“Write a letter explaining why this job is right for you” … wrong!!

Recruitment companies and departments often try to be clever when advertising a vacancy with a request like this, to go along with your CV/résumé. The truth is, though, they don’t actually mean it. What they really mean is, “write a covering letter explaining what you will contribute to our company.”

write a good covering letter for your job application HTWB

Make sure your covering letter is NOT just all about you, even if you think that’s what they want to see.

As long as you realise this, you can use this cover letter to gain the edge on other candidates who take that request literally. And what happens to them? Their letters come across as boastful, “me-me-me” documents that unwittingly make them look like they’re totally up themselves and only regard the job concerned as an opportunity to advance themselves. and that’s hardly what today’s employers are looking for.

Here’s how to gain that edge…
[Read more…]

How not to write picture captions, by a leading UK newspaper … episode 5


Were they conversing with
the parrots or the hyenas?

Here’s the first round for 2014, of hilarious picture captions from one of the UK’s most loved/hated newspapers and I’m delighted to see their sub-editors have not put “how to get our syntax right” down as one of their New Year’s resolutions. [Read more…]

If you don’t know what you think, you can’t write it down

HTWB Words That Sell“If you don’t know what you think, you can’t write it down” … I’ll always remember those words of his in “Writing Words That Sell,” a book I co-wrote with US author John Butman more years ago than either of us admit to. Being the creative genius he is, John has a way of simplifying a thought or concept so sensibly that it smacks you in the teeth with its wisdom. [Read more…]

Canada Day: why I find it hard to write about

HTWB CDay flagBeing a born and bred Canuck I value Canada Day on July 1st each year because it celebrates the country I belong to and the country I love.

It’s a day that should – and I hope does – inspire more and more new Canadians from wherever they might have immigrated from to celebrate being Canadian and committing themselves to the future of a wonderful country.

We’ve all heard the jokes about Canada being a freezing cold wasteland… [Read more…]

How to write product instructions that really work

Are your product’s instructions as awful as this?

How do you feel when you unpack your shiny, new gizmo only to find that the instructions in English are a bad translation and make no sense whatsoever?

When you write instructions for your own products, have a heart and do them properly, so customers are more likely to buy stuff from you again: – here’s how.

Make sure your instructions are written for your audience, not your organization

People who buy products need to know how to assemble/install/use the product as easily as possible. And because many people are technodorks like me, instructions need to be understood by the lowest common denominator.

Logically, then, you might think the best person to write instructions for technodorks like me is someone who knows every last detail about the product, how it was made, how it works, what it does, and what its inside leg measurement is.

In other words, an expert. This could not be further from the truth.

Instructions should never be written by experts

Quite simply, experts know too much. Consequently they are very prone to making the mistake of assuming the reader knows a little bit about the subject matter already. To an expert, the fact that before you begin assembling the bookcase you need to align sections A, B and C with each other may be so blindingly obvious it’s not even worth mentioning.

To someone like me it’s not merely worth mentioning, it’s absolutely essential if I’m not to spend the next three hours wondering why on earth I can’t find any bolt holes that line up.

Equally, instructions should not be written by the sales people, the marketing executives, the guys in the lab, the production staff, or anyone else – even you – if there’s a risk they might have become familiar with the subject matter. Familiarity can breed if not contempt, at least wrongful assumptions about the audience’s existing knowledge.

Instruction writing must match customers’ level of knowledge

Wherever practical, instructions should be written by someone who knows as much as, but no more than, the audience. For any form of instructions to be followed by non-technical users, the writer should assume zero prior knowledge and the best way to ensure s/he does that, is if s/he doesn’t have any prior knowledge her/himself.

Key tips for well-written instructions:

  • Approach it with logic and common sense
  • Don’t assume any prior knowledge on reader’s part
  • Start right at the beginning of the process
  • Use simple, plain language in short sentences
  • Use “active voice, ” not “passive voice” (e. g. “take the lid off now” rather than “the lid should be taken off at this point)
  • Keep each step separate, no matter how simple you think it is
  • If you use illustrations, make sure they’re clear and uncomplicated
  • If using translations, get each language version “reality checked” by a native speaker

Finally, you need to test the instructions on people who are genuinely typical of the target audience. And that means, preferably, people outside your organization. Someone in the next office may not have tried assembling the item before, but is still likely to have some prior knowledge.

Keep an open mind

Still following along the same lines, for any product to be used by ordinary folks in the street, try also to get the instructions written by someone from a totally unrelated department or even from outside your organization.

No matter how thoroughly you know your product, a fresh outsider’s view will often pick up on ways to improve the instructions–or even to improve the product itself.

There is nothing that will blacken the name of your product and your company faster than a customer like me not being able to put your product together easily. Although customers like me will get over it after taking a cold shower and asking the brainy next-door neighbor to interpret the instructions, we’ll probably remember all those bad things next time we’re shopping for the sort of products you sell. And we’ll buy your competitor’s.

Out now on Amazon … all you’ll ever need to know on how to make your business writing brilliantly successful, in one handy book: Business Writing Made Easy by yours truly…grab it now, boost your business writing, and get ahead of the economic recovery! 

Whoops, I’ll write that again

Normally I start the week with a post about serious business writing, but this time I can’t resist sharing these hilarious captions from – would you believe it – one online edition of one “popular” British Sunday newspaper.

Maybe they run the weekend editions with a skeleton crew of staff, but come on, folks. Take 30 seconds to read them back before you hit the return key, OK? In the meantime, here’s a laugh and a lesson in how important it is to proofread your writing…

Loving arms: Bill Hudson with a young Kate in the early eighties. He describes himself as a one-man woman who was desperate for a family …I suspect he was probably desperate for gender reassignment surgery, too.

Solemn occasion: Kate Middleton stands between the Duchess of Cornwall and Countess of Wessex as she attends the Whitehall event for the first time …er, Kate has a title now, guys. Duchess of, what was it again?

Father and son: Prince William, left, and Prince Charles follow the Queen up to the Cenotaph to lay wreaths, wearing their uniform from when they served in the Army …uniform must have been a bit smelly by now, especially as they shared one between them

X Factor ‘fix’ fear after Amelia is announced the winner an hour earlier than voting had closed wouldn’t “before voting had closed” be clearer?

Taking the lead: Zara Philips walks to her car to drive to an area to exercise the boxer and black Labrador …struggling to say “take her dogs for a walk” in a different way, aren’t we.

Elegant: Despite not coming top of again, Chelsee Healy scored an impressive 36 for her Foxtrot with Pasha Kovalev …not coming top of… what? Never mind, I expect Pasha was appreciative of her impressive foxtrot.

Keeping busy: The star performed at the Bambi Awardsy in Wiesbaden, Germany on Thursday …aw, cutesy wootsey

Write caption here oh can I, please? Please?

Get me out of here! Freddie is forced to find stars amongst the maggots to win meals for the group you just can’t find any decent stars to audition these days, can you.

Following in Antony’s footsteps: Crissy looked ready to cry as it was her turn to fly through the sky especially as Antony had been flashing a pair of scissors near her parachute straps just before he jumped.

Wealthy: Michael Moore, pictured addressing Occupy Denver protesters two weeks ago, bought a 2,500 sq ft plot and expanded it to create the mansion, sources say I wonder if he’s just as good at expanding loaves and fishes?

Humps: Fergie showed off her lovely lady lumps in a revealing dress her WHAT?

Make sure you never need to rewrite your captions!

“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

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