Business writing mistakes you can’t afford to make – 10 Quick Tips

Although I do go on a lot about good grammar, spelling and punctuation, we grammar nazis have to slap ourselves on the wrist now and then and admit that the occasional harmless mistake in business writing is not a hanging offense.

Business writing mistakes you can't afford to make - 10 Quick TipsThere. I have made my peace with it.

But before you become too complacent, there are some critical mistakes people make in business writing, blogging and other content creation that are total no-nos.

These are the business writing mistakes that a) could make people misinterpret your content, b) make you look very foolish, and probably both. [Read more…]

28 facts of life for your cat to write down and remember…

Funny jokes about cats by Suzan St Maur1.Screaming at the can of food will not make it open itself.

2.I should not assume the patio door is open when I race outside to chase leaves.

3.If I play “dead cat on the stairs” while people are trying to bring in groceries or laundry, one of these days it will really come true.

4.If I put a live mouse in my food bowl, I should not expect it to stay there until I get hungry.

5.The guinea pig likes to sleep once in a while. I will not watch him constantly.

6.If I bite the cactus, it will bite back. [Read more…]

How to use Google to find out just about anything

We all know that Google is an excellent research tool. Yet time and time again, people – clients, friends, acquaintances – ask me what I can find out for them about this or that, because they know that I’m a “good researcher.”

That’s true: I’m a good researcher because I have to be. It’s an important part of my job. But with Google being available to anyone with an internet connection, anyone with an internet connection can be a good researcher. Not just me or others like me.

So what’s stopping you?

Good question. What is stopping you? Especially considering that searching for information on Google now is many times easier than it was in the early days of search engines.

Back then, you needed to have a firm grip on the formulae of searching, knowing how to phrase your search terms, when to use quotation marks / inverted commas around certain phrases, etc.

OK, those issues still apply, but whatever wonderful improvements Google has made to its searchability the bottom line is you can now find pretty well everything you want to know within its squillions of pages – very easily.

What about the reliability of internet information?

Another good question. The internet is a wonderful thing and the freedom it gives me and gazillion other bloggers, writers, posters or whatever you like to call us, is blinding in its glory.

Trouble is, there is a lot of information out there that is unreliable at best, and downright bullsh*t at worst. The sad reality is that anyone can publish whatever they like on the internet, get it rated on Google if they’re good at Search Engine Optimisation, and it’s unlikely that such people will be challenged.

Even the mighty Wikipedia – a wonderful, wonderful resource that I love dearly, especially because it’s free and available to all as many things were in the early spirit of the internet – is open to potential inaccuracies despite its policy of active peer review.

So how do you get around that problem when you’re researching for genuine, hard facts? Here’s one of my favourite tricks …

Finding common denominators

Whatever you’re researching on Google, don’t rely purely on one source unless you are certain that it provides the correct, authoritative information that you’re looking for. Instead, examine a number of sites that appear in your search, and see what common elements they present. Obviously, choose the best known and most respected options if you know which they are.

For example, say you want to know the symptoms of athlete’s foot: here are 6 extracts, and their sources, responding to the search term athletes foot symptoms:

WebMD.com (reliable source)
Peeling, cracking, and scaling of the feet.
Redness, blisters, or softening and breaking down (maceration) of the skin.
Itching, burning, or both.

NHS Choices (reliable source)
As well as being itchy, your skin may also be:
red
scaly
flaky
dry
You may also have other symptoms such as:
cracked skin
blisters (which may be oozing or crusting)
swollen skin
burning or stinging skin
scaling patterns around your sole and on the side of your foot

Wikipedia (reasonably reliable source)
Athlete’s foot causes scaling, flaking, and itching of the affected skin. Blisters and cracked skin may also occur, leading to exposed raw tissue, pain, swelling, and inflammation. Secondary bacterial infection can accompany the fungal infection, sometimes requiring a course of oral antibiotics.

eMedicineHealth.com (reliability unknown)
Most commonly, athlete’s foot is characterized by cracking and itchy, moist, white, scaly lesions or sores between the toes. It frequently spreads to the sole of the foot.
Another type of athlete’s foot is a dry, scaly form that causes a reddish “moccasin-like” area over the soles of the feet. This type often affects both feet.
Less frequently, this infection may involve painful blistering lesions, which can be weepy.

Canesten (manufacturer of treatment product … probably reliable)
Itchy feet, especially between the toes
Burning sensation and inflammation
Itchy, peeling skin between toes
Cracked skin
Dry and flaky soles of feet
Smelly feet (caused by bacteria)
Blisters

TheAthletesFootSymptoms.com (reliability doubtful, article spinning suspected … just read this paragraph!)
There are number of people suffer with the inconvenience of athletes foot symptoms. It gets its name like this because it is normal with the people who are more active and athletic in common. When you have every any discomfort with the athlete’s foot symptoms you will come to know about the pain they can create. There are many normal athletes’ foot symptoms. People may experience only one or two. Generally people will not suffer with all types at single time. But you may have a various athletes foot symptom every time when you get this problem. There are numerous people have a athletes foot symptoms like itching or burning between the toes. Certain people may have the feeling on the soles of the foot affected. Most of the times a patch of burning blisters may break out. Certain times the first athletes foot symptoms is peeling and cracking skin. It generally occurs on the side of the foot or between the toes. You can also see a large dry skin which indicates a bout session the athlete’s foot. But sometimes and commonly, the athlete’s foot symptoms are seen under the toe nails or in the nail place. The nails may turn highly crumbly or thick.

And our common denominators?

  • Peeling, cracking, and scaling of the feet
  • Redness, blisters, or softening and breaking down of the skin
  • Itching, burning, or both
  • Possible bacterial complications

Obviously this list is not and should not be promoted as medically certain or comprehensive, but there’s a very good chance that a doctor would agree with it as a pretty accurate basic look at the symptoms of athlete’s foot.

Fine-tune your search words as you go along

This is another useful trick I’ve learned.

OK. Say someone recommended to you that you should feed your dog a product with a name like “Well…” something.

Start by keying in dog food.

On the first page of Google you’ll see various brand names and as you scroll through, you remember the person recommending the product said it was a dry dog food.

Update your search box entry to dry dog food and click on.

You notice a product with a name that could be the one your friend meant – Wellness, but that looks like an American brand and you’re in the UK.

Doesn’t sound quite right. Go back to the search box and update your words again so you have well dry dog food. Click on and scroll down a bit…

And bingo – there it is: dog food by James Wellbeloved. (It’s excellent dog food, by the way, but it’s expensive – for my dogs I buy Chudley’s from horse feed stores which is a lot cheaper!)

Those are my own key tips for using Google for research and they have helped me enormously.

There are many other sources of good advice which you can find, not surprisingly, by Googling “how to search on Google effectively” … ! I’ve had a look through some of those options on your behalf, however, and this one seems to be particularly helpful.

Do you have any tips about how to research on Google that you’d like to share with us?

Now, find out how to make your writing work wonders:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published

 

photo credit: manfrys via photo pin cc

30 tip-top tips to shape up your business writing

1. Before you start to write, be sure you’ve done your homework including:

  • Define what your message must achieve
  • Get to know your audience very well
  • Understand how people will receive your message
  • Develop your message out of the right criteria (what do they need to hear, not just what you want to tell them)

2. Write as people speak, but don’t just write down a conversation

3. Write in terms of “we” and “us” or “I” and “me,” but don’t use a pompous “royal we” approach

4. Make every sentence relevant to the audience – “what’s in it for them?”

5. Wherever possible write to “you” – not to 3rd-person “customers,” “staff,” “suppliers,” etc

6. Don’t just get to the point – start with it, and phrase it so it will grab the audience’s attention

7. Say what you mean and don’t procrastinate with fuzzy language

8. Be informal but be careful not to be overly familiar

9. Use go words, not slow words – sharper nouns, stronger, shorter verbs

10. Use active rather than passive phrasing (“go to bed now,” not “it’s time you went to bed”)

11. Although simple is usually better, don’t over-simplify – it can seem childish or patronizing

12. Don’t go into more than one idea per sentence

13. Write so that one sentence flows logically into the next

14. One-word or verbless sentences are useful for pacing and effect, but only if you use them sparingly

15. Where possible start new paragraphs with links like “Of course,” or “However,” to keep the audience hooked

16. Use a list or bullet points to put across more than two or three items in a sequence

17. Keep jargon to a minimum and be sure your audience will understand what you do use

18. Avoid meaningless or valueless clichés because they make your writing seem unoriginal

19. Learn the difference between poor clichés and your business’s commonly used terms, and use the latter intelligently

20. Avoid adjectives and superlatives that smell phoney, e.g. “best,” “fastest,” “exciting” 

21. Use the most visual adjectives and adverbs you can think of – they’re powerful

22. Use “Plain English” wherever possible and especially when writing for audiences whose mother-tongue is not English

23. Especially with online text but with print too, avoid long blocks of text because they’re uninviting to read

24. Visually break up continuous sections of text by peppering them with cross-headings or emboldened key points

25. Keep online sentences and paragraphs short, and vary the length of offline sentences

26. Check for small grammatical and punctuation goofs – they make you look amateurish

27. Check for spelling mistakes and don’t rely totally on your spellchecker

28. Proofread your work backwards – it sounds crazy but you don’t miss spelling mistakes that way

29. Leave your text and do something else for a while, then go back and edit again if necessary

30. Show it to someone else if you’re unsure, but beware of “too many cooks spoiling the broth.”

And three more – big tips!

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

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

Words of wedding wisdom: IF YOU’RE PREGNANT – before, after, or what?

Welcome to this series of articles based on my popular book, “The A to Z of Wedding Wisdom” … a few juicy extracts that you might like, to give you a taster of what the book can do to help make your wedding (or a friend or relative’s wedding) superbly successful.

This time, we look at…

Pregnancy and getting married

Except in very rare circumstances I think the days of the “shotgun wedding” are well and truly over, and that’s a very good thing. That’s not just because it averts the illegal use of firearms, but also because it means the stigma of being pregnant out of wedlock is now firmly where it belongs – in the past.

Of course in some cultures and religions there still is a stigma about pre-marital pregnancy, but in most industrialized countries society has become far more comfortable with the idea than it was even in the mid 20th century. You might still get the occasional disapproving sniff but no longer will you get Pappy using his rabbit gun as a cattle-prod to get the groom up the aisle. At least I hope not.

So in these modern times the only issues that arise from being a pregnant bride are connected with practical things like when to get married, what to wear, and how the bride will feel at that particular stage of her pregnancy.

Pregnancy: when to get married

That’s a tricky one. A lot depends on whether:

  • Your pregnancy was planned or not
  • You need to use the wedding money for the new baby
  • You will feel up to organizing a wedding while pregnant
  • You want to wait until after the birth

Let’s look at the two main options. They’re pretty simple; before, or after.

First, before: the advantages…

  • Your baby will be born “in wedlock”
  • You will not be trying to organise a wedding with a young baby in tow
  • Your family – especially the older ones – might feel more comfortable with this
  • You can get away with a smaller, simpler, cheaper wedding than you might otherwise

And now, before: the disadvantages…

  • You will be organizing a wedding when you may not be feeling at your fittest
  • You will need to think carefully about what you will wear
  • Realistically you probably won’t have as grand a wedding as you would have if not pregnant
  • You probably won’t have as much money to spend on your wedding/honeymoon
  • You may not be in a position to enjoy your honeymoon quite so much

OK. Now, after: the advantages…

  • You can choose a date when your figure will have returned to normal
  • You can wear a dress that does not look like a tent
  • You should be feeling OK again provided your baby sleeps at night (some do, so I’m told…)
  • You can organize the wedding without the sensation of a meter running

And after: the disadvantages

  • Your baby will not have been born “in wedlock”
  • You will be organising a wedding while caring for a young baby
  • You might just get some disapproval from certain family members
  • Your honeymoon may have to include baby too (not necessarily a disadvantage!)

Other alternatives

Fine. Those alternatives are the obvious ones. However if we lift ourselves out of the “obvious box” there are some other possibilities you can consider.

For starters, you could “split” your wedding plans. In other words, have a small wedding – maybe just a registry office do – while you’re expecting your baby, then have a big reception or party after baby arrives and you’re all feeling slim and fit again.

Assuming you have an understanding wedding officiant, you could even develop a religious blessing to be held at an appropriate time after your civil wedding – which could be combined with a baptism service for your baby. Then, you could move that on into a combined wedding and baptism reception.

So what do you do?

Where getting married before the birth is concerned, I would say let your pregnancy guide you. You will know fairly early on in your pregnancy whether you are going to be feeling nauseous or not. If you are, don’t despair, as that usually dies down in the second trimester of pregnancy. However in your shoes I would avoid a wedding in the third trimester – especially the latter stages – because you may find standing and sitting and in fact everything (!!) somewhat uncomfortable. You may also feel very tired, very easily.

Talk to your doctor and your nurse specialist. They know all about pregnancy and all about you, so are well qualified to advise on whether a wedding before the birth is a good idea or not.

Whatever happens, don’t be panicked into making hasty decisions about getting married if/when/while you are pregnant. Keep calm and analyse everything carefully. Once again, never forget whose wedding it is. Even if others try to pressurize you into making a decision, consider what’s best for you, your fiancé and your baby. You three matter most.

Wedding dress

This may be an obvious one but if you’re pregnant, when choosing or commissioning your dress make sure you allow for the stage of pregnancy at which you will be on the date of the wedding. Empire line designs are very useful here. Some designs can hide an early pregnancy very effectively, but many women these days are proud to share their “bump” with all and sundry. If so, let the design of your dress show that.

Finally, be mindful of pregnant ladies among your wedding guests – don’t expect them to stand around for too long, and allocate somewhere comfortable for them to sit!

For all 174 pages of helpful tips and advice, grab your copy of “The A to Z of Wedding Wisdom” from Amazon (USA), Amazon (Canada), Amazon (UK) and all other Amazons.

Words of wedding wisdom: FUTURE MOTHER-IN-LAW – tact required?

Welcome to this series of articles based on my popular book, “The A to Z of Wedding Wisdom” … a few juicy extracts that you might like, to give you a taster of what the book can do to help make your wedding (or a friend or relative’s wedding) superbly successful.

This time, we look at…

The Bride’s Mother-in-law

What would joke writers and stand-up comedians do without mothers-in-law?

My mother-in-law called today…
I knew it was her. When she knocked on the front door all the mice threw themselves into the traps.

A woman walked out of a smart restaurant wearing an elegant real fur coat. She was approached by another woman who asked disapprovingly, “and what poor creature had to die so you could wear that?”
“My mother-in-law,” smiled the first woman.

My mother-in-law and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met each other.

Q: What are the two worst things about your mother-in-law?
A: Her faces.

And so it goes on.  Why is the poor old mother-in-law such a popular source of humor? Because your relationship with her can be one of the most challenging relationships you’ve ever had.

On the other hand, of course, many women have great relationships with their mothers-in-law. And that’s amazing when you consider the emotional issues that often exist between them.

What are her problems?

Just as fathers can be possessive about their daughters and feel grief at having to hand their little girls over to other men, mothers can and often are very possessive about their sons.

Even though she might be quite happy and relaxed about your relationship with her son while you were just going out or even living together, the fact that you are now getting married and that there is to be another “Mrs.” Whoever, changes the picture. Now, she has to face the fact that her son is replacing her as the number one woman in his life – with you.

No matter how philosophical a woman is, I think this is hard for her to accept. I know that when my son gets married I will feel, deep down, a sense of desertion and grief, no matter how much I like my new daughter-in-law. Just as is the case with your own mother, your wedding is a rite of passage for everyone else in your close family, mother-in-law included. The big difference between your mother and your mother-in-law is that the latter lady didn’t give birth to you and doesn’t love you the way your own mother does, although of course she may come to do so in time. So any sensation of jealousy, rivalry, competition, etc., will not be cushioned by any familial love or loyalty.

Your mother-in-law may well have had a very close relationship with your fiancé, perhaps looking after his domestic needs and generally spoiling him. In her eyes this will be a very hard act for you to follow, especially if you, like most rational people, think that the “domesticated little woman” role sucks and that your husband-to-be can damned well iron his own shirts. Worse still, your mother-in-law may try to extend her running of her son’s domestic life into your life together. While it may be handy to have someone to help with the domestics, do you really want your mother-in-law to run your life?

Another mother-in-law issue is that no girl would ever be good enough for what she had in mind for her darling boy. This standpoint is a useful excuse to cover up jealousy, because whatever you are and whatever you do, it won’t be good enough to meet her constantly shifting standards.

Well, that’s all the bad news. What can be done to reduce the negative issues and get into a better relationship with her?

Your fiancé’s role

Let’s face it, if your fiancé has always been a bit of a Mommy’s boy you’re in for an uphill struggle, but it’s a struggle you must get through if there is to be a peaceful relationship with her once you’re married. If things are tricky between you and your future mother-in-law, the first thing to do is to get your fiancé to sit her down privately, point out that he is not a little boy any longer, and that it’s very important to him that you and she get along as well as possible.

He must also make the point that if push comes to shove, he will side with you, not her. That’s something that he will have to stick to, as well, no matter how much pressure his mother might put on him to do otherwise.

He may well dread the idea of confronting his mother in this way and she may well shout and squirm to begin with. However provided that he stands his ground in a kind but firm way, in time she will have to accept it. In fact she will probably come to respect both her son and you more, for the fact that the issue has been faced and dealt with openly.

Your role

I think it’s very important for you, as the bride, to develop your own relationship with your future mother-in-law, independently of your fiancé and other family members.

To begin with, you owe it to both her and yourself to devote quite a lot of time and energy to this relationship. Whatever you may think of her she is still your fiancé’s mother, and as such is a very important part of your lives.

In addition, for all you know she may be more nervous about her new relationship with you than you think, and could feel unsure how to handle it.

Try to organize a lunch or shopping trip with just you and her, so you can get to know each other as people rather than in your respective family roles. You and she might both be pleasantly surprised at how well you get along when there’s no-one else around to divert your attention from each other.

If she wants to be involved in helping organize your wedding, try to accommodate her wish and make her feel not only needed, but admired for her capabilities. It’s very easy for the groom’s family to feel a little left out of things when a wedding is being planned because most of the organization is normally driven by the bride, and by extension her family and her friends. If mother-in-law should, by any chance, become a bit too pushy, try diverting her energy into one specific channel in a tactful way.

For all 174 pages of helpful tips and advice, grab your copy of “The A to Z of Wedding Wisdom” from Amazon (USA), Amazon (Canada), Amazon (UK) and all other Amazons.

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