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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Why I Hate Online Grammar Checkers

Grammar checkers drive me crazy. Here’s the problem with online grammar checkers–and yes, I mean Grammarly also–they can’t think. When confronted with the slightest complication in a sentence, they default to “wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Recently, a client used an online grammar checker on a sentence like this:

We give sales, marketing, and executive teams greater visibility into financial performance.

In context, the grammar checker insisted that “teams” needed to be a possessive: team’s or teams’. In truth, the sentence was perfectly correct as it stood. Adding an apostrophe would make it grammatically incorrect.

Grammar checkers break down over possessives and contractions. I often catch them preferring “you’re” to “your” in a statement like “what should you do if your house collapses?” They are also baffled by capitalization: the Word grammar checker insists on capitalizing company even in a sentence like “we all went to the company picnic.”

Here’s another example of grammar checker bungling:

If you are going to send someone a long email, make sure that you start by listing the topics under discussion and that you are being as concise as you possibly can.

The grammar checker objected to the word “being” because (pause for irony) it wasn’t concise enough. This client asked me to remove “being.” But if I removed it, the client would be left with the phrase “you are as concise as you possibly can.” That phrase is simply awkward; compare it to “you are as happy as you possibly can.” Clearly there is a verb missing: if “being” disappears, then the phrase has to become “you are as concise as you possibly can be.”

The grammar checker choked on the original sentence because grammar checkers do not understand subordinate clauses. They also go into tailspins over compound subjects and compound sentences. Grammar checkers make suggestions without recognizing the need for alternatives that make sense.

I long ago reached the frustrating conclusion that grammar checkers are of least use to people who seek help with their English grammar. Those individuals may write a perfect sentence only to change it to something ungrammatical in response to a grammar checkers’ whim.

Should you ignore grammar checkers entirely? Well, like the watch that stopped at 6 o’clock, grammar checkers have to be right some times. But be aware of their shortcomings and that you might benefit more from someone like me, with 20 years of freelance writing, editing, and proofreading experience and skill.

Contact me whenever grammar and grammar checkers are driving you crazy.

Plagiarism and Creativity

In college, I had a professor who failed one of my papers because it sounded like something his favorite author had written. I asked if he had found any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that matched that author, whom I had never heard of. This was before online plagiarism checkers, and the teacher admitted he couldn’t find any duplication–the paper simply “sounded like.” This is not the definition of plagiarism.

What Plagiarism Is

Someone who plagiarizes takes another person’s work and passes it off as their own. For that to happen, the plagiarism must do more than merely sound like it might have been written by the other person; it must exactly duplicate the original work. And it has to encompass more than a mere phrase or a word or two.

You are plagiarizing if you quote from any online or print article, blog post, book, movie, or other creative work without permission and without citing the source. You are plagiarizing, for example, if you take a photo off the internet and pass it off as your own. The only exceptions are for information that is clearly marked as free to share. Do not assume that a work is in the public domain or that “public domain” frees you from citing a source: there is only one Romeo and Juliet and if you quote huge chunks of it, you should mention Shakespeare.

Whenever you give a complete attribution for a work by someone else–and there are many online sites that will explain how to do this–you are guarding against plagiarism by admitting that someone else created the content you are using. As mentioned, you may also need to ask the original creator’s or publisher’s permission first.

What Plagiarism Is Not

If you are fooling around with ideas, you don’t need to put quotes around “fooling around” as if you feared plagiarizing; it’s an overused cliché but it isn’t owned by any other person.

If you are writing for a client, as I do, then a work becomes the client’s (not yours) as soon as it is paid for and you cannot duplicate it for another client. But if no one has bought the work, it is yours to duplicate as you wish–in articles, blog posts, website content, success stores, and so on. (If you are writing for an independent publication, such as an industry magazine, make sure you understand their policies on ownership.) Generally, you need not fear plagiarizing from yourself.

It is not plagiarism if, on occasion, more than one person comes up with the same phrase. Let’s say, in the course of giving instructions to a DIY builder, you write this phrase: “Create a tight joint using glue and screws.” I can guarantee you that at least one how-to book, if not every one, contains a sentence identical to that. There are only a few ways to explain how glue and screws create a tight joint.

Creativity versus Plagiarism

These days teachers, managers, and editors can run anything you write through an online plagiarism checker to ensure that you haven’t inadvertently plagiarized from another source. That’s fine, but prevention can easily be carried too far.

Let’s suppose you write a sentence all on your own and the online computer program says that the sentence also appeared in a book someone published in 1918 that you never heard of and never read. Inadvertent repetition is part of the creative process in every field. A little simultaneous creativity isn’t necessarily plagiarism.

For example, scientists often scramble to be the first in their field because so many people are aiming for the same result and may reach it at the same time. They aren’t plagiarizing from each other (one hopes); they are merely following the same creative path to the same conclusion.

Creativity should never be manacled by slavish devotion to computer programs. You can use a computer program to find evidence of plagiarism, but never abandon common sense or devalue the results of independent thought.

By the way, that teacher who falsely accused me of plagiarism ultimately gave me an A for the course. A high standard of writing is not plagiarism, no matter how young you are.

I am proud of my ability to write marketing and technical content that is clear, consistent, concise, and creative. If you need writing like that, please contact me today.

Technical Writing: Is This Jargon?

Q. I work for a company provides technology, construction, and other services for a wide variety of industries-—each with their own vocabulary. Plus the company I work for has many specialized, technical products. When we talk about, say, a process analytical technology, that’s a real thing that our customers are looking for, not made up jargon. I want to write clearly, but how do I distinguish jargon from not-jargon?

A. Technical writers and technical companies often rely on jargon in an attempt to be brief. They try to pack the maximum amount of information into one phrase.

However, your first obligation as a writer is to be clear. You want customers to grasp your product and services quickly, and they can’t do that if they’re deciphering jargon. You might as well write in a secret code.

One of my customers boasted online about his software company’s “compatible knowledge component portfolio.” Would you know what you were getting if a company offered you a portfolio of compatible knowledge components? When I asked my customer to describe what the company was selling, he explained in clear simple language: software that helps transfer information smoothly from one program to another. So we replaced the jargon on his website with those clear words.

My customer’s original phrase illustrates some of the criteria for identifying jargon. You are probably reading or writing jargon if a phrase:

  1. Describes something that cannot be immediately diagrammed or understood by your colleague in the next cubical.
  2. Consists of three or more nouns in a row: knowledge component portfolio.
  3. Contains a majority of three- or four-syllable words: in this case, three out of four (compatible, component, portfolio).
  4. Ends with one or more of the following generic nouns: functionality, process, system, capability, service, solution: enhanced reciprocal functionality.

Sometimes jargon marks an attempt by companies to differentiate themselves. You may need a unique phrase to identify a unique product or service. But you should first explain your product or service in everyday English. Once customers understand what you mean by “enhanced reciprocal functionality” or ERF, you are free to talk about it in that shorthand—if you still want to. But make sure the definition is clear in every new document.

Sometimes jargon uses everyday English but is still incomprehensible. We may believe we know what a company means by offering a “strategic planning roadmap process.” The meanings of the individual words are well within our grasp. But in reality, we have no idea if this company creates, delivers, reviews, carries out, or consults upon strategic plans.

If you aren’t sure whether you are writing jargon, please contact me. I will help you communicate clearly, even about the most technical products and services, so that customers truly understand what you offer.

A Bill of Rights for Your Reader

Sometimes I wish there were a bill of rights governing content for customers! Readers have the right to content that addresses their problem, offers a clear solution, is written logically and clearly, and explains what to do next.

You try your best. You’ve produced reams of online and paper content describing your products and services. But sheer volume isn’t enough. Here are the four biggest reasons a marketing message violates the bill of rights:

  • Nobody cares. You’re excited by your achievements. I once had a client whose entire brochure focused on her artistic philosophy and growth. But her customers weren’t interested in her personal triumphs. Their immediate concerns were, “What are you selling, what does it cost, and why should I buy it from you?”
  • It’s confusing. When you cobble content together from old content or have multiple authors writing independently, mistakes enter. For example, I often encounter both marketing and technical content where measurements shift from metric to English and back again; in this case, I recommend giving both measurements at all times: “approximately 10 feet (3 meters).” When customers receive information that’s inconsistent, outdated, or simply wrong, they begin to mistrust whatever you tell them.
  • No one understands it. Your customers expect content written in the plainest possible English, information they can understand quickly and thoroughly. One of my clients stated that “our chemical research has created an absolutely inexhaustible wealth of forms, phenomena, and possibilities.” What they meant was this: “our research has created a wealth of chemicals and new ways to use them.” If you consistently write with 4- and 5-syllable words, business jargon, acronyms, and tech speak or if you skimp on explanations because “everybody knows that,” you’re in trouble.
  • No one can find it. If you dump everything you do or provide into one huge list–or worse, one huge sentence–for the customer to sort out, the customer gives up. I remember a client who wrote a three-chapter proposal: 10 pages in the Introduction, 5 pages in the Conclusion, and 277 endless pages of actual information in the middle. Organize your content so that customers are guided directly to the information they are looking for.

When content aligns with the bill of rights, customers recognize themselves and their problems in your message. They understand that you have the solution they need and how to acquire that solution. And they don’t have to fight for the information because your writing uses everyday, straight-forward, consistent language in a format that is easy to follow.

Having trouble establishing your own bill of rights for marketing content? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Our words mean business.

Writing Well When English Is Your Second Language

If you are a writer for whom English is a second language, you probably have several advantages over native-English speakers. You may be more likely to write with short sentences, short paragraphs, and everyday words–these are choices that more people should make.

But you may also face writing challenges in these four areas:

  • Sentence construction. Many constructions that are acceptable in other languages–for example, putting a verb at the end of a sentence–are uncommon in English. Some constructions used in British English (for example, “Well done, you!”) sound odd to US ears.
  • Spelling. US English has borrowed words from many countries, yet rejected their original spelling (confidant/confidante or colour/color). Homophones are common: vein/vane/vain and they’re/their. Another problem arises with close spellings, such as effect/affect and compliment/complement.
  • Contractions. US writing includes lots of contractions, even in formal situations. Some contractions can be especially challenging: “I’d” could mean “I had” or “I would” or “I should,” depending on context.
  • Verb choice. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about gender when using English verbs. The bad news is that it is very easy to get tangled up in participles, gerunds, verb/noun agreement, and whether the past participle of lay is lain or laid (laid is correct).
  • Local differences. You probably know that US football is not soccer, but you may not know about US nonsmoking laws, wildly different climates from East Coast to West, or other legal, cultural, and geographic differences. In addition, every country has sensitive topics; failing to navigate them can detract from the message you intended to send.

Are you concerned that your message is being lost among problems with US or British sentence construction, spelling, contractions, verb choice, and cultural differences? Consider asking a professional, native English writer to review your written materials.

In the course of my career, I have helped individuals and companies from China, Russia, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Britain write in standard and idiomatic US English. I would be delighted to help you. Contact me at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Insight Papers: Is Your Expertise Going to Waste?

Insight papers or white papers are a perfect way to present your expertise to current and future clients and customers. They are also a way to develop a deeper understanding of your own business and consolidate your marketing focus.

A true insight paper requires more than writing down everything you have learned in your career. It should present a new perspective on a current industry problem; information that has not been gathered in one place before; and support for a stance.

Here are five steps toward building an insight paper:

  1. Research the current trend(s) in your industry. For example, if you are a kitchen designer, you might want to research the use of color, metallic, and engineered surfaces.
  2. Ask your clients and experts in your field about their experiences with that trend. Most people are happy to be cited in an insight paper, but treat their comments with respect whether or not they agree with your preconceptions.
  3. Research the topic of your insight paper. For example, if you are a manufacturer, you might research statistics on how just in time manufacturing has affected innovation in your industry.
  4. Take a stance–one you believe in. For example, if you are an executive coach, you might argue that some team building exercises alienate employees instead of inspiring them.
  5. Make it interesting. No one wants to read two thousand (and more) words of statistics or a lecture on what you believe. Use quotes, stories, illustrations, and even humor to make your point.

One of the easiest ways to construct an insight paper is to create it from your own blog posts or other marketing collateral. But remember that an insight paper must go beyond a reiteration of your own thoughts: it must be substantiated with quotes from experts, statistics, and stories about real experiences. A well-constructed insight paper is far more valuable as a source of future blog posts and marketing collateral.

One of the advantages of your research is the insight it will give you into your business. Are you taking advantage of recent trends, marketing to the concerns of your customers, and developing solutions that meet their needs and set you apart from your competition?

You might decide to self-publish your insight paper on your website; provide a hard copy to potential clients; email it to past customers to remind them of your expertise; or submit it to industry magazines. It can serve to generate qualified leads, when people are interested enough to leave their contact information in return for the insight paper.

If writing an insight paper feels like a momentous task, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. You’ll be delighted with how efficiently an insight paper can be written and delighted with the results.

10 Questions for Your Freelance Writer

Here are 10 questions to ask a freelance writer before you start a project–and the reasons why those questions are important.

  1. What is your native language? You want a writer whose first language is the same as your audience’s to avoid cultural, idiomatic, and other missteps.
  2. How long have you been a freelance writer? You want a professional freelance writer with a track record who won’t abandon you the moment a “real” job comes along.
  3. What software do you use? Every freelance writer should be expert at Word and Acrobat (the editing version, not the reader). In addition, you may need expertise in FrameMaker, Excel, etc.
  4. What is your process? Find out if the writer charges separately for multiple iterations and for nudging to get a response to a question.
  5. Do you travel? Some freelance writers are willing to go to your site; others prefer telecommuting only.
  6. Do you have samples? The samples should show you the freelance writer’s style and whether it will align with your goals. They also are proof that the writer has completed assignments successfully in the past.
  7. Have you worked in this industry before? Lack of experience in your specific industry may or may not be a deal breaker; breadth of experience in your type of project (blog post, website copy, case study, etc.) may be more important.
  8. What are your typical prices and what is your turn-around time? Often a freelance writer cannot answer these questions without a better idea of your project–but do find out if the writer charges an hourly or project rate. Usually, a project rate is better for you.Also share your deadline and find out if it’s feasible.
  9. How do you want to be paid? Some freelance writers take credit cards; some don’t. For a long project, you may be asked to pay at milestones or at the end of each month.
  10. Do you offer any services aside from writing? Don’t assume that “writing” includes interviewing, graphic design, public relations, publishing, or proofreading. Ask if you have a specific need.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is a sole-proprietorship that offers writing, editing, and proofreading services to a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, consulting, and energy. For nearly 20 years, I have written blog posts, website copy, case studies, user manuals, insight papers, and more. Please contact me if you have questions or want to discuss a project. I welcome inquiries.