5 Most Dangerous Writing Mistakes

  1. Ignoring your readers. Writing that ignores the reader contains humor the reader might consider inappropriate, an overabundance of acronyms and expert terms and many more “I” statements than “you” statements. This writing mistake includes addressing people in ways that either the reader or the person referred to might consider unacceptable–for example, “a dyslexic” instead of “a person with dyslexia.”
  2. Assuming that you know what a word means. “Consensual” and “consensus” are two very different types of agreement. “Perceptive” and “preceptive” have no meanings in common. This writing mistake includes using an archaic or rare form of a word. Even if you use it correctly, your readers are unlikely to know what you are talking about.
  3. Writing really long sentences–over 34 words. The problem here is that you and your readers are likely to lose track of what you are saying. This writing mistake is compounded by sentences that contain a negative–leading to statements like “we hope we won’t have to cut employees and save everyone’s job.” Grammar checkers choke up when they try to decipher a long sentence and will give you even worse advice than they usually do.
  4. Burying your message. In newspapers, this is called burying your “lede,” the paragraph with all the most important information in the article. When your message falls deep within your story, your readers lose heart and don’t search for it. They simply stop reading.
  5. Losing focus. Research has shown that readers can retain 3 new pieces of information tops. So don’t try to cram everything you ever wanted to write into one sentence, one paragraph or one article. Determine the 3 most important points in your message and focus on those three (or fewer, if possible).

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our goal is clear, concise, accurate writing that grabs and keeps a reader’s attention. So if you recognize any of the writing mistakes above in your marketing or technical copy, please contact us. Our words mean business.

 

 

Conquer Writer’s Block

Are you searching for a way to say what you want to say? Or are ideas crowding into your mind and fighting for primacy? Or do you have no idea what you should write about?

All of those problems are forms of writer’s block.

Here are four techniques that should help you regardless of the type and cause of your writer’s block:

  1. Talk. Pull out a chair. Pretend your best customer, the one you feel most relaxed with, is sitting in the chair and asks a question. Talk to the customer. Transcribe exactly the words that come from your mouth.
  2. Make a drawing. Either diagram what you intend to say or just doodle. If you are struggling for ideas, the act of drawing frees up the creative part of your brain. If you are overwhelmed by your ideas, a drawing shows you their logical progression from top to bottom, left to right, first to last or big to small.
  3. List all  your ideas. Once the ideas are listed, see if they fall into natural groups or overlap each other. Concentrate on one group at a time and ignore all the others. You don’t have to jam every idea into one brochure, blog, newsletter, web page, or chapter. There will always be another opportunity to write.
  4. Start writing about anything. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, flow or even relevance. Hold off on editing until after you finish writing. I guarantee that the last sentence you write will capture a golden idea.

If none of these techniques conquer your writer’s block, consider hiring a professional writer. Your marketing and technical content can’t start working for you until your customers receive it. How long do you want to wait for that moment of inspiration?

Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and we’ll make sure your words mean business.

Telling the Truth When You Write

I began my career as a technical writer and for years I thought of marketing as the evil empire. Technical writers are concerned with accuracy, clarity, and consistency. Marketing writers? As far as I could see, they would say anything to sell–they knew little about the product or service and cared less.

Then I discovered something: customers like the truth. They like the truth as much as I do. They look askance at promises that might never be delivered or at claims that have nothing to back them up. They are tired of hearing empty phrases, like “state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service” because everyone, from the airline they fly to the local coffee shop, promises state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service.

How do your customers know if you are telling the truth? You provide photos, testimonials, case studies (I love case studies!), awards, and details on industry standards that you meet. You describe continuing education, certifications, and participation or leadership in industry events. You share your expert advice and experience.

The truth is also revealed by the way you write: with accuracy, clarity, consistency and a focus on the information customers want mostdo you understand my problem and how will you solve it? Every customer problem and question is worthy of consideration. Your goal is to find and share answers to the most pressing customer questions. And admit when you don’t have the answer.

Every company has something that makes it uniquely qualified to help its customers, because every company is the result of someone’s unique vision. Let customers know about you. The truth about your company is a major differentiator. Did you start or build your company because you identified a lack in your region, took a different approach in your field, recognized an opportunity that others missed, wanted a chance to help others, found an outlet for your creativity, discovered a neglected customer need? All or none of the above?

My background as a technical writer means that I have worked in fields as diverse as construction, coaching, manufacturing, healthcare, software development, and retail. Regardless of the industry, I have kept and verified my belief that customers appreciate the truth as much as I do. After all, aren’t we all customers of someone?

When you tell the truth about your company, you enable customers to connect with you. You build a relationship based on a firm foundation, which means customers will return again and again. Let me help.

10 Reasons to Hire a Freelance Writer

  1. You have incredible ideas about your website, brochure, blog site, social media, and press releases–and no time. You need a freelance writer to execute.
  2. Your customers and staff keep asking you the same questions, over and over, taking up your time and overwhelming your help desk. You need clear, consistent information and directions for them.
  3. You have a writing project in mind but no budget or reason to hire a full-time writer. A freelance writer handles projects one-by-one as they come up.
  4. You have a great customer to interview but no idea what questions would generate a compelling story. A freelance writer with experience in interviewing not only has the right questions but the right objectivity.
  5. Your blog/website/brochure has fallen out of sync with what you actually do. You need someone to update it and keep it updated.
  6. You promised your customers a quarterly e-newsletter but the last publication was 10 months ago. You need a freelance writer to deliver fresh ideas, write the articles, and make sure the newsletter goes out on schedule.
  7. Five people contributed to your user manual/website/brochure, and now the content is inconsistent and redundant. You need one writer to create cohesive content out of chaos.
  8. No one is opening your newsletter or clicking on your online articles–no one at all! You need a professional writer to give you feedback and add some zest to your marketing copy.
  9. Every time you send marketing or technical content out for review, you get so many contradictory editorial comments that you’ve given up. You need a professional freelance writer to evaluate, prioritize, and make sense of the comments.
  10. None of your staff are confident in their English skills. Access to a freelance writer gives everyone assurance that content is written in standard and professional English.

If you are faced with any of these situations, I can help. With more than 15 years of experience as a freelance technical and marketing writer, for every size of company from Fortune 500 to sole proprietor, I deliver the content you need on schedule and on budget. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business. Contact me today.

Does Your Website Educate Your Customers?

Your website has many goals, chief among them to introduce your company to new visitors and to convert those visitors to customers. A website that educates through blogs, case studies, e-newsletters, and dedicated website pages gives visitors a reason to return and to trust you enough to become customers. Here are the most important reasons for adding educational content to your website:

You have an opportunity to display your subject matter expertise. Even if every company in your field draws from the same body of knowledge, when you share that knowledge with customers, you establish yourself and your company as experts in their eyes.

Customers truly don’t know as much as you think they know. Customers are always looking for new information and for confirmation of the information they already have–whether that information is, yes, I am a size 8 or yes, hexafluoro-2-butene is used for dielectric etching.

The more questions you answer, the more likely customers will think of you first when they need answers: what product best fits their needs, whether a solution exists for their problem, and whether the advice they are getting elsewhere is correct. You want them to contact you for answers, not your competitor.

Visitors and customers appreciate a website that gathers into one convenient place the information they are searching for. A website that educates becomes a resource that visitors return to again and again. Each visit gives you another chance to convert visitors to customers and to remind customers why they value you.

Your website can anticipate and counter any hesitation by your customers. Your educational content provides accurate answers before customers become tangled in misinformation and before your help line is overwhelmed with repetitions of the same basic questions.

Creating a website that educates alerts you to the intellectual property in your own company. Your employees have knowledge that they have never shared because no one asked or because they mistakenly thought “everyone knows that.” When they become involved in creating educational content, their knowledge enriches your company as well as your customers.

A website that educates is constantly renewed. As information changes in your field, as you offer more details on a subject, or as customers and visitors ask for clarifications, you bring in new content–making search engines happy and increasing the chances that your website will be found.

It’s easy to create educational content. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we have created web pages, blogs, case studies, and e-newsletters that educate visitors and consumers in industries as diverse as extruded medical tubing and home renovations. Contact us today and begin to educate your customers on just how great your company is.

Story-Telling: The World’s Best Marketing Content

From The Three Bears to The Hunger Games to Julie & Julia, good stories grab our attention. When we remember our story-telling roots, our marketing efforts take wing. Good stories appear in many guises:

  • Case studies celebrate a hero (your company) saving a customer in distress. A good interviewer draws out your customer’s original fears and frustrations, details the efforts of your company, and celebrates your success.
  • Videos are like love stories. Video testimonials give customers, employees, vendors, and subcontractors a chance to show appreciation for your company. Informational videos give you a chance to show appreciation for your customers, including sharing some of your subject matter expertise.
  • Photographs, graphs, and line drawings fall into the comic book or graphic novel tradition. They tell a good story that is quickly and accurately “read.”

Hearing stories about your business not only entertains prospective customers, it reassures them. Great marketing stories teach prospects about your company in a relaxed, appealing format. Reading or hearing about the problems you solved for previous customers gives prospects an incentive to call you. Each new story enlivens your marketing content and keeps old, new, and potential customers engaged.

An example of a story: I was once asked to edit the manual for software that helps private airplane pilots fly into airports. Three geographically dispersed software engineers had developed the software and each had drafted information about their portion of the project. But without consulting each other, they had also each decided to use Ctrl F for a function. One engineer used Ctrl F to scroll through a screen; another used it to switch screens; and the third used it to shut down the system completely. I was the first and only person who read through the entire draft manual–so I was the first person to notice that a pilot who hit Ctrl F and expected to simply scroll through a screen might end up shutting down his entire system just when he needed it to land! The moral of the story? Always have one writer for a project involving many people.

Whether you are writing website content, blogs, press releases, video scripts, or case studies, keep looking for and sharing the story. Your stories are one of the biggest differentiators between your company and the competition: No one shares your exact same story.

If you need help finding and telling your story, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Video Instructions: 5 Golden Rules

Many companies have now turned to video for showing customers how to use their product. Videos are an excellent way to connect with customers. However, they should still follow the five golden rules for good instructions.

  1. Never assume. Start your instructions from the very beginning–that might mean showing the viewer or reader how to plug in the product or where to find the start button. If you are offering a series of videos, building in complexity or detail, make sure you refer to the previous videos for viewers who are not aware they are starting in the middle.
  2. Be consistent. Always refer to buttons, menu items, the names of previous videos (or chapters), operations, processes, and so on using the same exact terms. Your viewer will quickly become confused if the same screen shot is called the “home page,” the “opening screen,” or “screen 1” in different videos or different parts of the same video.
  3. Be thorough. Before your release a video or written procedures, follow the instructions using only the steps in the video or on the page. If you find your hands doing something else, revise. You overlooked a step and you are in danger of losing your audience.
  4. Be exact. It’s easy to tell a customer “click here” or “see this” or “move this way” without ever defining here” or “this.” But your customers may have no idea what you’re referring to no matter how carefully they watch or read. In addition, customers often try to follow directions while actually working on the product. How can video viewers tell what “click here” means unless they are looking directly at the screen?
  5. Go slow. The best instructions are divided into discrete steps that viewers or readers can master at their own speed. Readers have a lot of control over speed; viewers have very little. If video instructions come at viewers too fast, they have to pause and backtrack and pause and backtrack. All that backtracking interferes with their learning and enjoyment.

You may want to provide written procedures that customers can download based on your videos. The written procedures and videos should at least complement each other even if they aren’t exact duplicates. It they contradict each other, you have a major problem.

Would you benefit from help in creating clear scripts and written procedures for your customers? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today.

Strong Clear Writing Starts with Short Words

Are you an advocate of brevity in vocabulary selection for optimum communication? That is: do you write with short words?

The main trouble with long words (three or more syllables) is that they are seldom as clear as short words (three or fewer syllables). They also take longer to read. At a time when readers are overwhelmed with content and want to quickly reach the point of a message, long words slow them down. It simply takes longer to read “utilize” instead of “use.” The words mean exactly the same thing. Why not choose the shorter word?

Long words are habit forming. Once a long word worms its way into a sentence, three or four or more long words will follow it whether they are needed or not. In the end, the writer’s brilliant vocabulary becomes more important than the brilliant message customers are really looking for.

Another drawback is that longer words are often misused by the writer or at best represent a poor choice. Take the business owner who wrote that two product lines were “no longer congruent.” He meant that they no longer worked together but he chose an odd, seldom-used word (“congruent”) to deliver that message. His audience had to come to a full stop while they figured out his meaning.

Strong, clear writing starts with one and two syllable words.

Here is a challenge: Chose any marketing piece at your company and try to rewrite it using only one- or two-syllable words. You might not succeed. Some longer words cannot be replaced (for example, enjoyable or liability). But the attempt should show you that the right small words contain the greatest energy, power and passion.

You might also try that challenge with technical content, which becomes a real chore to read when multi-syllable words that are truly needed (like fractionation) are surrounded by multi-syllable words that aren’t at all needed (like utilization). If you are giving directions or explaining a process, you want to be clear. Your choice of words could make the difference between directions that are easy to follow and directions that explode.

As always, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications for clear, direct writing and editing.

The Ethics of Hiring a Writer

I’ve occasionally run into business owners who object to hiring a freelance writer on ethical grounds. They find something dishonest in allowing someone else to write for them. They believe they should write their own website, blog posts, case studies, brochures and business letters because otherwise they are misrepresenting themselves.

Ethics are important to me, which is why I will not write anything that I know (or may suspect) to be false, misleading or harmful. How do I justify being a freelance or ghost writer on an ethical basis?

First, writing may not be among the business owner’s strengths. As a result, instead of offering content that clearly states the benefits and achievements of the company, the owner inadvertently slips into false, confusing, misleading or harmful statements through mistakes in word choice, grammar and organization. Everyone loses when bad writing leads to false information.

Second, an outside perspective is often valuable. Business owners may not know what to say to attract customers and differentiate themselves from the competition. Or they may know exactly what to say but not how to say it. Or they may emphasize obscure features of their products while ignoring real benefits their customers need to know about.

Third, a business owner can be a great communicator on many levels and still prefer to let someone else write his or her marketing materials. This is called “delegation” and it is something business owners do when they hire employees and professionals to work for them. No one considers it unethical to have a sales team, help desk, accountant or graphic designer on staff. Business owners could handle everything themselves, down to making their own gasoline from crude oil for the car they drive, but most business owners prefer to concentrate on their core business.

There is nothing about delegating business writing that somehow makes that choice less ethical than delegating any other business function: it can be done well and professionally or badly and amateurishly. I like to write well and professionally.

Professional writers are professionals for a reason. Years of experience and training, plus an instinct for the just right word, make us more efficient and more likely to achieve the business owner’s goals.

I work with a variety of B2B and B2C business owners and nonprofits, in every field from home renovation through clinical trial research and from executive coaching through organic farming. Contact me today and let’s talk.

Four Myths of Technical Writing

“All my customers are nuclear physicists,” said the company owner, “so our marketing materials have to sound like they come from a nuclear physicist.” That company owner has bought into one of the four myths that prevent technical companies from communicating with their customers.

The first myth of technical writing is that you have to write up to your audience. This myth overlooks the fact that customers don’t know your product or service. In your field, writing about your product or service, you are the teacher and they are the students. A good teacher speaks as much as possible in everyday language and slowly builds the student’s knowledge. Consider how you would explain your technical information to a brand new customer standing before you. Then write like you talk.

The second myth of technical marketing is that repetition is terrible. The fear of repetition has led some writers to call a keyboard an operator interface on page 1, a human machine interface (HMI) on page 10 and an input device on page 20. Changing the names for products, services and procedures is like spontaneously changing the names of towns on a map; the map is certainly livelier but your audience is completely lost. Instead of wondering whether the HMI on page 10 is the input device on page 20, your customers should be focusing on your technical message and value. Allow yourself to repeat standard words and phrases.

The third myth is that adjectives and adverbs convince customers to buy. Every company in the world offers exceptional customer service. Just try to find one that boasts about lousy service. Every product seems to be “state-of-the-art” or “unique.” But no one searches online for “exceptional” or “state-of-the-art” or “unique.” Those words take up room that should be devoted to details. What makes your product or service unique? What industry standards prove that your product is state-of-the-art? Try writing your marketing copy without adjectives and adverbs. The copy that results will be stronger and will set you apart from competitors.

The fourth myth of technical writing is that only the people who created the product understand it enough to write about it. Unfortunately, creators are often myopic: they market their own excitement about features and not the benefits and value to the customer. Celebrating an achievement is fine, but every customer asks, “What’s in it for me?” That’s the question your marketing materials have to answer—and answer first.

If you are bogged down in those myths of technical writing, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll give you the words you need to connect with your audience.