A Memorial Day everywhere this year

Monday May 29th, 2017 is a day of remembrance this year that has even more consequence and pathos than normal.

Not only is this Memorial Day in the USA but also people in Europe and especially in England will be remembering the tragic loss of friends and family in the Manchester ISIS atrocity.

Memorial Day 2017 on HTWB

Remembering lost soldiers, and hundreds of civilian victims of war and other atrocities

Beyond our borders, at the time of writing this, we’re also mourning the loss of another 16 civilians in Syria. [Read more…]

Do these common grammar mistakes still catch you with your pants down?

It’s amazing to think that it’s 6 years since I wrote this eBook and despite the fact that only a few thousand of you (well, quite a few thousand) have bought a copy, many of my lovely readers are still getting sh*t like this soooo wrong.

Common grammar mistakes: why do we still make them?

HTWB grammar Mar 17In a word – well, a few words – it’s because the English language has mental health issues. Ergo, it’s nuts. There are so many exceptions to rules in English that it’s hardly worth studying the actual rules.

All the same, for those mere 1.5 billion people who speak English as a first or other language, we need to get the basics right as far as is humanly possible. Here, now, are some excerpts from my earlier writings, distilled down into the main areas where we still screw up… [Read more…]

Why academic writing is soooo boring – but needn’t be

Please welcome freelance content writer Jessica Freeman from Sydney, Australia, who shares her thoughts on why academic writing has become so boring to read … plus some ways in which to make it more reader-friendly. Over to Jessica…

Academic writing exists only to share knowledge and ideas. Sadly, we have created a culture where students are trained to create sterile and clinical documents. Academic work tends to be very technical, and students are afraid to add a little flair or entertainment value through fear of losing marks when they are graded.

HTWB academic writing for students

Academic writing has its own unique structure, and writers are not penalized for being boring.

This habit of writing sterile and clinical documents then follows the academic through his or her life and few academics ever learn how to write entertaining texts.

Are academic works really that boring?

[Read more…]

What to write to someone who comes out as LGBTQ

Much as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) people are now widely established in their rightful place in many of our communities, when someone close to you “comes out” it can still be an uncomfortable journey for them and their families.

HTWB LGBTQ

For your friend or family member to have braved it and stuck with it can, sometimes, have been one hell of an achievement.

You may well feel, as I have done many times when a friend or family member of mine has come out, that you want to drop them a note to show that you care. Whether you are gay, straight or any other gender identity, the process for your friends and relatives who are “coming out” may be challenging for them – even though in our enlightened times it should not be so. Sadly what “should be” is often very different from the reality.

Whatever your gender, do you know what to write to your “coming out” friend or relative? [Read more…]

Advertising vs info on social media – the trolls rage on

If you have a local business group on one of the main social media platforms, you know you’re going to get people advertising their businesses no matter how you try to stop them.

Advertising or content on social media on HTWB

I would have told this troll precisely where to shove his business video.

It doesn’t matter how explicit you are in your “rules” section; the only way to stop the ads is to kick the advertisers out, or at least delete their blatant advertising posts until they get the message.

But not always…

Explaining the difference between advertising and social media content

[Read more…]

Business and marketing messages: think first, write later

There’s no doubt about it, clear
Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterthinking is the most important part of getting a business or marketing message right, before you even attempt to write anything down. Sure, you’ve got all your background information together. But without the benefit of your creative little grey cells, as Hercule Poirot called them, that information isn’t worth much.

To make that information morph into a powerful message, it needs to be brought alive by a clear, unobstructed thought process on your part.

Trouble is, that isn’t always easy with the pressures of modern business to contend with.  Here are some of the obstacles that can get in your way, and some ideas on how to overcome them.

We’ve got to respond NOW or lose the opportunity

Not really. There aren’t many opportunities that can’t wait five minutes, even if it means saying you’ll call right back or email them immediately with a fast message to help close a sale. You’ll benefit enormously from those five minutes even if all you do is walk over to the water cooler and back before responding.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterPeople prone to temper tantrums are told to count to ten before they say anything, and the theory behind that works here too.

To react with a knee-jerk can make you look like one, so don’t take a chance on it unless a snap decision really is unavoidable.

The deadline isn’t for another week

This is the other side of the same coin. Because you’ve got other things you have to finish before that week’s up, your deadline keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the deck.  Before you know it, it IS another week.

Of course, long lead times can be demotivating, and often if you start working on a message too early you then spend the rest of the time tinkering with it. The result is the message loses all its momentum and has about as much energy and spontaneity as a mouldy tomato.

Don’t let deadlines drive you. Take the wheel and drive them, without rushing, but with just enough time pressure to focus your mind sharply on getting your message right.

I know this subject matter backwards

Yes, and that’s the trouble. Familiarity breeds contempt. It also breeds tired, worn-out marketing messages. Don’t reach up to the top shelf in your brain and pull down last month’s solution, no matter how well it worked that time.

By all means add your past experience into the message. But remember to keep experience in its proper place – the past. No matter how many similarities there are in surrounding circumstances, never assume you can get away with producing a clone.

It’s fresh, original thinking that makes business/marketing messages work, and most things in life are only fresh and original once.

I know what the audience wants to read/see/hear

Not necessarily. Just because a message got them clicking or calling or buying in their droves last time it doesn’t mean they’ll respond the same way now. A couple of weeks or even a couple of hours can make an enormous difference to the way an audience will perceive you and receive your message.

A workforce before and after the announcement of a plant closure? Consumers before and after a media exposé about the dangers of a chemical sweetener in your chocolate bars?  Shareholders before and after a market crash?

Always, always take a fresh look at the circumstances of your audience, and ensure your message takes those into account.

I’d love to do something new, but it’ll never get approval

Oh, those corporate politics again. Yes, approval can be hard to obtain, especially when it involves getting through a committee of umpteen experts all with their own agendas and axes to grind. Well, no-one said being creative and original is easy. I’ll bet even the person who invented the wheel got a hard time from his or her committee to start with.

Provided you can justify your marketing message with solid evidence and common sense, most superior beings (even committees) will see the logic and give you the go-ahead. It never hurts to try, anyway, and once your message gets out there and proves itself successfully, the next time should be easier.

I can’t think straight with all this racket in here

Clear thinking is relatively easy if you happen to work in a cozy log cabin set in a verdant pasture or forest or whatever with not a single soul, cell, or cellphone for that matter, to mar the magnificence.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterGiven that large offices are to log cabins what express trains are to bicycles, clear thinking in this environment can be more of a challenge.

Here’s a trick. Go and sit quietly somewhere other than at your desk. At the risk of offending some of you, the toilet is a good choice. Yes, in a cubicle, sitting down. I’ve done some of my best thinking and got some of my most useful ideas in precisely these surroundings. (And I’ve heard all the jokes about it, too.) I think it’s because you’re cocooned in a small, plain space with absolutely no external mental stimulation. That frees your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on.

If the restroom doesn’t appeal to you, then go sit quietly somewhere else – like your car, or the staff restaurant outside of meal times, and close your eyes. Discard irrelevant thoughts one by one as they occur, and keep nudging yourself back to the project. Don’t “rack” your brain; just let it work by itself. Soon you’ll find things settling into place and you’ll be able to prioritize and organize your thoughts.

Happy thinking!

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the USA marketing site, MarketingProfs.com

More good thinking for your business and marketing messages:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

photo credit: Humphrey King via photopin cc

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