The Endangered Em Dash—And How You Can Help Save It.

I know it’s not nice to pick favorites, but I have. The em dash ( — ) is by far my all-time favorite piece of punctuation. It’sTwo palms of hand with the world painted on them; text at top "Save the Em Dash" versatile, adds more emphasis than parentheses and commas, and (when not overused) provides clarity and an unencumbered reading experience.

 

I revere the em dash.

 

But people are dissing it. I’m seeing more and more blog posts with two double dashes (–) as a substitute for the em dash.

 

Enough already. The em dash deserves better than that.

 

But I—sort of—understand why bloggers are doing it.

 

Adding an Em Dash Requires Effort—But So What?

 

My guess is the em dash-dissing writers are typing their posts in Google Docs or some other online word processing tool, maybe even directly in WordPress. To add a proper em dash, they would need to use the “insert symbol” function and select em dash from the available options. Unlike MS Word, those platforms don’t recognize double dashes following a letter plus a space as the signal to automatically add an em dash.

 

I understand that can be pain in the @$#. I create my drafts in Google Docs and find it annoying to have to go through the manual process of hand-picking the em dash from the special characters menu whenever I want to add one. But if that’s what it takes to add an em dash, I’m willing to do it.

 

However, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the em dash. Fortunately for those folks, there’s an easier way.

 

The Less Cumbersome Way to Add an Em Dash in Google Docs

By going to the Tools menu and selecting Preferences, you can set up a “substitution” so that when you type a predefined letter or character combination, Google Docs will automatically substitute it with an em dash.

Drop down menu to find Preferences in Google Docs

In my Preferences, I’ve set up ++ to automatically change to an em dash. It’s less cumbersome than manually inserting the em dash symbol.

Preferences settings in Google Docs

 

It’s not without some inconvenience, though. Google Docs doesn’t recognize that it should substitute an em dash if there is a letter or character directly behind the ++. So, it requires going back to delete that unwanted space after the em dash (and to do that, you need to forward delete not backspace; otherwise, your em dash will revert to ++).  Still, I’ve found it an efficiency improvement.

You can do the same for en dashes, too. I’ve set up my preferences to make -+ become an en dash.

 

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t she use — or — as the en and em dash cues?” I admit, that does seem more logical. However, that works only if you have just an em dash preference set up. Unfortunately, things go awry when you set up both an en dash and em dash. Google Docs appears to get confused in that situation. The en dash will work just fine, but the em dash shows up as an en dash plus a single dash. Weird, I know. Anyways, because I want substitutions for both, I use -+ and ++ instead.

 

Long Live the Em Dash

Try this tip and spread the word to other bloggers who have been contributing to the demise of the em dash.

Your turn: What’s your favorite punctuation mark or punctuation pet peeve?

 

Get Over It: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Using A Ghostwriter

It’s an ethical dilemma for some clients. Is it right to claim authorship for a piece of writing that you’ve hired someone else toGet Over It - Text write?

 

As a freelancer who ghostwrites blog posts and articles for clients, I find that’s prospects’ biggest hesitation about using a ghostwriter. They feel guilty about posting something as their own if they haven’t personally written it.

 

Does that sound like you?

 

Get over it.

 

There’s no shame in hiring a professional who can do the job better than you can. Many people simply don’t have the time or writing skills to craft a compelling, well-written blog post or article. And rushing to get to the finish line or forcing a skill that doesn’t come naturally can cost you in several ways.

 

  • Whether you’re submitting an article to a high-profile industry publication or posting on your own blog, creating a piece of writing that’s sub-standard can cause embarrassment and hurt your professional reputation. At best, prospects and customers will think you had a bad day. At worst, they’ll think you’re careless and incompetent.

 

  • Without the natural ability and skills, you might find yourself spending a half-day or more on a 500-word post. So much for productivity and effective use of your time! Yes, hiring a ghostwriter will cost you some money, but what’s your time worth?

 

  • You might miss out on valuable readership if your writing doesn’t have an attention-grabbing headline or doesn’t incorporate the information and keywords to help it become found by search engines.

 

Still not feeling comfortable about the idea of hiring a ghostwriter?

 

If completely turning over your writing to someone behind the scenes unnerves you, know that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can still have a hand in the process when you hire a ghostwriter by doing one or more of the following:

 

  • Take an active role in brainstorming topics.
  • Contribute your expertise and experience by giving your ghostwriter specific key details you want to communicate.
  • Craft a very rough draft and let your ghostwriter flesh it out and refine it.

 

No matter what your involvement, make sure your ghostwriter understands your “voice.” The tone, wording, and style should sound like you, not the ghostwriter. Always review and read aloud what your ghostwriter has written and ask for a revision if the piece seems out of character. Even though you haven’t written it, the writing needs to genuinely reflect you.

 

So, don’t feel guilty about hiring a ghostwriter. It’s a wonderful way to eliminate the stress, preserve your valuable time, and ensure you’re presenting your very best professional image online.

 

Your turn! What has stopped you from using a ghostwriter for your blog or other writing? If you use a ghostwriter, what benefits have you gleaned from it?

 

 

 

The Difference Between Writing, Editing, And Proofreading

Writing.Writing, Editing, Proofreading. Oh My!

Editing.

Proofreading.

 

No. They. Are. Not. The. Same.

 

Someone who is good (or even exceptional) at one doesn’t mean they’re decent at the others.

 

So, what’s the diff?

 

Writing

One of the definitions Merriam-Webster has for writing is, “the way that you use written words to express your ideas or opinions.”

 

The way I see it, in the simplest terms, writing is the process of stringing words together to communicate a message and make an impression on readers. In practice, it’s a far more complex activity than that because it requires the capacity to think through how to get from point A to point B, to choose effective words, and to structure thoughts in a way that strikes a chord with readers.

 

Writing requires creativity and the knack for connecting the dots to pull ideas and bits of information together and communicate them coherently.

 

A writer’s personal style, the type of assignment, and the audience the writer—or a writer’s client—wants to connect with will flavor the tone and formality of writing.

 

Editing

“Prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it” is how Oxford Dictionaries defines “edit.”

 

Most writers I know often edit their own writing to fine-tune how it flows, eliminate wordiness, and modify sentence structure and word choice. For me, it’s part of the process to ensure the end product I’m delivering to a client is as close as possible to what it needs to be. And of course, editing (typically in the form of minor tweaks) after getting feedback from clients comes with the territory, too.

 

Some editors are really good writers, but not all are and they don’t necessarily have to be. When editing, you don’t have to create the story and message; you’re improving upon the writing so it’s as effective as possible. Editors need to have proficiency in making changes that will ensure writing makes sense, uses proper grammar, has effective sentence structure, and uses the right words. They need an ability to both pay attention to details and look at a piece of writing from a birds-eye view to make sure all parts of it are effective parts of the whole.

 

The extent and degree of editing can depend on the type of writing, quality of writing, and length of a written piece. If you’re looking for editing assistance, you might see the various levels of editing referred to as:

 

  • Copy editing – Focuses on grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage.
  • Line editing – Focuses on the sentence or paragraph level rather than the broad scope of the piece.
  • Substantive or heavy editing – Goes beyond the two above and polishes sentences to improve clarity and flow. It will eliminate overuse of passive voice, repetition, awkward wording, and run-on sentences. This type of editing also involves checking facts and rearranging or reworking parts of the writing if necessary.

 

Some characteristics of editing (copy editing in particular) overlap with those of proofreading.

 

But they are not the same!

 

Proofreading

Proofreading comes after writing and editing.

 

Dictionaries.com defines it as: “to read (printers’ proofs, copy, etc.) in order to detect and mark errors to be corrected.”

 

It involves a final check of a piece of writing before it’s published to catch minor mistakes in spelling, spacing, punctuation, inconsistency in indentation of paragraphs, etc.

 

Contrary to what you might assume, not all writers and editors are capable proofreaders. Proofreading requires a skillset all its own, and it’s never ideal for people (writing and editing professionals included) to proofread writing assignments they’ve been working on. Sometimes (depending on how heavy my workload is), I’ll ask a proofreader to review what I’ve written and fix any errors I might have made.

 

When you write or edit something, you’re too close to it, and it’s far too easy for your brain to trick your eyes into seeing perfection where it doesn’t exist. For example, you might not catch an extra “the” where it doesn’t belong or an incorrect “they’re” where there should be a “their.” We’ve all seen published blog posts with those sort of oopses. They can happen to the very best writers—because writers aren’t proofreaders. Yes, writers will do their best to make sure what they write is as clean as possible (and often it will be error free after they’ve reread it a couple of times to catch sneaky mistakes), but a second set of eyes on a piece of writing (yours or a pro proofreader’s) can further ensure perfection.

 

Writing, Editing, Proofreading – Which Do You Need?

It depends.

 

If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might benefit from asking a writer to help you with your content.

 

  • Do I have trouble formulating topics and ideas that will captivate my target audience?

 

  • Do I struggle writing thoughts, information and ideas in a way that makes sense to others?

 

  • When I write, does it sound stilted and unnatural rather than genuine?

 

  • Do I have trouble getting to the point when I write?

 

  • Would I rather have a root canal than write a blog post?

 

If you’re considering working with a freelance writer, keep in mind that rarely are writers skilled at all types of writing projects or a good fit for all industries.

If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might need an editing professional’s touch.

 

  • Am I good at formulating topics and ideas and writing them in an understandable way, but do I have trouble varying the structure of sentences so they sound less boring?

 

  • Does my writing sound monotonous and lack variety in word choice?

 

  • Do I creatively convey my message when I write but struggle with organizing the content so it flows logically for readers?

 

  • Do I find that I repeat myself or become long-winded when I write?

 

  • Do I enjoy the creative process of writing but not going back to fine-tune what I’ve written?

 

If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might need a proofreader’s help.

 

  • Am I good at writing clearly and coherently, but I make a lot of silly mistakes in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc.?

 

  • Do I have time to review what I’ve written with a fine-toothed comb to make sure it’s error free?

 

  • Do I loathe attention to detail?

 

Writing, editing, proofreading…they’re different yet all extremely important when creating and publishing content of any type. If you don’t have all three skillsets in-house, consider getting the help of professionals who can make sure your content consistently puts your business’s best foot forward.

Three Vital Points To Keep In Mind When Creating Marketing Content

As I prepare to be a part of a marketing panel discussion in a few days, I’ve been thinking about content creation from a differentTo-Do-Creating-Content perspective.

 

If I weren’t a freelancer who writes content for a living, what questions would I have about content’s role in marketing?

 

One thing I’d want to get a grip on are the things I should consider regardless of the type of content I’m creating. So, here’s a question I anticipate receiving in some form during the panel event—and how I would answer it:

 

What does a business owner need to keep in mind when creating content as part of a comprehensive marketing plan?

 

  • Maintain a consistent voice for your brand.

Whether you’re a solopreneur who is the face of your business or a business owner or manager at a larger company with multiple people creating content for you, strive to make your content consistent in its “personality.” Your tone, your level of formality, your values…your brand’s voice is “who” your brand is more so than what your brand does. A consistent voice builds trust as it enables your audience to know what to expect of you. Don’t confuse “consistent” with “boring,” though. You can still be creative when developing content that’s consistent!

 

  • Don’t make content all about “me, me, me.”

Focus on what’s in it for your audience and not how spectacularly wonderful your company is. A constant barrage of content that sings a business’s praises rather than giving prospective customers information they can learn from or be entertained by is a turnoff. Write content that is audience-centric. Use more sentences with “you” rather than “we” or “I” as the subject, and share insight that will help customers live and work smarter, save money, save time, accomplish their goals…you get the idea. Yes, that may mean sharing bits of expertise for free.

  • Realize creating content doesn’t guarantee people will find and consume it.

There’s a lot of content out there competing for your audience’s eyeballs. YOU have to make the effort to get it in front of your customers. Share content on LinkedIn (if you publish it as a post, all your connections will be notified about it), include it in your status updates on your social media channels, send it to your email marketing list, and directly share it with individuals you absolutely know can benefit from it.

 

Of course, there’s far more to creating content and making it an integral part of your overall marketing strategy. But I think these three considerations stand as a good foundation for guiding how to approach the creation of content for your business.

Your turn: What underlying principles or rules do you follow in your content efforts?

 

Why Writing Is So Intimidating—And How To Make It Less Agonizing

I know business professionals who would sooner have a tooth pulled without anesthetic than write a blog post.Notebook showing fear of writing

Writing intimidates them. It intimidates a lot of people.

Why do many people break out in a cold sweat when asked to write something?

They get caught up in the perceived complexity of writing. In some cases the subject matter might be complex, but writing is a rather straightforward process.

Think of writing as what it is: communicating. Writing is simply putting words together to make a point or inform. Your ultimate goal is to be understood, so take the shortest, clearest path to getting there.

How can you simplify writing to make it less overwhelming for you and easier to grasp for your readers?

Don’t…

  • Try to include everything under the sun about a specific topic.
  • Use run-on sentences.
  • Use long words for the sake of looking smart or reaching a certain word count.
  • Rely completely on a spelling and grammar checking software to catch errors.

Do…

  • Make an outline to identify your main topic and key points before you start writing.
  • Reread what you wrote to make sure everything you’ve communicated is relevant to what you want readers to understand or serves to further a key point.
  • Remove anything that is off-topic or repetitive.
  • Proofread—or better yet, ask someone else to proofread—what you’ve written, so it’s free from embarrassing errors.

Most importantly, realize writing gets easier with practice. As with any skill where there’s room for improvement, you will get better with more effort and experience.

Also, realize you don’t have to do it alone. If you feel uncertain about the clarity and quality of your writing, ask for feedback from someone you trust, or hire a professional writer or editor to help you find your voice and communicate more clearly.

Writing may never be second nature to you, but it doesn’t have to be frightening.

What other writing tips would you give to folks who struggle putting their insight into words? I’d love to hear them, so please share them in a comment here!

 

More posts you might like:

How Much Should You Pay For Content Writing?

Four Ways To Instantly Boost Your Self-Confidence

What To Do When You’re Wishy-Washy About Writing About Yourself

Even writers who seem adept at writing about any topic can find themselves at a loss for words when it’s time to write aboutDoubt themselves. So, if you get stumped when faced with crafting a bio for a guest post, or creating a Linkedin profile, or writing content for your website, know that you’re not alone!

So solopreneurs, why is it so doggone difficult to write about ourselves and our accomplishments?

It makes us feel uncomfortable.
Bye, bye, comfort zone! A lot of people don’t enjoy shining the spotlight on themselves. While you don’t have to happily bask in the glow of drawing attention to yourself, as a small business owner you occasionally need to put yourself center stage. Sorry. It comes with the territory if you want to succeed.

We don’t want to sound like we’re bragging.
Humility can be an admirable trait, but not if it prevents you from rightfully highlighting your capabilities, skills and accomplishments.  If you’re honest and not obnoxious when sharing what you can do and what you’ve done, it’s not bragging. With the right tone, language and approach, you can communicate your best self without sounding self-centered.

We don’t know where to begin – or end.
So how much is too much to share with readers? Think about relevance to your audience and about how much content is appropriate for the forum in which it’s being shared. While you’re writing about  yourself, put yourself in your readers’ shoes and think about what they will find interesting and intriguing about you. You want them to respect you – and relate to you. Regarding how much content you should include, check out what’s the norm for the particular type of piece you’re writing. You can get away with sharing more on the About page of your website than you can in the bio that’s included at the end of a guest blog post.

We don’t think we’re worth writing about.
If this is at the root of your writer’s block, it’s time to get a reality check. Ask clients and colleagues what makes you someone they enjoy doing business with.  What is it about you and your services that brings value to them? And if you’re too shy to ask them directly, refer to the testimonials you’ve collected or ask them to write recommendations of you on Linkedin. You’re worth it – and if you won’t take your own word for it, take someone else’s.

Still not feeling warm and fuzzy about writing about yourself?  Then you might consider contracting a freelance writer to help you or enlist the assistance of a friend who is a good communicator. Getting a third party involved who can objectively sort through all the great things you have going for you and project them effectively in a compelling (but not self-absorbed) way can take the pressure off of you. Plus, it might give you a fresh perspective about you as a professional and bring you awareness of strengths and competitive advantages you might be overlooking.

What about you? What types of self-featuring writing has been most difficult for you?

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your Business Communications’ Best Friends and Worst Enemies

As I’m brainstorming to prepare to present a coaching session on better business writing to the administrative staff of a local institution, I’m thinking about some of the common challenges that all of us face when communicating via the written word.
Whether you’re a business owner, marketing manager, CEO or administrative assistant, your communications to the outside world – and internally within your organization – should be as accurate and error-free as possible. Why? Oh, just those small considerations of demonstrating professionalism, building confidence in your capabilities, and projecting that you care.

Hey, we all make mistakes! But you can avoid some fatal writing errors if you keep in mind – and persevere over – the things that can be both your best friends and worst enemies when crafting business communications.

Time

The more you take when writing and proofreading what you wrote, the fewer spelling and grammatical errors you’ll make. The less you take when writing and proofreading what you wrote, the more likely it is that you’ll miss little mistakes that can make you look like a grade school dropout. Like it or not. It works that way.

Focus

Multitasking isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. When you write emails, letters, or anything else, give them your full attention when you’re tending to them. Our brains, even the best and brightest of them, can’t do everything all at the same time. If you focus on the writing task at hand, you’ll make fewer errors.


Interest

This could be a tough one, but with the right frame of mind you can make it work for you. Your level of interest in what you’re writing will dictate the attention to detail you give it. Communicating isn’t always exciting or glamorous. It can be extraordinarily mundane. But try to frame specific writing tasks as part of a bigger picture – one that has the potential to strengthen relationships and make inroads to greater things. If you see purpose in what you’re writing, you’ll view it as less of a chore and be more naturally inclined to do it right.

Those three factors can either make or break the technical effectiveness of your business communications. They can even make an impact on the tone of what you write (perhaps the topic for a later post!). So, whenever possible, give your writing tasks and projects adequate time, uninterrupted focus and enthusiasm, so you can produce communications that will put your best foot forward and make a professional impression.

Time, focus or interest…which presents the biggest challenge to you when trying to communicate flawlessly?