About sharon

As the founder and head of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, Sharon Bailly has more than 25 years of experience as a professional business and technical writer for large and small companies and nonprofits throughout the U.S. Her articles on writing have appeared in Minority Engineer, Women’s Business, New Hampshire Business Review and other publications, and she has presented writing workshops at business groups, nonprofit organizations and individual company sites. TWP provides accurate, exciting and focused content for websites, blogs, brochures, newsletters, success stories, user manuals, presentations and white papers both online and on paper.

Breaking Up Is Easy to Do: Six Ways to Make Writing Less Boring

If the person in front of you talks in a monotone, never pauses for comment, and drones on and on and on….you are talking to a bore. Unfortunately, writing can easily become boring if it, too, consists of great blocks of uninterrupted words. And you know what people do when they see bores and boredom looming: they run.

Here are six ways to break up your message, make your writing less boring, and keep your readers reading.

  1. Numbered lists. People love articles of advice that begin with “Five Ways to…” and they appreciate instructions that clearly show them “Step 1….Step 2….” and so on. Numbered lists reveal right away how much text a reader will have to read. They also provide logical breaking points (say, between Step 8 and Step 9), if the reader needs a moment’s pause.
  2. Bullets.  If you have a list that doesn’t lend itself to numbers, try bullets. Bullets are the first choice, for example, in listing accomplishments in a resume or LinkedIn profile. Be careful not to create overlong bullets that are still simply great blocks of text. Also be careful about consistency. When you change bullets too often, they come across as sloppy; and you confuse the reader about each bullet’s importance.
  3. Headings. Headings and subheadings are an easy way to break up your message and guide a reader from one important topic to another. They also give readers a chance to pause before absorbing more information. Make sure that you keep your headings or subheadings to 2 or 3 levels at most. If you find yourself creating a level 4 subheading, you are probably overdue for a new main heading.
  4. Bolding/Italics. Bolding and italics immediately direct a reader to important information, and the emphasized words serve as an instant summary. However, emphasis can also be overdone. The general rule of thumb is: The more methods used to emphasize text (bold, italic, underline, small cap, and so on), the less power any of them have.
  5. Short Paragraphs. Limit your paragraphs to 4 or 5 sentences and each sentence to no more than (and preferably less than) 30 words. When you join short paragraphs to any of the other suggestions above, you let your readers feel that reading your content will be easy and enjoyable, as opposed to overwhelming and boring.
  6. Graphic Design. I love professional graphic designers. With a change in font size, the positioning of a photo or video, or any number of other graphic techniques, they draw a reader’s attention and hold it. Graphics allow the reader’s eye to rest from reading and may decrease the need for a lot of explanatory text. One warning: the magic professional graphic designers perform often becomes design overload in amateur hands.

Do you need help to break up your message and make your writing less boring? When clear and interesting communication is important to you and your customers, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

 

The Who, How, & When of Hiring a Freelance Writer

As a freelance marketing and technical writer, I find that people are sometimes confused and daunted by the who, how, and when of hiring a freelancer. Here is a little information to help with the decision to hire a professional freelance writer.

The Who: How to Recognize a Professional Freelance Writer

A professional freelance writer is not anyone with a liberal arts degree. In fact, many marketing writers and technical writers have degrees in exactly those subjects. A professional freelance writer is also not a laid-off marketing or technical writer who is between jobs. You want someone who will be around for your entire project and for your next project a year from now–not someone who will abandon you for the first full-time employment offer.

So a professional freelance writer:

  • Has a degree in marketing or technical writing and/or years of experience
  • Can provide you with a portfolio of completed freelance projects
  • Is committed to being a freelancer.

The How: How to Work with a Professional Freelance Writer

Successful freelance writers have multiple clients and aim to give all of them stellar work on time and on budget–including you.

You deserve a professional freelance writer who is honest about working with:

  • Your deadlines
  • Your budget
  • Your review process
  • Your feedback.

But you need to be honest about your deadline, budget, review process, and desires before the project begins. The better you know what you want, the better and faster the writer can provide it.

Every professional freelance writer deserves to receive:

  • Reasonable expectations from you–a writer’s magic wand and mind reading abilities are extremely limited
  • Clear communication from you–which may mean limiting the number of reviewers, since review by committee always leads to chaos
  • On-time payment of every invoice.

The When: Benefits of a Professional Freelance Writer

The four main reasons business owners consider a freelance writer are (a) lack of time, (b) lack or confusion of ideas, (c) limited resources (they don’t have the budget or work to justify a full-time hire), and (d) some level of sheer panic over the task.

That’s the time to use a professional freelance writer.

A professional freelance writer relieves you of a task that is not in your primary skill set; helps spark and focus your ideas; is available exactly when needed and for no longer; and takes responsibility for a writing project that has become onerous rather than fun and exciting.

Conclusion

I hope that clears up the who, what, and when of freelance marketing and technical writing. If you need an experienced and dedicated professional freelance writer, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I work with businesses and projects of every size from sole proprietors to corporations and from single blog posts to entire websites. Contact me today at write [at] twriteplus.com.

Marketing Copy for Nonprofits

Over the years, I have worked with several nonprofits, serving on the boards of two and helping others volunteering in different capacities. In every case, marketing the organization–in websites, events, social media, local newspapers, brochures, flyers, and case studies–was a primary concern.

I have learned that marketing copy for a nonprofit is most successful when:

  1. It concentrates on hope, not fear. For example, a nonprofit that works with children with dyslexia changed its marketing copy to stress a child’s ability to overcome reading challenges, while acknowledging but not wallowing in the struggle. Parents already know their child is suffering. They need hope.
  2. It offers facts and figures as well as anecdotes. The anecdotes are very important, to reinforce how the nonprofit helps people or animals or the environment. But especially for donors, feeling good is often not enough. They want to know the hard facts, including how their donation (large or small) will be used.
  3. It shows as much as it tells. Photos and videos are very important whether on websites, newsletters, or letters to donors.
  4. It explains the mission in very direct terms and makes contact information easy to find. For example, an organization helping families in crisis spent so much time on its website asking for donations that there was no way for a family in crisis to figure out how to actually apply for services.
  5. It celebrates volunteers and donors; they are the lifeblood of any nonprofit. Not only do you make the volunteers and donors feel good about donating their time but their involvement inspires others to participate.

What is your audience looking for and what do you want them to do? Is feeling bad about a situation or feeling good about your organization enough? Is there a next step that is even more important?

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications helps nonprofits connect with the right audience in the right way for the right reasons. Email us today.

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Writing

Before you start writing any marketing copy, whether website content, blog post, success story, insight paper, brochure or article, you should know the answers to these questions:

1. Who are you talking to? Are you targeting the purchaser, user, or maintainer of the product or service you are selling? Does your audience have a little knowledge about your products/services or a lot (when in doubt, presume a little)?

2. Where do your customers get their information? Are they likely to be online, walking into your store, reading newspapers, or randomly searching for someone in your field? Do they attend trade shows or networking events? You want to write copy that your customers will actually see.

3. What do your customers want and what do you want to give them? Every customer arrives at your physical or e-door with a problem, whether finding out what shoes to buy or how to train operators at a nuclear energy plant. Your marketing copy must provide a solution for the customer’s problem. You have to target the problem, be able to solve it, want to solve it, and know how to communicate all that to the customer.

4. What are your resources? How much time are you prepared to spend? A regular newsletter or blog takes time; so does tweeting and maintaining a Facebook presence. Do you have enough money? Do you adequate writing or technology skills or do you need to hire someone?

5. What is your deadline? A website or proposal that is due in a month but takes four months to finish is worthless. Your marketing copy can’t start working for you until it reaches your customers.

6. Do you really need this additional marketing copy? Don’t send out a brochure because “everyone” in your field sends out brochures. Maybe customers will be more captivated by an unexpected postcard or email.

If you are having trouble defining and reaching your audience or finding the resources and time to complete writing projects, contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business.

English the Right Way

The English language is joyful–and exasperating. It provides so many ways to say what you mean, and all of them are correct. Or in other words: No matter what you want to say, there are dozens of ways to say it right.

So here are four guidelines to help you make sure you are using English correctly:

  1. Recognize the limits of words. An engineer once asked me for a single word that meant cost-effective, high quality and efficient. No such word exists. If he tried to create one, he would be asking customers to read his mind. If you are not sure whether a word exists or you are using it properly, look it up in a dictionary. Online dictionaries are as helpful as paper ones; just make sure you rely on a dictionary and not a spell checker because spell checkers will happily let you use the wrong word, as long you spell it correctly.
  2. Follow the rules of grammar. Grammar gives writing its spine. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook is a good source. The glossary and index alone are worth the price. Do not rely on online grammar checkers. They will send you in the wrong direction; they question perfectly grammatical sentences and promote howlers like using “that” instead of “who.”
  3. Listen to your ear, and write like you talk. This is a harder rule to follow if your native language is not English. Read everything you write out loud. If it sounds stilted, pompous, long-winded and confusing, then it probably is stilted, pompous long-winded and confusing. When you talk to your customers, you use clear, familiar language that lets your excitement about your product or service shine through. Good writing is good talking. If you need help, turn to The Elements of Style by Wlliam Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. In less than 100 pages, this classic book will transform your ideas about style.
  4. Limit yourself to one or two trusted reviewers. Because English is so flexible, heated debates arise over a single comma or a single synonym. If you find yourself fighting your reviewers, then check the sources suggested above. Or find new reviewers. Writing by committee is impossible. If you must work with several authors to finish a project, place one of the authors in charge of the whole–that’s the only way to ensure consistency and clarity from page to page.

Perhaps the most important writing advice is to know when to stop revising. With the flexibility of English, you can second guess yourself into stagnation. But your website, blog post, brochure or success story can’t start working for you until you send it out.

If English is driving you (and your reviewers) crazy, you have one more resource you can count on: Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications (write at twriteplus.com). We’ll help you discover the best way to say what your customers want to hear.

 

 

A New Year’s Look at Your Website

Have you taken a gander yet at the latest in website design?

The Latest Website Design

On home pages, the content is tighter, with more visual interest.

Navigation bars are simpler, so that visitors can quickly dive into the solution they need.

Instead of wading through large blocks of text, visitors click on a photo with accompanying caption to search for more information on a specific topic. Or they listen to a video.

The website is constantly refreshed with blog posts, case studies, news releases, and insight papers.

And there are opportunities on every page for visitors to click through to the contact information.

Help for Your Website

You don’t have to adopt all these changes, but you should take a close look at your website content for wordiness, static copy, and complex navigation. You want to ensure that your website has:

  • Clear, concise, compelling, and factual content that quickly attracts and holds the interest of your audience.
  • Content organized to highlight your most important products and services while helping visitors navigate through your site.
  • Photos, videos, and other interactive elements that take full advantage of the internet’s capabilities.
  • Interviews, testimonials, and exciting insights in blog posts, success stories, press releases, and insight papers to keep your website fresh.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications

Based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, I offer the highest quality writing–with credits in Forbes, the Boston Review, Oil & Gas Journal, and other publications. I work with sole proprietors, large corporations, and anyone in between in both technical and nontechnical fields. Because I’m a freelance writer, you have the option of using me just once on a specific website project or over-and-over as the need for new content arises. Some of my clients have disappeared for years and then resurfaced with a new need–and some keep me busy every week writing blog posts, newsletters, or press releases.

Not clear what your writing needs are? I’m happy to discuss your current website and how I can help bring it to the next level. Keep ahead of the times and your competition! Contact me at write at twriteplus.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

How to Edit: 4 Helpful Hints for Marketing and Technical Writing

The old joke has it that in order to create a great sculpture like Michelangelo’s David, all you do is chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.

That advice may not make you another Michelangelo but it will certainly help you to edit your marketing or technical writing.

What Is Editing and When Do You Do It?

Editing is the process of pruning down your writing so that it (a) fits the space it needs to fit (for example, a magazine may have a 1000-word limit); (b) says what you need it to say clearly, concisely, and powerfully; and/or (c) is easy for readers to follow, because very few people will slog through a logical mess.

Many of us have a little voice in our heads that criticizes our writing. Many of us have no voice whatsoever and cling to our words as if they dripped with gold. Doesn’t matter. You need to edit, and the time to do that is after you are finished writing, never while.

What to Look for When You’re Editing

Editing is not the same as proofreading–although you should proofread every word you write before you send it out into the world. Proofreading concentrates on correct and consistent spelling, grammar, and formatting.

Editing concentrates on delivering a clear, concise, and interesting message that sticks to the topic. To edit your technical or marketing writing:

  1. Introduce no more than 3 ideas. People have trouble remembering more than 7 new ideas and you want to stay well below that mark. As an added incentive to limit new ideas, when doctors are testing for memory issues, they often give the patient three random words to remember until the end of the session. That’s three, not thirty. If you have trouble sticking to and organizing a few memorable ideas, please see my previous blog post.
  2. Check for unnecessary words and phrases like can or are able to and for vague adjectives like cost-effective. Precision motivates readers. Instead of “We are able to deliver cost-effective heating solutions” state “We save you 20% yearly on heating.”
  3. Never be afraid to use more words to gain clarity. In an effort to be concise, an engineer I worked with came up with the sentence, “We offer a broad portfolio of compatible knowledge components.” He meant: “Our software transfers your information smoothly from one program to another.” For two extra words, he gained tremendous clarity.
  4. Stay true to your theme and your audience. This is where you cut away anything that is not David. If you feel frustrated, then write another article, success story, insight paper, blog post, or brochure. But do not switch themes (“how to save money on heating”) or audiences (your average homeowner) in midstream or you will baffle–and lose–your reader.

Conclusion

Editing is a necessary step after you write and before you proofread; in fact, I usually edit three or four times. The first edit, I cut back; the second, I restore; and the third, I find that perfect balance between saying too much and not enough. For writing, editing, and proofreading help for your marketing or technical writing, whether a large project or very small, contact me today through LinkedIn or at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

 

Verbs That Weaken Your Message

While I often stress that nouns and verbs are more important than adjectives or adverbs in developing a strong marketing message, certain verbs and verb combinations actually have a weakening effect.

Take the verb “can” for example. One of the best pieces of advice I received in my career as a writer was to eliminate the word “can” from writing, as in “We can deliver in 24 hours.” Either you deliver in 24 hours or you don’t. The word “can” adds nothing.

The future tense often results in the same dilution of your message: “We will make sure your project meets all specifications.” The more powerful statement is: “We make sure your project meets all specifications.” The future tense is irrelevant because this action is one you always take.

If you, as the business owner, want to hedge your bets, then promise delivery in 36 hours or retract a statement entirely, but do not insert “can” or “will” as a first line of defense against failure. If you don’t deliver on time, people will notice–and that’s a correct use of the future tense.

The verbs “is” and “are” may also create problems. For example, “We are manufacturers of quality toys.” The more concise and powerful statement is: “We manufacture quality toys.” Look through your documents for the is/of or are/of combination in a sentence and you will likely find a more interesting verb hidden away.

“We are engaged in the manufacturing of quality toys” should be “We manufacture quality toys.” The ing/of combination is another sign of an undermined marketing message.

The phrases “we always try to” or “we always strive to” are almost never needed. Whatever you are trying or striving or aiming to do, be like Nike and just do it.

When you own your actions, your readers credit you with more power, authority, and wisdom than when you pussyfoot around with “can,” “will,” and “try.” Be the authority they want you to be.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications specializes in communicating strong messages fast. Contact me today.

 

Customer First: What That Really Means for Writing

Imagine this: You enter a brick and mortar store and the sales person comes up to you and recites, “We have books, clothing, housewares, electronics featuring a sale on cell phones, a real coffee bar featuring freshly baked coconut muffins, superior customer service, with great prices, fast delivery and…”

How quickly do you interrupt?

You know what you want and the rest of the sales person’s monologue is irrelevant. Now let’s take that concept to the written word. If you want to customers to read your writing, you should never start with a monologue on “what we do and why we’re great at it.”

Putting the Customer First

As I’ve often said, “We can solve your problem” is the most powerful promise a business can deliver to a customer. But to deliver that promise, you have to listen before you speak. Let customers tell you what their problem is–a new dress, a home renovation, a drop in sales–and then offer your solution.

Remember, there is always another web or brochure page, blog post, success story, or article that you can write. Don’t pack everything into one toss of the printer. You are better off targeting and serving a single type of customer than trying to pull in everyone at once.

Even very large online companies, like Amazon, provide a way for customers to quickly move from their website’s first page to the information they are really interested in. If Amazon can start with the customer’s problem, so can you.

How Navigation Bars (and Subtitles) Help or Hinder

On websites, one of my pet peeves is the ubiquitous “Services” or “Products” category on the navigation bar. That may be justified if you provide many different services or products. But if you have a few specialties, consider mentioning them directly on the navigation bar. (By the way, the same applies to subtitles in marketing and technical copy–lots of precise subtitles make everything more readable!)

For example, one of my clients is a sales consultant whose original navigation bar and home page focused on “Services.” But once we determined that she excelled in three main areas, we changed the navigation bar to read “Generate Leads,” “Increase Revenue,” and “Close More Sales.” We also made sure the home page text centered on those three services, with individual links to later pages. As a result, customers immediately felt that the consultant understood and offered a solution for their most pressing problems. And each customer could go directly to the page that mattered most. The faster readers get to the information they want, the more likely they are to stay and buy.

Conclusion

Ready to change a boring monologue into a helpful conversation? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today.

 

What Comes First When You Have Too Many Great Ideas?

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is figuring out what to say first. If you dump everything you want to say into one web page or one article or one blog post, you are likely to end up with a mess that no one understands. And yet, how can you let those great ideas slip away?

The first rule of organizing any writing is that there is always another sentence, paragraph, and page. You do not need to cram everything into one opportunity. What you need is focus.

A Basic Structure for Organizing Ideas

Let’s say you run a car repair shop and want to draw in customers by performing annual car inspections.

  • First write a “thesis“–a central idea–that takes this form: You (the customer) should (do this) to get (that). In this example, the thesis states, “You should have your car inspected every year to make sure it is running properly.”
  • Next write the reasons why this thesis is true: “The inspection checks for problems with safety equipment, such as brake lights, and for violations of regulations, such as emission standards.”
  • Next write a conclusion based on the information you have given. “If your car passes inspection, you will know it is safe to operate for another year.”
  • Finally, call the readers to action. “Sign up for a car inspection today and we will give you a 20% discount.”

When you are finished, look through the content to make sure your opening sentence is as strong as it can be. Sometimes opening turns out to be buried in the conclusion–by then, you’re thought out exactly what you want to say. But this structure keeps your thoughts on track–in this case, you stay focused on car inspections.

Other Ways to Organize Content

Here are a few other ways to organize your ideas:

  • Write about three benefits/features of your product or service (Our car inspection service covers three safety concerns…). Three is usually the optimum number.
  • Create a list (10 ways to keep your car safe).
  • Set up a Q&A. Create a question (“I’m afraid to have my car inspected. What should I do?”), building up a scene that might have prompted a real customer to ask that question. Then answer it.
  • Tell a true story (“One of our customers wanted to buy a car that had no record of inspections. We suggested…”).

Get Help from TWP Marketing & Technical Communications

You have lots of great ideas for marketing content. If you find your writing wandering all over the universe and back, contact me. I’ll make sure your marketing content is always organized to show off your best ideas.