by E-WRITE's Leslie O'Flahavan

January 27, 2015

March 4 - WRITING WORKSHOP: How Web Design Trends Are Changing the Way We Write Content

Register now for our writing workshop on March 4, 2014 in Washington, DC

Today's web design trends affect more than the way sites look and work; they affect how we write content. Writers are being asked to write less text, to let the images and icons communicate more. But can we continue to write less without making our content shallow and ordinary?

If you are a communications professionals who writes digital content, sign up now for this hands-on half-day content writing workshop. We'll take a close look at five design trends that are changing the way we write for online readers:

  • Infinite scrolling
  • Card format for visual browsing
  • Sharelines, or instantly tweetable summaries readers can click and share
  •  "The fold"
  • Oversize typography

 

You’ll see examples of excellent content written within the five design trends, learn more about the issue of “short vs long” content, and get vital tips on how to write content that fits today’s design trends without compromising quality.

Who should attend

  • Content writers or editors
  • Content managers
  • Writers who want to make sure their existing skills work within these new design trends
  • Designers who want to know how content writers think and work
  • Anyone involved in a desktop-to-mobile redesign or a static-to-responsive redesign

 

What you'll do

  • Learn about the five design trends and see examples of each
  • Evaluate the quality of the content written within these design trends
  • Practice writing content for websites and social media
  • Discuss how your company's website design affects what and how you write  

 

What you'll receive

  • A course notebook with guidance, activities, and examples you can use on the job
  • Access to a private resources page with practical information you can use in your own content writing projects

 

Workshop schedule

  • Workshop. We'll begin at 9:30 am and end at 12:30 pm. (E-WRITE will provide coffee, juice, and light snacks.)
  • Optional brown bag lunch. Please consider staying for the optional brown bag lunch and roundtable discussion from 12:30 - 1:30 pm. Bring your own lunch. We'll spend the hour discussing your company's web design and web content. You'll get the group's feedback on your content writing and help with upcoming projects.

 

About the instructor
Leslie O’Flahavan, principal of E-WRITE, will lead the workshop. Leslie is an experienced, versatile writing instructor who has been writing content and teaching customized writing courses for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations since founding E-WRITE in 1996, which was also the year she coined the phrase "bite, snack, and meal" to describe how to write content in different sizes for different audiences.
Tuition refund policy: You will receive a full refund if you cancel before February 25, 2015. If you cancel between February 25, 2015 and March 4, 2015, you will receive a 50% refund. If you cannot attend, you may send a substitute.

Register for the March 4 writing workshop.

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January 7, 2015

Why are resumes so hard to write?

 UXresume.com_blogI'm honored to re-post this blog by my friend and colleague Kim Bieler, UX team manager at FireEye and blogger at UXResume.com. (And it's not just because she interviewed me and made me sound smarter than I am!)

Why are resumes so hard to write? A conversation with Leslie O’Flahavan

If you’ve been following this blog, then you know one of my common complaints is that UX resumes are poorly written. They not only suffer from typos and grammatical errors, they’re rife with banalities, awkward prose, and poorly expressed ideas. To understand why this is so, I talked to my good friend and former client, Leslie O’Flahavan from E-WRITE.

Leslie has more than 30 years’ experience teaching students and professionals how to write effectively. In person, she’s down-to-earth and full of droll observations—even on short acquaintance she makes you feel like you’ve been friends since high school.

In our conversation, she quickly got to the heart of why writing resumes is so difficult. Her insights challenged me to think harder about the purpose of the resume and about how to make the hiring experience more transparent and satisfying for job-seekers.

Resumes really are the worst kind of writing

If you find writing a resume to be hateful drudgery, or you feel like it’s impossible to represent yourself properly in the confines of such a formal document, or you hate the way you sound in your resume—you’re not alone. And the good news is, it’s not your fault!

According to Leslie, "A resume is the worst interaction of all the worst conditions to produce good writing."

She went on to identify six reasons why the resume (and the hiring process in general) conspires to undermine our confidence and ability to write effectively.

1. It’s difficult to know what the hiring manager wants

Unlike other kinds of professional writing—for example, grant applications or proposals—the person or organization you’re making the application to is usually very clear about what they want. On the other hand, "The person who’s reviewing your resume—this person is a stranger, usually, with one-slash-of-the-pen power over you, and has not explained what he or she wants. So it’s very hard to do a good job. You don’t know what the person wants, so how do you know what would work?"

The most you have to go on is a job description, but a job description is a wish-list of skills, characteristics, and experiences—it’s doesn’t tell you what the hiring manager is expecting in a resume or how they are going to evaluate you. You can guess at what they want, but that’s all it is, a guess.

2. Successful examples are hard to find

We very rarely get to see other people’s resumes. Particularly not the resumes of people we admire, or people who successfully got the job before us. And as Leslie pointed out, "Everyone around you whom you respect is equally clueless. If we were writing a proposal to the National Science Foundation to fund a project, we would at least be able to meet some people who applied for the money and got it. We might be able to see their application, their proposal. With the resume, no-one else knows, either. So you can’t count on any experienced wisdom."

I would add that, even if you were to see the resume of a successful hire, it’s just as likely they got hired in spite of their resume than because of it.

3. You can’t rely on advice

How many of us learned that the resume has to include an objective? Now, the objective is universally reviled and can often count against you. "Everything we hold as a stone cold fact about writing resumes, the next person over contradicts. So again, how are you going to do a good job?"

In this blog, I advise readers to think twice about executive summaries, but many other blogs will tell you they’re a must-have. Who’s right? Are you going to hurt your chances at a job if you follow one piece of advice over another?

4. There’s often no feedback

Most of the time when you submit a resume for a job you hear nothing. Nada. Not a squeak. You don’t know whether your resume was received by the hiring manager or whether it got lost in the computer system. You don’t know if HR rejected your resume before it ever got to the hiring manager’s desk, or the hiring manager did get it, but took one look at it and threw it in the trash. Or perhaps she read it carefully and filed it away for the future. There’s no way to know.

"You know whether you got the job, or didn’t get the job, or got an offer. But you have no idea what role your resume played in getting that offer. Most job application processes don’t depend on the resume alone. You don’t know, was it 12% or 30% of the decision?"

Did you get an interview in spite of your resume or because your resume was exactly what the hiring manager was looking for?

5. It’s a difficult kind of writing

I cracked up when Leslie pointed this out: "The culture of writing resumes is to inflate your credentials, and once you introduce that kind of inflation, it’s very hard for writers to hover between honesty and bullshit."

This is where I see UX designers getting into the most trouble. Half of the typical resume is dry responsibilities with no discussion of individual accomplishments or results. The other half is marketing copy that ham-handedly tries to convey the candidate’s passion, beliefs, and personality. It’s obvious that people are uncomfortable with this kind of writing since it often comes across awkward and dull, or cocky and pretentious.

I confess, I felt a little guilty for all my ragging in this blog about the sorry state of UX resumes when Leslie pointed out that nobody intends to write a bad resume. Well all start out with good intentions and the wish to succeed, but good intentions don’t always translate into good results. Or, as she described it, "It’s like when you dance at a party. You don’t want to go up there and look like a fool, but sometimes you do. You just bring what you have and try to make it work with the music, you know? And sometimes it’s horrible looking—but you’re not trying to look horrible, you’re trying to look decent."

Most people don’t enjoy writing their resume. They dread it. They struggle over what to say and how to say it well. For all the reasons mentioned above, it’s easy to second-guess everything you write. Am I demonstrating the right experience? Do I look senior enough? Do I look overqualified? Are my weaknesses obvious? Is my previous career in sales going to help me or hurt me?

Uncertainty and doubt are hardly a recipe for effective writing. Or good dancing.

6. It’s easy to be skeptical that the resume matters

Given the glut of open positions in UX and the fact that designers often get hired despite their sloppy resumes, it’s not unreasonable to question if it’s worth putting in the effort to make your resume great. Furthermore, the resume is "...like the mayonnaise of documents because you can’t leave it, it’s going to spoil. It doesn’t have a long shelf-life. That makes another reason it’s a hated thing to write."

My feeling is that there is value in the process of creating a resume because even if you’re applying for a job that doesn’t ask for one, you still need to be able to talk about your accomplishments and results in the phone screen or interview. Spending the time to analyze what you’ve done in your current job, how you did it, and how well it turned out is time well spent preparing you for a job search.

Looked at cynically, the resume is what allows hiring managers to reject candidates without having to spend an hour talking to each one. It’s a process that probably generates false negatives, but it’s the one we have and for the time being, your best bet is to at the very least eliminate the most common reasons for rejection.

Where do we go from here?

When you realize all the reasons that resumes suck, the obvious questions is, why are we putting people through this agony? Surely, there must be a better hiring process out there that lets designers present their best selves, and allows hiring managers to quickly weed out inappropriate candidates. I’ll be delving into this question in upcoming blog posts.

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Kim_BielerRead more of Kim Bieler's blog posts at UXResume.com

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October 6, 2014

Pet Peeves Of Written Customer Service: Google Hangout with CommBetterBlog

Check it out! Jenny Dempsey and Jeremy Watkin of Communicate Better Blog invited me to hang out with them and talk about our pet peeves of written customer service. We had plenty of peeves -- customers who write in ALL CAPS, agents who write long emails without answering the customer's question -- and plenty of faves, too. Watch our hangout and share what drives you crazy in customer service email, chat, text, or social.

(Programming note: Please forgive the audio awkwardness from 1:00 to about 1:32. It's all my fault.)

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September 16, 2014

Six Strategies for Writing Great Text Messages to Customers

Text messaging isn’t just for pushing parking meter reminders or announcing severe weather. Ahead-of-the-curve companies are using text for two-way communication with customers. At a Denver coffee shop, customers can place their orders and pay by text. A large Midwestern university uses text messaging to solicit data from people participating in a long-term study on smoking. A technology company enables customers to troubleshoot software problems via text message. Members of a trade association can text their questions about membership levels, how to reset their passwords, and more.

While it may be true that almost anyone can write a text – Just left work. I’ll B home by 6:30 – companies that exchange texts with customers must write great texts: clear, readable, and worthwhile.

Follow these text writing tips, and your company will be able to deliver a great customer experience in under 160 characters.

1. Give clear instructions about what the customer should text to you. Texting should be more than just easy; it should be efficient. To make a short, rapid exchange with a customer work, your texts should tell the customer exactly what to do next, what kind of information to supply, and how to supply it.

Here’s an example of a text exchange that tells the customer exactly what to do to book a tee time at a local golf course:

Text_Instructions-to-Customer

Here’s why these text instructions work:

  • Consistent terminology. The texts use the word reply each time. There’s no switching back and forth between reply, respond, or send, etc. The consistent wording makes the experience predictable for the customer.
  • Limited options. The texts ask the customer to do one of two things, such as reply Y or N. Sometimes the texts ask the customer to do just one thing – simpler yet.

 

2. Use a polite, friendly, upbeat tone. The tone of the texts we exchange with friends and family can be silly, sarcastic, angry, even sexy. But the texts companies write to customers should have a business-appropriate tone as well as a text-appropriate tone. Finding this tone balance isn’t always easy. A business-appropriate tone may sound too stuffy in a text. For example, no one would text a customer “As per our recent conversation…” And a text-appropriate tone may sound unprofessional. No business would text a customer “Whazzup? Sry yr order is late…

So how should companies find the right tone balance? Their texts should be polite and upbeat. Energetic texts that have a let’s-get-things-done tone connect well with customers. For example, here's a company’s text request for customers to complete a satisfaction survey, plus two follow-up texts.

  • Please reply 1-10 to show how likely you would be to recommend our business to someone you know.
  • [for low scores] Sorry to hear that we haven’t provided the level of support you deserve. Please tell us how we can improve to serve you better in the future.
  • [for high scores] Thanks for the great rating! We’d love to have you rate us on www.Yelp.com.

 

What’s polite and upbeat about the tone of these texts?

  • They use courteous language without sounding stiff: “Sorry to hear…” and “Please tell us…
  • The writing conveys energy: “Thanks for the great rating! We’d love to have you…
  • The personal pronouns help the company connect. The texts use our, you, we, us, which helps the writing sound friendly.

 

3. Use correct spelling and punctuation. This might seem like a no-brainer, but some people do think text is casual enough to be beyond spellcheck or correct commas. It’s not. When you’re texting for business, your texts should be spelled and punctuated correctly. Full sentences end with a period; possessives have an apostrophe.

Using correct spelling and punctuation is just the right thing to do. To prove the point, here’s how unprofessional it looks when texts have errors:

  • Thanks for your participation - you've got a chance to win some great prizes! To begin please reply with you’re first and last name now.
  • K, thanks! Please reply with the number assigned to the company you's lie to vote for. A list of company numbers can be found at http://tinyurl.com

 

4. Establish a statement/question pattern. Patterns help busy readers, so they’re essential when you’re sending a series of texts. In this series, the company presents the statement first and the question second. The pattern makes the text series easier to read.

Text_Question_for_Customer

 

5. Strictly limit textese (or don’t use it at all). If you’re sending customers transactional texts (ones that help them get things done) or customer service texts (ones that answer their questions, fix their problems or acknowledge their opinions), you should avoid textese. That’s right. No GR8, no LOL, no ATM, no TY. The only time textese might work in a text between customers and companies is when the company’s marketing has used it already. So, if your product’s tag line is “Being GR8 4 U,” you will be using textese. But if your advertising doesn’t include textese, you should probably skip it.

 

6. Split long texts into two parts. Respect the 160-character limit for each text. Don’t try to squeeze in more information than the text will hold or load your text with abbreviations so it will fit the character limit. If you have more to say, split a long text into two smaller ones. Make sure each text makes sense on its own. Here’s one crowded text that should be split into two:

  • SchoolVIEW site licenses,15-30 users, 6mo license=$399, 12mo=$999. License opts www.SchoolVIEW.com/compare. Click Cust Licenses at top of pg & we’ll send quote.

 

Here’s the two-text version:

  • We offer SchoolVIEW site licenses for up to 15 or 30 users. You can choose a 6-month license for $399 or a 12-month for $999.
  • Compare our SchoolVIEW site license options at www.SchoolVIEW.com/compare. Or click “Custom Licenses” at the top of the page and we’ll prepare a quote for you.

 

The risks with text are low, and the rewards are high. If you’re writing high-quality, professional, easy-to-read text to customers, you’re doing text right!

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July 19, 2014

Want to be a better proofreader? Read these books and build your skills

Need to brush up on your proofreading skills? Here's a list of books that will help you catch errors before they embarrass you or your company. These books were recently recommended by members of the Stet Professional Copy Editors LinkedIn group, and I have included their comments on each title.

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Do you have a book to suggest? List it in the comments, below. Thanks!

 

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