Language Audit For Your Marketing Content

I love helping people fix their words, giving them the power to make their words stand out. I had the opportunity to do that last week for a woman who wanted guidance on how to improve the wording in her marketing emails. As I put together my recommendations for her, a lightbulb went on in my head – why not offer people a Language Audit.

This year I’ve been concentrating on my content training courses, but a course isn’t for everyone. Some people want to learn as they go, and my Language Audit service will give them the opportunity to do that. Basically, I’ll be their writer on top, who they can call on as they create their document for advice on how to add sparkle to the language in their documents.

How the Service Works

You can send me your documents as you create them, so you won’t lose momentum while you’re creating your marketing content. Or you can wait till you’re finished all your documents and send them in a batch before you release them to the world.

I will them draw up a few practical guidelines that you can act on straight away, to help you improve the wording of your documents. This isn’t an edit; it’s about helping you make changes yourself, so you can improve your writing skills and enhance the quality of all the content you create.

Ways to Improve your Language

The guidelines I give you take three forms. First, I’ll highlight ‘weed words’ for you to get rid of. These are words that are used so often that they’ve almost lost their meaning and they lessen the impact of your sentences. If you have too many adverbs or adverbs or too many crutch words like ‘actually,’ ‘obviously’ or ‘seems.’ I’ll flag that and you can weed them out, so your blooms will shine.

This is a pic of a purple weed, with thin leaves spreading outwards on a purple background.
Weeding Out Words: Watch out for words that weaken your language and pluck them out of your content.

I’ll then guide you on words that will strengthen your content, words that create vivid images and evoke colours, sounds and scents. I’ll also encourage you to use action words that convey a sense of purpose. For example, if you say ‘The photographs are taken by me,’ I’ll encourage you to change it to ‘I take the photographs.’ It immediately sounds more proactive.

Some people have problems cutting down the length of their content, because they’re so enthusiastic about what they want to say and they’re afraid their message won’t come across. I’ll highlight ways that they can be more concise. Often, it just means something simple, like cutting down the length of your sentences, or cutting out repeated words. You’d be amazed the difference these changes make.

Why Avail of a Language Audit

This is a great option for time poor people who’d rather learn on the go, and it’s also a budget-friendly way to avail of great content advice. The price of this language is €75 for 5,000 words You don’t have to worry how much content makes up 5,000 words. I’ll set up a tab for you and let me know when you’ve reached your limit. But you’ll usually be covered for all the marketing content you create.

I hope this Language Audit service will be of value to you – it’s an efficient and effective way of improving your writing skill. You can find out more about it by dropping me an email on derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.

How To Stamp Out Weak Words In Your Stories

At the moment I’m having great fun reading two books by authors who are looking to publish – and being paid for it. What a dream job for a bookworm. But I’m reading the books with a professional eye, and when I’m finished, I’ll be compiling reader’s reports, which give recommendations that will help them take their books to the next level.

In these reports, I’ll comment on how their stories work, and I’ll always, always comment on their language. Often when people ask me for a professional critique, they can’t put their finger on what’s not working in their story. But it’s not always the story that’s the problem – it’s the words we use to tell our stories.

There are words that weaken our writing without us realising it, because these words are so commonly used in everyday language. These are words that are so overused that they’ve lost their meaning, or that don’t convey the precise meaning you’re trying to convey. Or they’re words that slow down the action too much.

Alt Text: This is a word cloud featuring multicoloured words arranged in a pattern. The words all feature in this blog post and are examples of weak words. If you'd like to know what the words are, contact derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie
This word cloud features the words that I will talk about in this post, including passive voice, crutch words and filter words.

I’m going to take you through some examples of these types of ‘weak’ words, so you can banish them forever – and make your story shine.

Adjectives and Adverbs

When people are beginning to write, they don’t trust that the words they choose will say what needs to be said. So, they load their writing with overly-descriptive adverbs and adjectives, such as ‘the big angry man shouted loudly.’ If this is you, try taking out every adjective and adverb in your story. Bet you’ll discover that the rest of the words will say exactly what you need them to say.

Crutch Words

There are words we use in our everyday conversation to prop ourselves up while we’re formulating our points, words like: really, actually, like, okay. But these words don’t translate into our writing. They dilute the meaning of our sentences. If you take them out, your sentences will be shorter and sharper, and readers will feel the full impact of your words.

Repeated Words

We all have favourite words, words that we’re very attached to, and we repeat those words endlessly throughout our story. These may be words we like the sound of, such as ‘quintessential, or pronouns, such as ‘I’ or even ‘It.’ Too much repetition gets annoying for readers, so we need to drop our attachment to these words, so that we give our readers a greater variety of vocabulary. You’d also be surprised how much your word count will tumble when you remove these repeated words.

Filter Words

When you’re learning to write, you feel as if you need to explain everything, so you use a lot of filter words. Filter words explain the action, usually through sensation, such as ‘He seemed calm’ or ‘I heard the train coming.’ That means what’s happening in the story is filtered through these words, so the readers feel distanced from the action. Readers will find it much more exciting to read that ‘the train was coming.’ They’ll hear the sound themselves; they don’t need to be told.

I can give you advice on how to weed out these pesky weak words and make your story sparkle. Have a browse on my website to find out about my Writing with Me service.

Active v Passive Voice

If you’re describing an action that takes place in a story, you need to tell readers who did it. That’s why you choose the active voice over the passive voice. With the passive voice, you say the treasure was stolen; you don’t specify who stole it. Sometimes you don’t know who stole it, and then it’s okay to use the passive voice. But if you choose the active voice and say ‘A thief stole the treasure,’ it immediately conveys a sense that something important is happening, and you’ll hook readers into your story.

He Had Done It

The tense you choose for describing the action in your story may also distance readers from the action. For example, you may be writing a flashback and say, ‘Jane had gone to Spain.’ This slows down the action too much; the use of ‘had’ may give a sense that this happened in the distant past. Stick with the present tense or the simple past tense for verbs. ‘Jane was in Spain’ or ‘Jane is in Spain.’ This gives more of a sense of immediacy. 

What weak words do you want to stamp out of your stories? Send me your thoughts via derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.

How to Develop A Content Strategy For Your Projects

Hi all. I’ve decided to revive this blog for 2019, because I think it’s a good way to keep you all updated on what I’m doing. I also see it as a way to explain how I help people tell their stories and as a complement to my website. Besides, if I’m telling people that content is worth investing in, it’s a good idea to walk the walk. Thanks to all who supported the blog in the past, and I hope you’ll continue reading it in the months and years to come.

I’ve been doing lots of exciting things in recent months – an intellectual disability writing project, a stand-up comedy night, writing workshops, blogs for businesses and some newsletter editing.

Just before Christmas, I was approached by two different people who were working on two very different projects, but they had the same request of me. They needed help with structuring their thoughts and identifying exactly what they wanted to say. And for both clients, I wrote content strategy reports which would give them the clarity they were looking for.

The first person was writing a thesis and needed help structuring her arguments. She was a visual person, so words were a struggle. She had a brilliant hypothesis to explore and she knew what she wanted to say, but the words were locked in her head and she didn’t know how to order them on the page. The second person was setting up a new business and wanted to be able to summarise what she was offering for potential funders and future customers. She felt it would take her too long to do it herself.

Process for Developing Strategy

Though the projects were radically different, but the process I used for both clients was exactly the same. First, I arranged to meet them. This does involve an initial time investment, but talking to people face to face allows you to get to grips more quickly with what their projects are about. You’re establishing a relationship with them, so they feel they can talk to you more openly. This in turn makes it easier for you to decipher their message. I also recorded the meetings to make sure my reports would accurately reflect what they were trying to say.

I then used the information I gathered to create strategy documents that outlined a structure to follow. These reports pinpointed the central message of their projects as I saw it, and outlined the ways in which the clients could transmit their message. In the case of the thesis, the report gave advice on how to structure the arguments the client was making and how to divide the points she was making into chapters. I also gave tips on how to use language more effectively.

question-marks
Developing strategies to help people come up with bright ideas for their projects.

I am actually still writing the report for the business owner. The report will come in two parts. The first part will summarise what her business is about and how her products will benefit her customers. She can then use this information as the basis for all her content, for her business plan, her website and her promotional material. The second part will guide her on how to use that summarised information in her content. For example, I will show her how the different parts of the summary can be used to populate the pages of her website.

I cannot tell how successful these clients will be with their projects, but they are both determined, and I hope that my reports will play a small role in their success. These clients were mired deep in their projects and couldn’t think clearly, so I aimed to give them clarity of thought, to help them find their way through the maze and achieve their goals.

If you feel you’d benefit from a strategy that would help you structure your content, you can email me on derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.

How I Got Paid for Reading

Recently, I got paid to read. What a delight for a bookworm like me. After all, it was my love of reading that naturally lead to my love of writing. But being paid to read, while still fun, is a different ballgame. You have to put your critical hat on. The reading I was doing was for a developmental edit, which is also known as a reader’s report.

pperson reading book

 What’s In a Reader’s Report?

A reader’s report is a comprehensive report that evaluates how well a story works. In this case, it was a novel, but you can also get reader’s reports for memoirs, collections of short stories or single stories. You give people overall recommendations on different aspects of their story: their plot, characters, setting, viewpoint and dialogue.

In a reader’s report, you don’t correct spelling or grammar, but you can flag up errors that keep repeating themselves, or give general tips to help a author improve their language, such as cutting down on adjectives.

 The End Result

In the final report, you give overall recommendations, and then you give a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of how to implement those recommendations. First, I read the story the whole way through. While I made notes, I aimed to read it as a general reader would, so I could immerse myself in it. These notes formed the basis for my overall recommendations. Then I read more analytically, going through each chapter to give chapter-by-chapter recommendations.

Reader’s reports are a really good idea if you’ve done a first draft of your story and you can’t figure out how to take it forward. That was the case for this author. They’re also a very good idea if you’re at a point where you can’t do any more with your story and you’re considering your options for publications. You may have shared the story with friends, family or a local writer’s group, but a professional opinion will help you take your story to the next level.

Have you ever had a reader’s report done? Have you ever compiled one?

Three Differences Between US and UK English

Anyone who knows me knows I’m rather fond of Americanisms. But I’m also a fierce advocate for speaking and writing in the brand of English you grew up with. I fight hard to prevent Americanisms from cropping up in my speech and make sure I spell words the UK/Irish way. When I see my fellow Irish citizens, or British people, using American English, a very small part of me dies.

There’s always been a bit of friendly rivalry between speakers of US and UK English. American writers may argue that their spellings are simpler and hark back to an older, purer form of English. Writers in UK English may counter-argue that American spelling is dumbed down, or that their words are more authentic. In reality, neither is right or wrong. They’re just different, and different in many subtle ways that go beyond the question of colour/color.

Here are three of the main differences.

How Words Are Spelt (or spelled in US English!)

This is the most obvious one. In US English, words are often written the way they’re pronounced, whereas UK English may add or change. At night, a British person may wear pyjamas, while an American wears pajamas. A British sceptic becomes a US skeptic. US English tends to swap double letter ms or ls for single ones. Therefore, a British jeweller becomes a US jeweler, and a TV programme on the BBC would be described as a TV program if it is exported to the US.

How Sentences Are Punctuated

The debate continues to rage over the Oxford comma. Despite its name, this comma is favoured by American writers. This is the comma that appears before “and” in a list. So American writers would say, “For Christmas, I got chocolates, flowers, and a brand new TV. British writers would leave out the comma before and. Another significant difference in punctuation styles relates to quotation marks. In American books, double quotation marks (“”) are used to denote dialogue, and single quotation marks (‘’) are used for quotes within a sentence. It’s the exact opposite for UK English.

Vocabulary Quirks

us-english-chart
Difference between US and UK English bring richness to language.

Some words in US and UK English are very different from each other. This distinction is most obvious in the names of certain vegetables. In US English, an aubergine becomes an eggplant, a courgette becomes a zucchini and a beetroot becomes a rutabaga. Also, US English often uses older forms of English words such as, “I had gotten” instead of “I had got,” or describing graduates as alumni. Some words appear to be the same, but have very different meanings. A biscuit in UK English is a sweet treat, but to an American, it’s a type of savoury scone, often eaten at breakfast.

So as you can see, the differences between the two are vast, so vast that editors will specify to their clients whether they can offer editing in UK or US English, to ensure that the manuscript remains true to the chosen language. Because in the end, it’s up to you which version of English you choose. Neither are right or wrong; they are just gloriously different. The important thing is to understand the rules of the version you choose, and use it consistently in your writing.

Have you got an opinion on US or UK English? If you are in the UK or Ireland, do you find that there are sound professional reasons for using US English, or vice versa?

My Upcoming Writerly Year

A new year, a new start. Even the most cynical soul can’t help but be seduced by the thought that 1 January means a new beginning. It’s a cliché at this stage that a new year goes hand in hand with new year’s resolutions, but I’m allowing myself to be seduced, and I’ve put together some writerly resolutions for the year ahead. Some are personal, and may be revealed in due course once there’s something to reveal. But for the moment, I’m going to concentrate on my goals for the three main writing-related services I offer.

question-marks
What are my writerly goals for the year?

Creative Writing Workshops

I’m hoping this will be a packed year for writing workshops for adults and children. I’m relaunching my children’s writing camps for Easter and summer, which will be for 8-12 year olds. I also want to give more memoir workshops and am scheduled to give one for eight weeks in Dungarvan starting in February. I’m also gunning hard to get funding for workshops for people with disabilities, in particular with the National Council for the Blind in Dublin. We’re planning to apply for funding from Arts and Disability Ireland and by the end of the year, we’ll know whether we’ve succeeded.

Content Writing

Towards the end of last year, I noticed that businesses were starting to contact me again about writing content for them. I see this as a sign of economic recovery and will be looking to write more content for small businesses, and possibly on an outsourced basis for larger companies which specialise in marketing. I’m particularly interested in helping businesses develop an overall strategy for their content, which will give them the tools to create their own content.

Editing

I’ve done some proofreading and copy editing courses, and this year, I want to put the skills I’ve learned on those into practise. But I believe I can be of most help to people in the area of developmental editing: in other words, helping them with the overall structure of their stories. A lot of the work I have done has naturally fallen into that category, and it’s a privilege to help people bring their stories to the next level.

What are your writerly resolutions for 2017? Are you going to finish that novel or develop a new service? Or are you simply going to write on? Whatever you do, best of luck to you all and a happy, writerly New Year.

The Challenges of Editing Poetry

Proofreading poetry is a delicate business. As there are fewer words in a poem, the slightest change you make will have a much stronger effect. Whether you choose to put in a comma leave it out will determine the shape of a verse, or even the whole poem. I’ve been asked by a local poet to wield my editing scalpel. I’m flattered that this person has trusted me with her poems, which she’s hoping to put into a collection. She asked me to do a light proofread and suggest an order for the poems.

editing-scalpel
The delicate task of editing poetry.

 

Read Like a Reader: When I’m first editing a job, I let the words wash over me, the way you normally do when you’re reading a book. This helps me to connect with the material and to figure out what story the person is trying to tell. In this case, as they were poems, I read them aloud to get into the rhythm of them. Reading aloud also helps you spot patterns of errors the person makes.

Ordering the Poems: It’s extraordinary how themes naturally emerge in people’s writing, without any forethought on their part. There are issues or themes people will naturally gravitate towards, and that was the case with this collection. Four or five themes came to the fore, and fortunately, the numbers of poems which fall under each theme is relatively equal, which will add body to the collection.

Proofreading: There’s always more to proofreading than you originally think. Often the problem isn’t with spelling and grammar, but with structure. In this case, I discovered bigger problem with the rhythm of the poems, and I flagged those up using Track Marks, the computer equivalent of the red pen. Also, when you make one change, you have to make changes for all instances where the error needs to be corrected. This manuscript soon becomes festooned with red marks.

Second Proofread: When I’ve finished track marking, I will create a new document and accept all the track marks. This incorporates all the changes I made and will give the poet a clean copy to work with. I’ll then clear up any remaining errors before handing it back to her.

Giving Feedback: Proofreaders largely concentrate on spelling and grammar, but I’m going to add a feedback document, pointing to poems that need work and suggesting ways of correcting issues related to the rhythm of the poems. The poet can then implement the suggestions herself if she wishes.

Have you ever edited poetry? If so, how do you approach it? If you’re a poet, what would you look for in an editor?

Where Writing and Editing Meet

This week, I’ve taken on a job where the lines between writing and editing meet. In other words, it’s a copywriting job which has an element of editing to it. The copy has already been written, but it needs to be rewritten to meet the needs of the audience, so I have the enjoyable task of manipulating the text to make it easier to read. I’ve written before that editing is like clearing the dead wood to allow the flowers to bloom. That’s what I’m aiming to do in this job.

I’ve been asked to cut the content in a training manual in half so that designs and illustrations can be added to the content. I’ll be doing this by removing academic references and overly wordy language and by breaking up into smaller, manageable chunks. I also need to change the look of the text, so that people can absorb its message more easily.

When you’re doing a multi-stranded job like this, it’s best to concentrate on making one change at a time, rather than trying to do them all at once. So here’s the step-by-step process I’ll be taking.

  1. Cut the Text Down to Size

At this stage, I take a wrecking ball to the text. Cutting text in half can’t be done without making radical changes. I take out everything that doesn’t need to be there and anything that obscures the point the content is trying to make. In this case it’s academic references that won’t make sense to the ordinary reader. Clients find this difficult. They’re attached to their words and think they need to include all of them. My job is to show them that by cutting down the copy, I’m making it easier to read, and that the message they want to convey is still there. It’s just expressed more concisely.

  1. In-Paragraph Cutting

At this stage in the process, I exchange the wrecking ball for a scalpel.

editing-scalpel
Good editors wield a scalpel.

I’ve been asked to make sure that the paragraphs are no longer than 60 words, so I turn my attention to the sentences themselves. I find I can shorten some of them and combine others. I also get rid of excess adjectives and repeated phrases. We all repeat more than we realise when we write, so I find the phrase that makes its point most concisely and get rid of the rest. This approach can get rid of a surprising amount of dead weight.

  1. Making the Text Pretty

Now I’ve fixed the words, I turn my attention to the layout. I come up with headings for each paragraph, summarising what’s contained in that paragraph. Some paragraphs lend themselves to being converted into lists with bullet points. I’ve been asked to include at least two of these per page. I also suggest breakout quotes, interesting quotes which the designer can place alongside the text to entice people to read it.

What do you do to rejuvenate your content and make it easier to read? How do you make sure it retains its original message?

Why I Joined an Editing Society

Last week, I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The SfEP is the UK’s professional organisation for editors and proofreaders, and though I’m Irish, my sources told me that this organisation has excellent resources and more opportunities. I took a long time to make the decision, for two reasons. To progress in the organisation, you need to do a lot of training, which is expensive, and I also know plenty of people who aren’t members of an organisation, but are still reputable and get plenty of work.

Still, the advice I received from respected editors burrowed in on me, so during a hiatus last week, I filled in the form. Ultimately, there are three reasons why I think joining the SfEP was the right decision.

For credibility

Membership will give my editing services a professional stamp.  It shows potential clients that I am willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to be a professional editor. Editing is just one of the writing related services I offer, but my ambition is to make it the central one. By displaying the SfEP logo, I can demonstrate to future clients that I will deliver work to the highest possible standards, and charge a fair and realistic price.

Apostrophic Errors
Keeping editing standards high.

To upskill

However much you may think you know about books and language, there is always more to learn. The SfEP gives discounted training courses to help you continuously improve, and you can also avail of a mentoring service, which gives you the chance to test your editorial skills on an editing professional.  I’ll be able to learn more about grammar, applying a consistent style, how books are laid out and how to work well with clients.

To ask questions

I will be able to use the SfEP as a sounding board for any issues I have as an editor, and to ask slightly embarrassing grammar questions without fear of ridicule. There are private forums where you can find discussions about pretty much every aspect of editing. I’ll be able to freely avail of the expertise of senior and experienced editors, and I can use what I learn to edit more effectively.

Are you a member of an editing society? How do you find it? If you’re a writer, would you be more likely to trust an editor who is a member of an editing society, or do you just trust in your good relationship with your editor?

How Editing Develops Your Writing

When most people think of editing, they think of corrections to spelling and grammar (proofreading) or fussing over whether the Democratic Presidential nominee is Hilary or Hillary Clinton (copy editing). But editors don’t just “nit pick” over small errors. They look at the bigger picture, how the story works as a whole. Combining objectivity with a passion for story, they can advise authors on how to make their stories better. This type of editing is known as developmental editing.

While I do offer proofreading and copy editing, developmental editing projects really get my juices going. Developmental editing is the line where writing and editing meets. You need to know how stories to do it. I’m going to be doing a developmental edit on a book soon and here are three things I’ll be advising the author on.

How well the story works

When you’re writing, you can feel as if you’re trapped in a maze. You’re so lost in the story that you can’t find a way to the end. Developmental editors hold out the ball of wool that you can use to find your way out. They will tell you if your characters are convincing and if the world you have created for them is vivid enough. They will alert you if your point of view isn’t consistent, or if your dialogue sounds wooden. They’ll also give you a sense of which events are central to the story and which are not.

Maze
Developmental editors get writers out of the maze.

How to shorten and lengthen

Some writers feel as if they’re drowning under the weight of words. Others may feel they are scrabbling for them. Developmental editors are objective, so they can tell you which scenes to cut and how to tighten your sentences. If you only have a scrap of an idea and you want to make it into a novel, developmental editors can give you tips on how to expand: for example by weaving flashbacks to the past into a contemporary story.

Whether you’re mad or not

When authors come to developmental editors, they are either muddling through a first draft and want to reach the end, or at the point where they need to decide whether to publish or not. These are delicate stages in an author’s life, and it’s easy for them to doubt themselves and wonder if they’re nuts to want to continue. Developmental editors will help them make that decision. I will give a verdict on whether the story has merit or not, and what the author needs to do to bring the story to fruition. Whether they tell an author to go ahead and send in that submission or go back to the drawing board, it could be just what an author needs to hear.

Have you ever used the services of a developmental editor, or a critiquing service? How has it helped you advance your writing?