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Post archive for September, 2010
September 29, 2010
We now average 7.2 hours a week—almost a full work day—on e-mail. Would you like to decrease the time you spend on e-mail and improve the quality? You could, if everyone followed these five golden rules. Just think what you could do with the time saved!
1. Write helpful subject lines. A good subject line tells you what the e-mail is about. It lets you triage your messages. Do you need to respond to the e-mail immediately? Can it wait until you have more time? Here's an unhelpful subject line: Yesterday's phone call. It might take a while to conjure up the phone call this refers to. What about yesterday's phone call? Following up on Social Networking conference call is a more helpful subject line. It reminds you what the call was about and tells you that you'll probably need to take action.
2. Change the subject line if the topic of the e-mail changes. Sometimes the e-mail has a great subject line, but it has nothing to do with the topic of the e-mail. This happens frequently when the sender takes an old e-mail and clicks "reply" without rewriting the subject line to reflect the current topic. For example, an e-mail I received with the subject line June schedule was sent in August and was about an upcoming conference in October.
3. Send e-mail only to "need-t0-knows." Think twice before you add a name to the address field. Does this person need to act on the e-mail? Opening irrelevant e-mail takes time and can be confusing. (Why did I receive this? Am I supposed to do something?)
4. Use "reply all" cautiously. Don't be lazy and just click "reply all" because it is easier than figuring out who should receive the reply. If you don't know the other recipients, it's a good practice to reply only to the sender, not the entire group.
5. Forward jokes judiciously, and never send to work e-mail. It is nearly impossible to keep from forwarding LOL jokes. But make sure that the people you send them to will actually find them funny. Will the recipient think the priest, rabbi, minister joke is amusing or offensive? Do you want to send the latest blonde joke to everyone you know or just to blondes? Don't send jokes to someone's work e-mail. Remember, work e-mail is not private. And finally, put joke in the subject line to let recipients know that they don't need to open the e-mail immediately.
-- Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)
September 28, 2010
Many congratulations to Paul Weiss, Senior Cataloging Policy Specialist, in the Library of Congress's Policy and Standards Division. After participating in an Advanced Writing for the Web course I recently taught, Paul rolled up his sleeves for a re-do of his FAQs page on cataloging.
Paul's FAQs, intended for archivists and librarians, had become an apples-and-oranges list of 23 questions. Some of the FAQs were clearly written for librarians--What office is responsible for cataloging policy at the Library of Congress?--and others were for publishers--How can I get my publication cataloged? And, as we all know, a list of 23 FAQs is too long for users. Instead of using the 23 FAQs to answer their questions themselves, most users will just give up and send an e-mail or give you a call.
The new FAQs are truly improved:
- They have been sorted into three main categories--for the General Public, for Publishers, and for Librarians--and several subcategories.
- They are written in first person. Now the FAQ reads How can I obtain information about cataloging when the old version read How can publishers obtain ...
- Some FAQs were eliminated, which means the old list of 23 was given a thorough content review.
Have a great before-and-after example you'd like to share? Let me know and I will feature your rewrite here.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
September 17, 2010
Ugh. I thought it was just me. But last month's survey (by Xobni and Harris Interactive) on the e-mail habits of American workers shows it's true of most of us: we can't separate ourselves from our work e-mail.
- 72% of Americans check their e-mail outside of regular business hours (vacations, weekends, non-work days).
- 27% percent of Americans who check e-mail outside of business hours do so because they feel they are expected to provide quick responses, even outside the old 9 to 5.
- 37 % of Americans are afraid to go without checking their e-mail because they might miss something important.
- 43% check work e-mail outside of regular business hours to ease their workload.
- 18% feel they must check e-mail outside of work hours to have a successful career.
One curious finding: we're not doing all this e-mail just to impress. Only 5% of the people surveyed admitted to e-mailing to gain brownie points from their boss or a colleague.
Inspired by the Sabbath Manifesto's National Day of Unplugging, I am proposing that each of us establishes an e-mail sabbath, some "sacred" hours that will never include work e-mail. (Whether you have your e-mail sabbath in bed or elsewhere is up to you.)
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
September 13, 2010
If you are a web writer, web editor, or content manager, you often find yourself trapped. You have loads of responsibility for publishing user-focused content, but too little authority (or none at all) over the people who contribute that content. You can't "make" your colleagues update their pages, follow the style guide, or meet content deadlines.
Your manager or boss is the one with all the authority. So, how do you get your manager's attention and support for your web writing projects when he's focusing on a thousand other topics and really doesn't understand the challenges of publishing good content?
I opened this topic up for discussion during an Advanced Writing for the Web course I taught last week, and as a class we came up with some great ideas I thought I'd share. Here are eight strategies for getting your manager to focus on the content at your website:
- Work on one small part of the site and document how much time you spent. Then you'll be able to give your manager a concrete idea of how much time you need for web projects. Say: "It took me 4.5 hours to update our Outreach pages. It'll take at least that much time to work on our Products and Services pages."
- Show your manager your web writing work in hard copy. Hard copy often helps people focus on the site's content and message rather than the design, technology, or the latest widget.
- Show your manager the source code. It may help him understand that you can't merely "webify" documents and put them up on the web.
- Draft a policy, purpose, or scope statement for the website. Get your manager’s approval on your draft statement rather than waiting for your manager to draft the statement himself.
- Gather the telephone or e-mail questions that front-line staff receive from the public, customers, and site visitors. Show your manager how the existing site does not answer these questions clearly or efficiently.
- Document how many days, weeks, or months (?!) draft web content sits in the pipeline before it gets published. Show your manager the consequences of the delay.
- Present your manager with a content calendar that shows deadlines for publishing new content and retiring old content. Identify the owners of content that needs to be written or deleted. Ask for your manager's support in getting people to comply with deadlines.
- Ask your manager to identify priorities for the site. Say: “I need a clear statement of what’s the most important thing here. What should we do first and when do you want it completed? Who should do each task and how much of their time should they spend?”
Do you have any strategies for getting your manager's support for your web publishing efforts? If so, post them as a comment here or e-mail me.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
September 2, 2010
I was just introduced to a wonderful white paper that details six meaningful and crisply stated customer service standards for government information online. (OK, the white paper was published in 2008, so why am I only discovering it now?!)
This brief, clear document with the visionary title "Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government" was prepared for the 2008 – 2009 Presidential Transition Team by the Federal Web Managers Council.
Here are the six customer service standards. I think they're relevant for all types of online communication. Substitute customers for American people and company for government, and these standards should work for whatever type of content you publish online.
"When the American people need government information and services online, they should be able to:
- Easily find relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information;
- Understand information the first time they read it;
- Complete common tasks efficiently;
- Get the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, live chat, read a brochure, or visit in-person;
- Provide feedback and ideas and hear what the government will do with them;
- Access critical information if they have a disability or aren’t proficient in English."
I suggest you download the complete white paper, as it also includes several no-nonsense recommendations that I believe are right on the money:
- "Agencies should be required to fund their 'virtual' office space as part of their critical infrastructure, in the same way they fund their 'bricks and mortar' office space."
- "Agencies should be required and funded to conduct regular content reviews, to ensure their online content is accurate, relevant, mission-related, and written in plain language..."
On October 6 and 7, I'll be teaching Writing Well for Online Readers: Essentials of Writing in Plain Language for Web Manager University, which is the training arm of Webcontent.gov. If you work on a government website, I hope you'll consider enrolling in the class. If you don't work on a government website, don't worry. I'll try to share some of the "good stuff," like this white paper, with you here.
-- Leslie O'Flahavan
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