Category Archives: Writing

Blogs Are Thirsty for Content

Once you’ve decided that a blog will serve your communications needs, it’s time to do some planning. The blog fairy – a cousin of the tooth fairy — is generally too busy to make content appear magically, so you’ll need to give it some thought.

Fairy_Pixabay

Think about your audience(s),the subjects that interest them and the messages you’d like to convey to them or the information you’d like to disseminate. Instead of using the space to directly advertise products or services, consider offering  useful advice or fresh ideas. If you provide interesting content, your readers will see you as an enjoyable read or a good source and they’ll be more tempted to return to your website.

Start your ideas flowing by creating an editorial calendar. This is nothing more than a chart displaying the publication dates for your blog posts and the topics each post will cover. It may look daunting, but brainstorm with your colleagues and you’ll have the calendar filled in before you know it.

Think about natural markers, such as seasons and holidays. There are bound to be topics that suit particular times of the year. For example, since my blog generally focuses on language, in advance of Valentine’s Day, I might write a post exploring pickup lines today and in the past. Quirky, but interesting.

Writing concisely is better than being verbose, especially in today’s world of short attention spans. Try to keep the length of your posts from 300 to 500 words. You can always break a topic into portions and run them consecutively, rather than overwhelming your readers.

Even though blogs are language-based, readers are attracted to images, so try to include at least one with each post. There are sites that offer free photos, such as Pixabay and Freeimages; the photos may require attribution, but it’s worth the “price”!

Finally, don’t forget your spell check feature, one of a writer’s best friends online. Nothing will hit a wrong note with your readers like spelling errors.

Take the blogging plunge and enjoy the results!

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Filed under Social Media, Writing

So, You Want to Create a Blog

Social media are here to stay, as evidenced by the ongoing popularity of tools such as Twitter and Facebook. However, if you prefer to convey your ideas in complete sentences or phrases longer than 140 characters, blogging may be the vehicle for you.

If you’re reading this, you are already familiar with blogs. A blog – a shortened version of the term web log — is nothing more than an ongoing series of articles or stories posted online on a particular website. These posts generally appear in reverse chronological order, newest first.

Your blog can stick to a specific topic – mine is generally about words and language – or can be a collection of musings on a variety of subjects. It can also be a tool to keep employees or clients up to date on the organization’s plans and activities.

For organizations and individuals, blogs can be a great way of keeping website content fresh, even if the majority of the site remains static. A clothing store’s blog, for example, might contain posts about the latest fashion trends and hints about wearing a particular item of apparel with style.

Before you take the plunge, however, do a bit of research to be sure that a blog is the right tool for you. If you’re going to put the time and energy into creating a blog, you want to make sure it meets your needs. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What kind of information will interest/intrigue them?
  3. Who will write the blog? Who will they be representing (e.g., the CEO? The organization as a whole?)
  4. Who needs to approve the copy before posting?
  5. How often do you plan to refresh the copy? Once you begin, you need to be committed to adding posts regularly.
  6. Who is responsible for posting the copy and making changes, as needed?
  7. Will you allow comments? If so, who will respond to them?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to roll. All you need is content. I’ll address the guts of a post in my next blog entry. Stay tuned.

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Gender Confusion, Pronoun Style

In today’s gender-sensitive world, I know I am not the only one trying to wrap my head around the new realities of language usage. There are a plethora of words being tossed about as gender-neutral pronouns, but which ones shall I use – if any – in my writing?

The New York Times recently published a story noting that the American Dialect Society, an organization of etymologists, grammarians, lexicographers and linguists, recently named they – in singular pronoun form – as the word of 2015. The society suggests that they is appropriate for situations where someone’s gender is unknown or fluid, as well as for the gender binary individual, a person who doesn’t view gender as only male or female with no gradations (e.g., Mary said that they isn’t ready to take the exam.).

I understand the need for alternatives, but I’m not yet comfortable with the choices available. Using they as a singular pronoun still jangles my ear, although I now see it regularly on Facebook when Suzie or Charlie has updated their profile.

I am also unprepared to commit to other alternatives, such as ze or ey, as suggested by the office of campus life at The American University in Washington, D.C. Staff at AU  have embraced the new reality and taken the step of providing guidance to the university community on pronoun options and usage, but many other institutions lag behind.

Until I see wider uptake and more agreement — Oxford Canadian Dictionary and Canadian Press, I’m talking to you — I’ll undoubtedly follow the existing Canadian Press guidance, which suggests avoiding gender-based pronouns and using the singular they only as a last resort.

The gender revolution is underway. As writer Adrienne LaFrance notes in a recent Atlantic article, … “culture doesn’t just trump language rules, it creates them.” Will your own language usage lead or follow? Do let me know!

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Filed under Language, Writing

Homonyn Horrors

I’ve talked previously about homonyms – words that sound alike, but have different meanings, such as peer and pier – and the importance of knowing the difference between them. Yet, these errors crop up, time and again, as well-meaning people get confused or don’t realize the limits of their vocabularies.

For a writer/editor, it’s jarring to encounter the misuse of a homonym while reading along in an otherwise well-written story or document. It stops me short and breaks the flow of the narrative; it also frustrates me that someone didn’t catch the mistake before the piece was printed/posted. It shows carelessness or ignorance and reflects poorly on the source.

I come across such words regularly, as much as I wish I didn’t. This week, while MountBakerreading through a brand profile provided by a client, I discovered that James enjoys discovering new flavours that “peak” his taste buds. Oy! Peak is generally used as a noun, not a verb, e.g., climbing to the peak of Mount Baker. The writer actually meant pique, or arouse (curiosity, interest, etc.).

The next day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across an artistically designed, inspirational post from an acquaintance. The sentiment was lovely, but I couldn’t enjoy it fully, because it talked about finding someone to love who “compliments” you. (Hmmm, taken literally, isn’t that a given? Why would you want a lover who insulted you or ignored you?)  Complements, or completes, is the word the author was undoubtedly seeking, and all the work that went into creating the lovely lettering and layout was spoiled by the use of the wrong word.

To what shall I attribute these missteps? A poor educational system? Sloppiness? I know that language is fluid and ever-changing, but mistaken usage isn’t part of that evolution. Let’s get it right!

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“Letter” Rip: Sharing Your Thoughts

When was the last time you wrote a letter? If you’re like many of us, it’s so long ago that you don’t remember. Today, we have email, e-cards and texting. Why bother with snail mail when you can get in touch with someone in real time? LetterWriting

Recently, my hometown paper carried a story about a woman who is trying to revive this lost art, maintaining that letters are a way to tell someone else that you want to get to know them. It’s a lovely sentiment and one that rang true for many centuries. How else would we get to know many of the talented leaders and creators from times past if it weren’t for their letters to others?

Priya Parmar, author of Vanessa and Her Sister, a novel about painter Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf, told an interviewer that her understanding of the two women arose, in large part, from their letters. Many biographers turn to extensive correspondence for clues to the subject’s character.

I wonder if in today’s fast-paced world, where we are caught up in so many obligations, whether we have the time or inclination to truly get to know others. Perhaps Facebook, Twitter and other social media are the substitutes – a chance to share some of our thoughts and feelings, hoping to be heard. However, “Likes” don’t necessarily equal understanding and insight and they are no guarantee of real two-way communication.

The winter holidays are a time of year when we think of those we love and those in our larger circle. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to reach out to one or more of them in an unconventional way – the letter – and start a real conversation. All it costs is our time and a stamp.

 

 

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Alphabet Soup and Social Media

Have you ever thought that the world of social media has plunged us deep into a bowl of alphabet soup and left us to climb out as best we can?AlphabetSoup

I’m referring to acronyms, of course – those “words” that are created by taking the first letter of a longer phrase or title and stringing them together. We all use acronyms in our conversations – think NATO, for example (North American Treaty Organization). Sometimes, they are even so well integrated into our language that we forget that the term we’re using is actually an acronym; scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) is one that comes to mind.

The advent of social media and cellphone technology, however, has taken acronyms to whole new level. Given the character limits imposed by Twitter and the need for speed when texting — or Keyboard_Twitterthe reluctance to type more characters than is absolutely necessary – an entire new collection of acronyms has come into being. These acronyms are rarely spoken, because they are generally unpronounceable (LMAO, anyone?), and besides, they were designed for an online medium that is read, not verbalized.

If you are new to texting or to Twitter, you are suddenly assaulted by a barrage of terms that seems foreign and incomprehensible. When I first came across LOL (laugh out loud), I was puzzled. Lots of love? How did that relate to the sentence I had just read?

It’s all a matter of exposure, however. Everyone can play the game – they just need a teacher to guide them through kindergarten, as it were. These days, I can decipher online acronyms with the best of them. IMHO? In my humble opinion, of course. ICYMI? In case you missed it.

Today, when I come across an online acronym I can’t identify, I just say WTH* (What the heck – known in other circles as WTF) and google the translation. If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of online acronyms, it’s time to GWTP* (Get with the program) before you drown in your soup.

*My own creation

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Filed under Language, Social Media, Writing

Advice on Writing? Horrors!

When the name of author Stephen King comes up in conversation, it’s usually to discuss his hair-raising horror tales and the movies that they have spawned: Carrie, The Shining and Children of the Corn, for example.

What many people don’t know is that he is also the author of On Writing, a respected book for budding authors. It is part autobiography, part writer’s guide, and certainly worth a read for anyone serious about improving their fiction.

Like many good writers, King has always been a reader and has absorbed language through his pores. However, he also consciously studies other authors whom he respects to learn from their stylistic strengths. In talking of description, for example, he cites such diverse voices as Raymond Chandler and T.S. Eliot.

“Good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style),” he opines and filling your writer’s toolbox with these necessary elements. “Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with.”

Whether you enjoy King’s writing or not – I’m a coward when it comes to scary fiction – there is no arguing with his talent in achieving the impact and effect he sets out to create. His writing about writing is worthwhile reading for anyone who dreams of producing the Great Canadian Novel.

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