ask questions until I understand what it is I need to tell the reader. Writing has so many nuances and it can be very easy to completely change the meaning of a sentence with a slight rewording. Always make sure you know your subject and who you’re writing for.
  5. Don’t think that the first draft should be perfect. Anyone who declares their first draft of anything a masterpiece is probably delusional. Don’t spend painstaking hours creating your first draft. My first draft of anything is essentially the same as my dinner plate when I’m in a hurry – all the constituent parts are there, but it doesn’t look pretty. Just get everything you want to say on paper, in no particular order, and then worry about building something beautiful.



Copywriting 101 – six top tips for great writing

“I’m still learning” Michelangelo (aged 87) I’m passionate about learning and believe there’s always room to grow, no matter your level of expertise or length of experience. Continuous

“I’m still learning” Michelangelo (aged 87)

I’m passionate about learning and believe there’s always room to grow, no matter your level of expertise or length of experience.

Continuous professional development is important in the fast-moving world of communications and last month, I attended one of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s copywriting courses. Although it covered some old ground for me, it was still useful (partly because it covered the dark art of headline writing, which I am always grateful for tips on – this may be the subject of my next blog).

There were also a few new writers there, which gave the class a refreshing perspective. Things we take for granted as more seasoned copywriters seemed like alien concepts to them and it encouraged healthy debate about what best practice looks like.

It was a sound reminder that easy reading often only comes from hard writing and that, while we should always keep pushing boundaries to engage our readers, we can’t forget the basics:

We’re writing for the reader
It is oh-so-easy to forget this. We’re the ones writing (and possibly researching) the article/blog/news release. Surely being able to choose what’s in and what’s out is the perk of the job, right?

Wrong.

There’s no point wasting your time writing something no-one will read or understand. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about what they want to hear.

Stick to the point
Before you start writing, be clear on what your core message is. Take time to decide what the one thing you need people to take away from your writing is. Don’t worry if this takes some time, it’s important. Knowing this will help you stay on track if you lose your way while writing.

Choose your style…
and stick to it. We should strive to be conversational where appropriate, but some writing is more formal than others and that mostly depends on your stakeholders and your brand.

Be clear about this from the outset and keep that style throughout the document.

Learn from Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway famously said ‘the first draft is shit’.

He was right.

Even seasoned professionals don’t write perfectly the first time. Writing’s a process, so don’t let yourself be overwhelmed if you’re not sure exactly how your piece is going to look.

You have a blank page and roughly a million words (the estimated number of words in the English language – don’t worry, the average person only knows 20,000 to 35,000). Play around with it. You don’t have to know what the finished piece will look like when you start. Just start putting words on paper.

Edit, edit, edit
When you have everything you want to say on paper, start moving it around, delete bits…add them back in, delete them again. This is perfectly normal. Once you’re happy with it, save and close your computer.

Then come back the next day, re-read it and make any final edits. I can almost guarantee this will result in a perfectly polished piece of writing.

Enjoy it

I love writing. Being able to communicate a concept or story to someone I may never meet is incredibly exciting. It’s a challenge, it allows you to be creative and it allows you to connect with people. So, just take a deep breath and enjoy…

 



Five easy steps to the perfect press release

A friend is launching his own business. It’s an exciting journey with a steep learning curve. Last weekend he issued a cry for help on social media, “I’m trying to

A friend is launching his own business. It’s an exciting journey with a steep learning curve.

Last weekend he issued a cry for help on social media, “I’m trying to write a press release and sound like a dick! Can anyone help?!”

Having spent a few years as a Press Officer, I offered to take a look at his draft. It needed some tweaking, but it was a good start. It reminded me how difficult writing press releases can be when you’re a novice.

Like all copywriting, you need to know your audience and in this case that’s the media. Investing some time and thought in the following will get you off to a strong start:

  1. Is your story worthy of a press release?

It can be hard to be objective when you’re excited about your new product, but is it really newsworthy? Can you imagine your family and friends being excited about it (beyond the polite façade)?

If it’s not new and innovative, if it doesn’t really affect anyone outside your business, it probably doesn’t deserve a press release. Invest your valuable time elsewhere. 

  1. Write a good headline

If you truly believe your story is worthy of media coverage, take the time to get the press release right.

Your headline is the first thing a journalist will see and it needs to grab their attention. Headlines are tricky, but don’t overthink it. Just make sure the headline accurately describes what the press release is about and keep it simple and to the point.

  1. Make sure the first few sentences include the key information

Journalists get hundreds of emails, so make sure you don’t lose their attention early on. 

Bear in mind that the press release is primarily a tool to share info with the journalist. Make sure the most important information is included in the first few lines – think who, what, where, why and when. You can elaborate in the following paragraphs.

  1. Make it easy to use

Remember the above – the press release is written for the journalist, not the readers (although some journalists will just copy and paste it).

  • Keep it short (two pages max.) and keep it interesting.
  • Use sub-headings and bullet points where appropriate to make it easy to read.
  • Avoid technical jargon.
  • Add a couple of quotes to bring it to life
  • Include any good quality photos you have.
  • Avoid the temptation to overload the press release with unnecessary detail. If you want to provide background information about your company, keep it succinct and relevant and put it in a ‘Notes to Editors’ section at the end of the release.
  1. When you put the pen down, pick the phone up

Writing the press release is just half of this particular battle. Speak to the journalist before you send the release, tell them about your story and let them know why you think it’s relevant for their publication. Once you’ve sent it, make a follow-up call to see if there’s anything else they need from you.

Be persistent – the nature of their job means that journalists may not always have time for your call, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested.

Writing press releases take practice, you need to learn what works and what doesn’t, but following these easy steps should make the process a little less painful. Good luck!

 



Simplicity – the greatest weapon in a writer’s arsenal

Earlier this week, I was asked to help with an article about good customer service. The star of the article had supplied two sides of


Earlier this week, I was asked to help with an article about good customer service. The star of the article had supplied two sides of A4 that needed editing into a 250 word article.

There was a lot to do.

It’s not that it was terrible, but it didn’t flow well. There was lots of detail that was meaningless to the majority of the audience. The story moved, confusingly, from the middle to the beginning to the end. The personal pronouns were inconsistent so you weren’t really sure who had done what.

I know the writer well. He is well spoken and articulate, but all that was lost in the outpouring from head to paper. In an attempt to make the story more exciting and interesting (which wasn’t needed), the story had become overcomplicated.

The lucky ones among us get to go to school and learn how to read and write. In that process, we’re often encouraged to write creatively, but rarely to write simply.

When writing translates to difficult reading, simplicity is almost always what’s needed:

1. Know your reader. Once you know who they are, you can ask yourself what it is they need to be told. My audience for this blog is business people who want to improve their copywriting. Knowing that helps me stay focussed.

2. Make sure the story follows the headline. The urge to get overly creative with headlines is strong, but resist.

Your headline should be attention grabbing, but only for the right audience. There’s little point in attracting lots of interest if your audience is fairly niche. Readers will quickly move on and you may bypass your actual audience entirely.

Write a headline that appeals to your audience and don’t be afraid to be specific.

3. Stick to the point. Be objective – does the reader really need to know all the detail you’ve included? If it’s not relevant or interesting, don’t include it.

4. Keep your language simple. This is not the time or place to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the English language. I was once told to ‘write to inform, not to impress’. It remains one of the most valuable lessons I learned. Which of the following makes you want to join the speaker?

We’re convening in the nearby drinking establishment for a beverage.
Or
We’re meeting in the local pub for a pint.

Enough said.

5. Lead the reader through the story. Guide them through the story from start to finish, including as much interesting (and relevant) detail as possible.

Try to avoid words that readers may not be familiar with, but if you have to, make sure they’re explained in layman’s terms.

Use words that help your readers picture what you’re saying (the customer broke into a wide smile).

When faced with a choice of words to use, opt for the one everyone knows. Say office, not facilities. Say rain, not weather conditions. Say meeting, rather than cross-departmental brainstorming session (please!).

6. Keep sentences short. But try to vary the length. Too many short sentences makes reading dull. See what I mean?

15 to 20 words is a considered a good average. If your sentence gets too long, it can become muddled and difficult to follow. If your reader has to keep rereading the sentence, you’ve lost all hope of getting your point across.

7. Stay active! The active verb is a writer’s gift – embrace it.

‘The car hit the tree at full speed.’ That’s active writing. ‘The tree was hit by the car at full speed.’ That’s not and the impact (pardon the pun) is gone.

8. Every word matters. Once we’re clear of university and the dreaded essay word count, there’s no need to pad your work (and you shouldn’t really do it in the first place). Stay focussed, keep it direct and interesting.

As a writer, your mission (if you choose to accept it – sorry, couldn’t resist) is to transport the story from the paper to the readers mind. If your story is good, there is no need to overcomplicate the telling of it. Keep it simple and you can’t go too far wrong.



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