Category Archives: Technical Writing

Writing for Your Audience: How to Keep Them Engaged While Still Selling

How Social Media Holds the Keys to Successful Business Writing

NewspaperAccording to The State of the News Media: 2013 Report by The Pew Research Center, “Newspaper website audiences grew 3 percent as measured by unique visitors from November 2011 to November 2012. However, total visits decreased almost 5 percent in the same time period.” These numbers point out an interesting phenomena occurring in media as consumers are transitioning their readership to online channels, while spending less time reading the news than they did in the past.

So as a writer, how do you keep your audience engaged, especially when your end goal is to sell your product? What are the emerging trends in business writing sales and how can you help stay abreast of the latest writing techniques needed to make a sale? Believe it or not, social media may hold the insider’s tips into keeping your audience engaged.

Keep it Short and Simple

The shear metrics behind the Twitter website should demonstrate consumer’s demand for short and to-the-point information consumption. According to the company’s website, average monthly users soared from 100 million in 2011 to 255 million currently. This represents a 155 percent increase in just three years. Compared to the 3 percent growth for newspaper website audiences, it’s clear to see Twitter has the emerging market cornered.

That said; how can you capture audiences using the same characteristics of Twitter? Well for starters, consider keeping messages short, simple, and to the point. Twitter has a 140-character limit for a reason; people don’t have the time or attention span to read anything longer. Imagine how successful your next media ad text would be if you sold every key benefit within the first 140 characters. Or, what if you wrote a sales blog that got to the point in three paragraphs instead of seven? While short and sweet definitely has its place, the theory of “less is more” cannot be lost when it comes to writing to sell.

Visual Interest Is Crucial

Dog Watching ButterflyImagery is a necessary part of any successful business writing piece. In fact, imagery, be it a company logo, creative photo to accompany your advertisement, or even a fun video to go along side your blog, can be the difference between capturing an attentive audience or receiving a high website click through rate before your readers actually absorb any of your content. For example, organizations such as the Business Marketing Organization are recognizing the value of using up-to-date, intriguing visuals, and are updating their brand imagery accordingly.

Social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest provide leading examples of the use of effective imagery which brands should be striving for. True-to-life, action shots of average people in real life settings are the business imagery that will resonate in the future. Gone are the days of staged portraits with professional actors who know nothing about your product. Looking for great imagery to accompany your business writing piece? Try photographing some of your actual clients using your product in a real-life setting. Or, use customer submitted photos. If you think it would get a “Like” on Instagram or a Pin on Pinterest, it’s probably a solid image.

Relationship Building Is a Necessary Step

NotebookYour business writing piece should speak to your audience in a way they can relate to. Just like your Facebook followers, users who regularly visit your business blog or look for your advertisements will expect a certain caliber and stream of content from you. For example, the content created on a Facebook page for a local rock band would be much different than the Facebook content created for the corner garden and nursery supply store. Keep in mind the audience you are speaking to about your business just like you would your Facebook page:

  • What will my friends/family/followers want to know about this product or service?
  • Will this information actually interest them?
  • Have I already talked about this idea in the recent past?

Likewise, make your business writing a two-way conversation. While this specifically applies to blogs, it is crucial that your audience feels like you are talking with them, not at them. Solicit commentary from your audience. Welcome guest bloggers. Make your writing a conversational piece verses simply just a straight sales pitch. The more social engagement you can bring into your piece, the stronger your final sales results will be.

~ Katie

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Filed under Audience, Capturing Audience, Content, Content Marketing, Sales, Social Media, Technical Writing, The Writing Process

How to Write a Big-Impact Proposal in a Short Amount of Time

By My Web WritersWill You Hire Me Image

Putting together proposals is a critical part of gaining new business. Unfortunately, they can consume a lot of time and resources. Because the business is not guaranteed and most often proposals are free, you don’t want to dump too much effort into this type of work. Yet, you still want to put your best foot forward to increase your odds of winning the job. How do you split the difference? Here’s how to create a big-impact proposal in a small amount of time.

Create a blueprint, not a how-to guide

One of the biggest mistakes of proposal writing is providing too much information. Your potential client needs to understand your vision for the project and get excited for the results, but they don’t need a play-by-play. Not only does this take up far too much time, it also puts your proposal at risk of being taken and implemented by someone else. Think of it this way – you want to create a blueprint for the work you can complete, but not a step-by-step how-to guide that makes it easy for anyone else to do the same. Paint the big picture, but leave the finer details for the paid job!

Know what matters…and what doesn’t

Another mistake is thinking that a potential client wants to know every single detail. More often than not, they would prefer to be given a general idea and few examples here and there. Anything more can make a proposal far too long and very overwhelming for a client to try and sift through. Keep your proposal to the most meaningful information and leave out the sections that clients would likely just skip over to get to the “meat.” For example, a description of your company should be short and sweet – no more than a paragraph and an executive summary of the project should also be limited to several paragraphs (not several pages). This is all added bulk that can be eliminated. It will save you time and your clients will thank you as well!

Pull from past proposals

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you write a proposal. Certain sections such as the paragraph briefly describing your business, an explanation of a particular service or your pricing structure can all be copied over from past proposals. Once you have these “modules” written just the way you want them, you can simply insert them into any new proposal. This will save you hours of rewriting the same content over and over.

Take advantage of technology

Finally, be sure to take advantage of all the different resources and shortcuts technology now provides when it comes to proposal writing. Online services such as BidSketch (http://www.bidsketch.com) make proposal formatting easy and professional. All you have to worry about is the content and they take care of making it look great. This also provides your clients with the ability to review, edit and sign the proposal electronically which keeps the proposal process moving along smoothly. For a small investment, these tech tools will reduce your time spent on each proposal and allow you more bandwidth to take on additional projects.

Proposals are a necessary evil of business growth. One of the greatest skills you can learn is how to craft a professional and on-point proposal in a reasonable amount of time. By putting these strategies to use, you will be able to create big-impact proposals without depleting all of your resources to do so! ~Stephanie

More Posts

How to Write a Proposal for a Project

Writing in APA Style– Quick Guide

The Basics of Writing in MLA Style

How to Better Analyze Data and Draw Logical Conclusions

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Filed under Project Management, Proposals, Technical Writing

Marketing Finesse; Edit for Content Phrasing

By My Web WritersEdit for content phrasing

The “t’s” may be crossed and the “i’s” may be dotted, but this alone doesn’t make for exceptional content. Proper grammar is only one component of great writing; of equal importance is how the words are phrased. Even the most compelling message can be lost amidst sentences that lack style, emotion and energy. Furthermore, content phrasing can have a large impact on SEO and search engine ranking. For all of these reasons, content phrasing is the final marketing “finesse” that should be placed on every piece of content that represents your brand or business. Here are several ways in which you can learn how to edit effectively for content phrasing.

First, identify your call to action. Even the best content will fail to convert visitors into customers unless it has a clear call to action. Take a critical look at your content. If you’re not able to identify this call to action within the first paragraph, this is a missed opportunity. It makes sense to place the call to action at the end of the content, since this is the “take-away” you’d like to leave readers with; however, it must appear sooner and more frequently than once at the very end. Instead, clearly announce your call to action right after introducing the main message. Ideally, this should be within the first paragraph. Then repeat this at least once more at the end of the content. Also try and weave it in to another paragraph or two, rephrasing it slightly to add interest.

Second, don’t be passive. Sure, this is great advice for life, but in this instance it should be applied to content phrasing. Content that feels dull, boring or uninspired most likely uses passive verbs instead of active verbs. Especially in the public relations/media relations world, professionals avoid passive verbs and replace them with active verbs as often as possible. First read this sentence: “Our custom web site was created by John Smith, our in-house web guru.” Now compare it to this: “Our in-house web guru, John Smith created our custom built web site.” The first sentence uses a passive verb while the second uses an active verb. It’s a subtle change, but goes a long way toward making content “pop.”

Third, bust out your dictionary. There are so many ways to convey the same message, so why settle for saying it the same way as everyone else? Use a dictionary and thesaurus to find synonyms that can replace overused and worn out words. Doing this also provides a benefit for search engine optimization (SEO). By using phrases that are unique and specific to your topic, you will have less competition for Google rankings and your content will appear higher in search results. For example, content focusing on the phrase “best social media strategies” will have far more competition for search engine ranking since it’s such a general and popular term. On the other hand, “best twitter strategies for hair salons” is a more specific way to approach the topic and will have significantly less SEO competition.

Fourth, get a second opinion. If you are the writer, it is hard to also be a critical editor to your work. Phrases that are awkward or unclear may not appear that way to you since you wrote them and understand them fully. It’s important to have a co-worker, friend, or professional editor review the content to draw attention to phrases that don’t quite sound right. Again, these may be phrases that don’t include a single grammatical error, but that doesn’t necessarily make them ready for publishing. A trusted second set of eyes (ideally someone who would also be considered your target audience) is invaluable for fine-tuning content phrasing.

Finally and most broadly, your content should reflect the overall voice of your brand. Look at any well-marketed brand and you should be able to quickly identify the voice or tone of the content that transcends all of their marketing materials. For example, MailChimp.com has a voice that is fun, casual and a bit sarcastic – and definitely a monkey theme! Once you work with MailChimp long enough, you begin to expect this voice and associate it with the brand. It’s memorable, but most importantly it’s consistent. The same message written without MailChimp’s distinct voice could say the same thing, but customers would be more likely to block it out and less likely to remember it. For MailChimp, their voice has become a point of differentiation. Their content is carefully developed and edited so that it always maintains this voice.

Good luck and happy editing!

~Stephanie


Other Posts:

The Art of Combining Sentences When Editing

From Blah to Fab, Freshen Up Your Web Copy

Adding Content to their Website Increased Our Client’s Keyword Reach

Twenty-five Effective, Call-to-Action Phrases in E-commerce Content

Which Verses That – Do You Know the Difference?

Attention to Details- What is Quality Content? Part 4

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Filed under Editors, Revising & Proofreading, Technical Writing

Writers, Don’t Give Up the Day Job Until You Pass Our Spelling Quiz

by My Web Writersspelling quiz

Because most people compose on word processors with squiggly red lines and spell checkers to point out errors, there are few excuses for misspelled words. Most mistakes are chalked up to typos or common homophones that slip through the cracks. Take our spelling quiz to brush up your skills and focus on commonly switched homophones and misspelled words. The first section focuses on words that sound the same but have different meanings. Often writers accidentally use the wrong one. The second section includes words off Dictionary.com’s frequently misspelled word list. Test your spelling knowledge!

Commonly Misused Homophones

Insert the correct word into each blank in the sentence below:

1) The child _______ refused to eat her vegetables. She was ______ going to be in trouble.

a)  Defiantly   b) Definitely

2) The woman relished in the _______ as her shoes were a perfect ______ to her new dress.

a) complement    b) compliment

3) The company was happy to ______ the proposal, _______ they asked for some minor adjustments.

a) accept  b) except

4) The school’s ______  felt her _______  duty was to support the teachers and keep the school running with discipline.

a) principal b) principle

5) The father was concerned with slimming his ______, bu the also didn’t want to _____ food from the table.

a) waist  b) waste

Frequently Misspelled Words

Select the correct spelling below:

6) a state of equality, a scale, a equilibrium:

a) balance b) ballance c) balence

7) Terrible; inspiring awe:

a) awfull b) aweful  c) awful

8) One who robs or steals:

a) burglar  b) burgler

9) Not a professional, a beginner, a hobbyist:

a) amatuer  b) amateur  c) amature

10) A promise or warranty:

a) garantee b) guarantee c) garentee

11) A thousand years:

a) millennium b) millenium c) milennium

12) Something one owns:

a) posession b) possesion  c) possession

13) A place to go out to eat:

a) restarant  b) restaurant  c) restaraunt

14) To suggest or praise:

a) recommend  b) recomend  c) reccommend

15) A machine that cleans your floors; an empty space:

a) vaccuum b) vacuum  c) vacume

Answer key

1.  a, b  2. b, a  3. a, b  4. a, b  5. a, b  6. a  7. c 8. a  9. b  10. b  11. a  12. c 13. b 14. a 15. b

For more help, consult this list of Commonly Missused Words to make sure you’re not just spelling he word correctly, but that you’re using the right word to begin with. You can also continue to test your spelling on your smart device using the A+ Spelling App. My Web Writers also has additional resources for making your copy editing swifter and more accurate. Give your writers our Grammar Test and read our tips for how to Be a Better Editor. ~Kasey

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Filed under Blog Writing Tips, Editors, Grammar, Revising & Proofreading, Technical Writing, Writing Careers

Follow this Basic Style Guide for Writing in APA

by My Web Writers

Image Courtesy of the American Psychological Association- APAstyle.org

APA style is used broadly among academics, students, and researchers working in the social sciences and allows for the proper citation of the findings of others in a recognizable format. APA style breaks papers into manageable sections that help writers to effectively organize their thoughts and allow readers to more easily navigate material. Here are the basics to get you started.

APA papers should…

–          Be typed with 12-point font.

–          Use 8.5 x 11 inch paper with one-inch margins.

–          Contain a running header. The header should include the title of the paper flushed left and the paper number flushed right. The title page should be numbered page 1.

–          Contain four sections: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.

Title Page

–          The title page should contain the running head. Note that the title should be in all capital letters.

–          The following—title, authors first, last name, and middle initial if applicable, and institution affiliation—should be centered at the upper half of the paper and should appear on separate lines.

–          The title page should be double spaced.

Running Head: TITLE OF YOUR PAPER                                             1

Title

Betty Ann Sue

University of the North Pole

Abstract

–          An abstract should be between 150 – 200 words.

–          It should include a summary of the paper’s main research points.

–          Do not indent the abstract.

–          List key words at the bottom of the text by indenting, writing keywords in italics and then listing them.

 Main Body

–          The paper should begin with the title centered below the header.

–          Use headings for each section of the paper.

–          Double space.

In-Text Citations

In-text citations include the author’s last name, year of publication and page number. The year of publication is specifically important to the social science field because it helps readers to quickly identify whether or not research is current. Here are a few samples.

According to Patterson (2001), “The subjects exhibited nervous behavior in unfamiliar environments” (p. 56).

Patterson (2001) found that “the subjects exhibited nervous behavior in unfamiliar environments” (p. 56); this is different from his earlier studies.

He stated, “The subjects exhibited nervous behavior in unfamiliar environments” (Patterson, 2001, p. 56); this is different from his earlier studies.

Reference List

–          The reference list appears on a separate sheet at the end of the paper.

–          The title should be centered and plain text.

–          Citations should be double-spaced with no extra spaces between citations.

–          Entries should be alphabetized by the last name of the first author listed for each resource.

–          Make sure you have an entry for each resource cited in your text.

–          For entries that are more than one line, all the subsequent lines should be indented one-half inch.

–          EasyBib is a free site that generates reference pages in a variety of writing styles. Using this resource may save time when compiling a reference list.

Check out the basic web and book formats below.

The format for citing a web resource is:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Online Periodical, volume number (issue number if available). Retrieved from http://www.includeaddresswithfullurl

The format for citing a book is:

Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

~Lindsey

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Filed under Citing Sources, Expository Writing, Persuasive Essay, Research Tips, Revising & Proofreading, Technical Writing, The Writing Process, White Papers

The Basics of Writing in MLA Style

by My Web Writers

Image Courtesy of the Modern Language Association- MLA.org

Formatting is an important component of any researched-based writing from high school essays to college term papers to published, academic work. For those who aren’t familiar with them, formatting styles can cause quite a headache, especially when left to the last minute. The best way to avoid the rush is to format before you begin writing and to follow the guidelines as you write.

In the humanities, MLA is the standard writing style for scholarly work. Students and professionals working in literature, cultural studies, media, and many commercial publications will need to understand and apply this style. Check out these tips to help you along the way.

MLA papers should…

–          be typed with 12-point font

–          use 8.5 x 11 inch paper with one-inch margins.

–          be double-spaced, with no spaces between paragraphs.

–          contain paragraphs with the first line indented one-half inch.

–          Page numbers should appear in the upper right hand corner. The author’s last name should appear before the page number.

First Page Formatting

–          List your name, the instructor’s name, the class and the date on separate lines. Like the body of the paper, the heading should be double spaced.

–          Include a centered title.

–          There should be one space between the title and the first line of text.

Betty Sue                                                                                            Sue 1

Mr. Howard

English 101

3 April 2012

Title

The first line of text should appear here. It should be followed by a second line of text. Notice that the first paragraph is indented.

In-text Citations

Generally, MLA uses author-page in-text citations. Citations allow the writer to give credit for ideas, paraphrases, and direct quotes that are not his or her own. Citations also allow readers to identify the sources for specific information in the paper and to correlate to the works cited page. In-text citations occur either directly after the quote or paraphrase or at the end of the sentence in which the quote or paraphrase is contained.  Notice that the end punctuation always appears after the last parenthesis. See the examples below.

“I sure hate flying airplanes” (Rider 16).

The girl says, “I sure hate flying airplanes,” even though she doesn’t mean it (Rider 16).

According to Rider, the girl “sure hates[s] flying airplanes” (16).

Works Cited Page

–           The works cited page appears on a separate sheet at the end of the paper.

–          The title should be centered and plain text.

–          Citations should be double-spaced with no extra spaces between citations.

–          All entries should identify the medium of publication (i.e. Print, CD, and Web).

–          EasyBib is a free site that generates reference pages in a variety of writing styles. Using this resource may save time when compiling a work cited page.

Basic book and web citations are shown below.

The format for citing a book is:

Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Year Published. Publication type.

The format for citing a web resource is:

Name of Author or Editor. Website Name. Version Number. Publisher or sponsor of site, date resource was created. Medium. Date material accessed. <URL> (If providing the URL is required.)

Additional Information

Most colleges and universities now have online writing labs with style guides that explain formatting in-depth. A few useful sites are listed below. MLA also prints style guides. Be sure to check out their website for any annual updates.

Modern Languages Association 

Purdue University Online Writing Lab 

Texas A&M University Writing Lab 

Utah Valley University Online Writing Lab 

~Lindsey

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Filed under Citing Sources, Queries & Articles, Research Tips, Revising & Proofreading, Technical Writing, The Writing Process

Five Suggestions for Writing Smart Content When You’re Not the Expert

By My Web Writers

Most freelance writers have areas of expertise. When they get assignments in those areas, life is good. Words flow easily as the writer transfers his knowledge of a topic through the keyboard into a stellar piece of writing.

But it’s bound to happen: the inevitable assignment on which the writer isn’t an expert. What? You want me write an article on hockey? Me? 

Relax. If you’re a curious person with good research skills, you can still write smart content – even if you’re not an expert.

Research the Topic

The first step to writing content in an area you’re not very knowledgeable about is to do some research. No surprise there, but it still bears repeating. Just like taking your vitamins helps ensure a basic level of good health, doing basic research ensures that you’ll have a basic level of knowledge about the topic at hand. You owe this to those who will be reading your work.

Concentrate your research time on reputable sources. For health-related topics, for example, the Mayo Clinic site and FamilyDoctor.org are good choices. Check out the websites you’re studying to ensure they’re free of bias.

 “Live” in your Topic

Even though you’re not an expert on, say, archery, there are many people who are. Pretend you are a fan of your topic, and brainstorm where you might go online to find like-minded people: archery groups on Facebook, perhaps, or archery forums. Spend some time in these groups. You can ask questions, but you’ll learn a lot by simply reading what experts and fans are saying. What are current topics of interest here? What are fans wondering about and asking?

Another way to learn what’s “hot” on a given topic is to do a Google AdWords search. This tool lets you see how popular various search terms are. Determine some popular search terms related to your topic, and incorporate these into your writing.

Interview an Expert

If you’re not an expert, find someone who is. The internet is your friend here: search for authors, government officials, or bloggers who have written books or articles about the topic you’re researching. Most authors are happy for some publicity, and will be happy to respond to emailed questions. If you have some questions about your topic after researching, chances are your readers will as well. Ask these questions to your expert.

 You Don’t Have to be an Expert

Finally, relax. Chances are, your assignment doesn’t require you to be an expert. If it did, it probably would have gone to a college professor. The average reader is looking for the answers to basic questions, written in an easy-to-understand way. As a writer, that’s what you are an expert at.

Stepping outside your comfort zone is a good thing for you as a writer. It keeps your research skills sharp, and it will keep your writing fresh.  Who knows? You might discover a whole new area of interest!

 And if you’re still feeling insecure after taking all these steps, there are quality content producers who can do a great job for you.

~Susan

 

 

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Filed under Audience, Content, Research Tips, Technical Writing