We’ve Moved!

After a website redesign, we decided to move our blog in with our HH Communication Services website, so now you can have one-stop shopping for all your communication services. Please visit hhcommunication.ca and subscribe to the blog from there so that you don’t miss any posts. This is shaping up to be an exciting year, so don’t miss out! Subscribe to Words of Wisdom: Writing and Editing Effectively today!

Dream Bigger

BeautyIn the spirit of the New Year, I thought I’d take the time to start the next chapter of HH Communication Services. For me, I get the itch to start something new and/or close out the old around September, which coincides with a new school year. However, this year I found myself getting excited to return to a focus on my freelance business in December. I harnessed the excitement and deadlines of Christmas to complete a redesign on my website. I am very happy with the way it turned out, and it meant I took on new challenges to do so. Now I feel ready to dream bigger, offering more services (voice overs and more creative writing) and launching some projects I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years.

The value of accomplishing something new

Nothing can compare with launching yourself into a challenging project that forces to learn new things as you go, and then completing it. The sense of accomplishment tends to bolster self-esteem, and I know that I certainly feel like I am more ready and more courageous to take the next step in my business journey. While the world is making New Year’s resolutions, most of which will be broken within a week or two, I am simply resolving to dream bigger, and then to go out after those dreams.

Start dreaming

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do in your business or personal life but have never really gotten around to it? Don’t be afraid to dream big. And write it down! It can often help to write down your vision, no matter how pie-in-the-sky or unachieveable it may feel to you. When you write it down you create a source that you can go back to and read in the future. If it’s not attainable right now, it might be later. Writing down your goals and dreams, whether for your business or your personal life have been shown to help people actually attain those goals.

Identify your obstacles

What has held you back from taking steps toward attaining your goals or realizing your dreams? The easiest way to identify your obstacles is to ask yourself why you haven’t done it yet and see what your answers (excuses?) are. Your obstacles may be quite legitimate or more excuses to cover up our own personal issues. Obstacles can also be exterior (that is, things that are outside of ourselves) or interior (eg, fear of failure, fear of success, lac of organization). But even an external obstacle can be tackled. For example, if you find you require a new skill in order to get ahead in your field, you can save up and take a course to acquire that skill. Internal obstacles are often a little more difficult to overcome. Find someone you can trust—someone who is an encourager—and show them your written vision/dream/goals. Often how we see ourselves is different from how others see us. This person can help show you your strengths and give you advice on how to harness those strengths to reach your goal.

Baby steps

What if you identified something smaller than your dream—a smaller task or a more realistic project you could take on, and then just did it? Think about how that would make you feel. Perhaps it’s starting to journal or blog regularly, or maybe you’re ready to take a course to learn  a new skill. Once you’ve identified it, the next part is both easy and difficult: do it! Have you ever built up a task in your head so much that you don’t even want to start, only to find that once you do start, it’s no big deal? For me, it’s with filing away paperwork. I spend days, and even weeks putting it off and stressing about it, only to find that once I start it’s done in 10 minutes. And you know what? I feel so much better when it’s done.

Your turn

I encourage you to think on them and answer them for yourself, and then… do it!

  • What is something you’ve always wanted to do but have never really gotten around to?
  • What are some of the obstacles to attaining your dream? What has held you back? Once you’ve identified some external and internal obstacles you can develop a plan to overcome them.
  • Perhaps your dream is rather large and it’s not the right timing to pursue it yet. Think of something smaller—perhaps a step on the way to that large project, or even something unrelated. What is something new you can start today that will give you a sense of accomplishment?
  • Do it. Just step out and “get ‘er done”!

Step out in faith

While this may be easier for those who have faith in a higher power, I urge you to step out in 2016 and harness the inspiration of the New Year to try something new, start a project you’ve always wanted to do, and see where that takes you.

Remember, it is often we who limit ourselves.

So, what are you going to start this year? Share your story below!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

Descriptive vs prescriptive linguistics: Talking good vs writing well

We dress to impress, so why not write to impress?

We dress to impress, so why not write to impress?

I was recently going through some old university text books, trying to decide which ones to keep and which ones to give away—a difficult task for any book lover! My linguistics text books took me on a walk down memory lane, and also reminded me of a very important issue: descriptive vs prescriptive linguistics. As an editor, I often have people apologize for their English grammar skills during a conversation, as if I’m judging their intelligence or worse—their worth as a human being—by how they speak. Let’s just put that kind of thinking to bed right now. Continue reading

Apostrophe Now!

Well, I’m happy to say that I am not the the only one out there who finds those pesky “grocers’ commas” annoying! The BBC recently posted a magazine article on the influence of grammar on relationships. Yes, that’s relationships. And I can honestly say, my fiance and I both noted the use of proper punctuation and grammar in emails and instant messages as one of the things that we found impressive about each other. How about you? Is bad grammar a turn off? Do you have any grammar pet peeves you’d like to share?

Apostrophe Epiphany

Here’s an easy way to remember how to use the apostrophe for possession and contractions.

Never use an apostrophe to indicate a plural. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

An apostrophe indicates possession… except for “its.”  “It’s” means “it is.” (Hey, there’s always an exception.)

Or put another way:

This one won't be forgotten!

Lesson learned

Now you’ll never forget!

Doing Business With Good Intentions

It’s a new year,Image and one month of it has gone already. (oh, my!) Many of us have been making New Year’s resolutions in our personal lives—goals, if you will. I’m going to challenge you to set intentions to go along with those goals.

The problem with goals

Have you ever been at the gym in January and struggled to get on a machine, only to find the gym half empty come February or March? The problem could be that people don’t set attainable goals, they lose motivation, they don’t have a plan to reach those goals, or the plan doesn’t fit with the reality of their lives. In short, people aren’t willing to make a complete lifestyle change. Here’s the problem with goals: when we slip up, we see it as a failure and lose motivation, prompting us to give up.

Living with intention

Of course we need goals—we set goals every day! Just look at your to-do list. I suggest reaching your goals and creating a realistic plan by setting intentions. An intention is an overarching statement that is at a higher, value level. It basically answers the question why to a goal. Why do you want to get healthy and fit? Because I respect my body and value my family friends such that I want to be on this earth as long as I can.

An example of an intention is aligning the way you spend your time and money with your priorities—what’s really important to you in life (often, those don’t match up). Another intention could be to think outside the box and be creative. Perhaps your intention is to be more socially conscious when it comes to food: how large is the carbon footprint, are you supporting small business, how were the animals and environment treated in coming to your plate? Once you’ve set a few intentions, it’s up to you to make decisions that align with these intentions. You might choose to eat a certain food in one circumstance and choose an alternative in another. Either way, you’re still successfully living with the intention. Take a moment to set some intentions and you’ll soon be on your way to changing the way you think, the lifestyle change you need to meet your goals.

But don’t stop there! Now take these personal intentions and goals and apply them to your business.

Apply personal intentions to your business

Much research shows that when your personal values align with those of your company, you are more likely to be have job satisfaction, to be happy, and to be successful in your position. (Check out this article on Charity Village.) Let’s take the intention to consider social and environmental implications of consumption. If you’re in the food industry, this is easy: free trade coffee and tea, organic and local foods are no-brainers. If you’re a pharma marketing company, how about only doing business with companies that adhere to ethical production guidelines, or who subscribe to Rx&D guidelines? Perhaps you want to work with pharma companies that actively give back to their communities or who offer affordable and needed drugs to third-world countries. Maybe you’ll encourage your own employees to volunteer and participate in fundraising for a good cause by giving free time off for volunteer work (read this article from Statistics Canada).

Think before I speak, listen before I think

One of my intentions this year (I have several) is to listen before I speak and to think before I listen. Sometimes I’m blurting a thought out of my mouth that isn’t fully formed yet. And often, while others are speaking to me, I’m already forming what I want to say—that’s not being a good listener. Perhaps if I truly listened to what the other person was saying, I’d think or respond differently.

Communicators often focus on what they want to say and how they can say it, but neglect to truly listen to their audience. If I’m busy forming a communications plan in my head for launching a direct mail campaign but the client is telling me their audience is looking for electronic messaging over hard copies, I’ve totally missed the mark. Listening before I think also opens me up to new and creative ideas I might not have thought of on my own. Result? Effective, relevant communication and satisfaction that my intention of how to treat others in 2013 covers both my personal and my work life. Now my personal and business values have aligned, and I am fully satisfied with my work, knowing that I’ve given my client the very best and that I’m becoming a better person .

Here’s the cool thing: the wider you spread your intentions to the different parts of your life, the easier it is to make decisions that align with those intentions. Why? You’re getting more practice and practice makes it easier. Suddenly, you find you’re reaching those goals that you set because you’re guided by that overarching intention. And then, suddenly, before you can say “Happy New Year,” you’ve changed your life.

How about you? What are your personal intentions for 2013? How can those intentions be applied to your work place?

The Power of Words

The Power of Words

The other day, my dad sent me a link to a video on YouTube. He doesn’t normally send things that aren’t either really hilarious, really silly (not necessarily the same thing), or really moving, so I knew this one would be good. The video is called The Power of Words and it’s less than 2 minutes long. Click the link to view

The Power of Words

the video, then come back and continue reading. Consider this your spoiler alert!

What your message says about you

Basically, the title of the video says it all: words are powerful. The blind man cut right to the chase to state the facts: he’s blind and he needs help. But as you saw, people just kept walking by—not many stopped to put money in his pot. Then, a woman with some insight took the time to stop and actually see the man. She looked right at him and then read his message. The two didn’t line up. She could see that he was a person—he had wrinkles from experience, he had feelings just like the rest of us, and he surely had hopes and dreams. But his message didn’t portray that. His message focused on a sense he didn’t have and then what he needed. Wait a minute—what’s wrong with that? Well, everybody wants something, so when you add your request to the pile, you don’t stand out.
The woman’s new message, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it,” changed the result. First, it identified something that was common to everyone. We all experience the same kind of weather no matter our income or job, faith, age, or race. That statement reached out to be applicable to everyone. You would either think, “Yes, it is a beautiful day,” or “No, it’s kind of overcast and dreary.” Either way, it prompts thought and opinion. Already, the message has evoked some sort of response from passersby. But what about the next part, “… and I can’t see it”? This message addresses the fact that the man is blind but puts it in words that again identify a result with which most people identify: being able to see. Instead of stating the clinical condition, the message now states the result of his condition: he can’t see.
Notice that nowhere on the new sign does the man actually ask for anything. There is no “Please give me money,” or “Help me.” The new message—identifying with the common experience of his audience and then addressing how his experience of the day differs from everyone else at the experience level—is enough to provoke the ultimate desired result: moving people to action.

Use these principles in your business

How do you get your message across? Are you simply giving all your clients the facts and then requesting that they use your services or buy your product? You’re like the blind man with the first sign. Think about how you can really identify with your target audience. It could be in a shared experience, where you show them that you understand their struggles or challenges, or it could be in identifying with their hopes and aspirations, or perhaps even stirring up new ones. This should establish some sort of camaraderie or evoke some thought or emotion. Now your audience is engaged and interested. Next, you need to move that engaged audience to action—picking up the phone, emailing, making the purchase, or signing that contract. This is where you show—not tell—how your business can meet your audience’s needs, how your service or product is different from everyone else’s, or how your business can provide a desired emotional result (eg, less stress, relief, happiness, fun). Note that you’re not simply telling people or asking people to do anything; rather, you’re demonstrating how your business can bring a desired effect for your potential client. This part of the message should be powerful enough in itself to drive your audience to action. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Perhaps you’re a coffee shop who serves great coffee. So what? Lots of places serve great coffee. But maybe your beans are fair-trade certified and taste delicious. Okay, other places have that, too. But wait—you also put 10% of the profits back into programs that provide housing and education for the families who work on those coffee plantations. Now you have something different from the competition. Don’t overlook those emotional and spiritual hooks, because even though you might think of them as prospective clients, customers, or potential business alliances, first and foremost these clients, customers, and businesses are all people.

What does your message say about your business? What does it say about you as a person? How are you and your business different from the rest? How are you identifying with your audience? Look in the mirror and then look at your messaging. Does your message really reflect who you are?

Think about it. Perhaps you just need to change your words.

Part 2: Check Your Ego at the Door

It’s been quite a long time coming, but here is part 2 of the answer to the question “why do people get so upset and defensive when their work is edited?” Part 1 discussed the fact that people have invested so much in their writing they feel it’s part of them or they feel that the editor is criticizing them as a person. Perhaps the red ink or electronic markup brings back memories of school days when a particular teacher made the writer feel small, stupid, or labelled him or her as “a bad speller”, “not good enough”, or asked “why can’t you just be like so-and-so?”. These comments can have serious damaging effects on self-esteem and memories of them can cause the writer to experience these negative feelings all over again and make them feel that they need to “prove” themselves. Editors need to be sensitive to these issues, while writers need to remember that the editors are working to make the piece the best it can possibly be. We’re all on the same team and we share a common goal: to make the message of the writing effective.

But there’s another type of person who might be upset and defensive at seeing editorial markup: the person who carries a chip on his or her shoulder. These types of coworkers or clients simply believe that their work is the best, that they have it perfect, and that they don’t need any help from anyone—especially from someone so lowly as an editor. Having worked in the world of medical editing, I’ve come across this attitude often in working with doctors and specialists. These content experts have completed much schooling to get to where they are today and truly are knowledge experts. They often have earned several honours and awards and have gained the respect of their peers. They’re not used to having their work criticized; they are leaders, not followers, in their field. But herein lies the problem: with such accolades and high achievement, many content experts—in whatever field—forget the adage ” The more we learn, we less we know.” They forget to check their egos at the door.

Case in point

I once worked on a large PowerPoint presentation in which my focus was on consistency. I deleted extra spaces, standardized hyphenation, focussed on spelling and grammar, and adjusted basic formatting to make the content look visually appealing. The author, a content-specialist in his field, was livid. “If didn’t want the extra space there, I wouldn’t have put it there,” was his reply. The project manager and account manager had to step in to negotiate each little change. It turned out to be much more work than simply doing a complete edit and in the end, his presentation was run with inconsistent spelling, grammar and formatting errors, and visual distractions to the reader. The presenter got a bad review from participants and to my knowledge, the client never worked with him again.

Now, I have also had the privilege of working with exceptional doctors, specialists, and recognized leaders in their field who were the most humble and gracious individuals I’ve worked with and I must say, these were the leaders who were also most liked and respected by their peers. These experts recognize that while they know the content, the editor knows the language and grammar to make the message ring clear to the reader. It has been a pleasure to work with these individuals and I look forward to continuing to do so. They approach the work as a team effort; they supply the stellar content and message, and the other members of the team apply their expertise to make it shine. These people don’t have to prove anything because their work and achievements already have; they’ve checked their egos at the door.

Turning the tables: Self-reflection

Working with ego-centric individuals—and you will likely have to one day, no matter whether you work in a factory, warehouse, retail store, or office setting—takes understanding and patience. Remember all the hard work these people have put in to be recognized as leaders in their field, and remember part 1 to this whole question: don’t take it personally. While these individuals should check their ego at the door, you should, too. No one is perfect—not even exceptional editors—so be sure to check your ego at the door, too. Are you ready to learn new things? Are you humble enough to recognize and admit when you’re wrong? The beauty of the answer to why people take offense or get defensive about having their work edited is that it can be a learning experience for both the creator and the editor, and while we can’t control how others respond, we can always control how we respond. Don’t take it personally and checking your ego at the door is as much for the difficult coworker as it is for you.

It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Editing

A colleague recently asked me “Why do people get so upset and defensive when their work is edited?” That’s a question that has perplexed editors for years. Why wouldn’t anyone want their message to be clear, eloquent, direct, consistent, free of mistakes, and just, well, better? Whether you’re the writer, content expert, or editor, you have probably been on one side of this question. I’ll address the answer in two parts.

Don’t take it personally

The first thing to remember is not to take the edits personally. Editors don’t edit people; they edit language. While writers, content experts, and departments within your organization may best know the content, editors equally best know how to express that content effectively. As a writer and an editor, I’ve had the benefit of experiencing what it’s like to have my own work edited, and I can tell you that it can be quite difficult because there’s an emotional element to it. Writers and content experts, like artists, may feel their work is an expression of themselves. They likely are passionate about the content and have probably put a great deal of time, effort, and thought into the piece. It often takes great courage just to “put your work out there” as a writer, knowing that your “baby” is now vulnerable to criticism. For writers who have thrown themselves into creating a document, the devastation can be immense when it is slashed by the scathing blade of a red pen. Viewing edits as a personal attack are often the cause of a defensive or resistant reaction.

How to handle it: For editors and reviewers

A mindful editor will be able to win over his or her “clients” by being aware of this tendency to internalize edits. If you’re an editor or even if you’re reviewing and making changes to a document, be sure to offer some compliments about the work and explain that your changes will help make the piece more effective. Think about how you would feel if your work were being edited. If the writing was good, say so. If you learned something from the information, let the content expert know. Sending a document wrought with markup and no explanation can seem downright cold. And making enemies within your own organization will only start a civil war, lead to decreased quality and productivity, and threaten your organization’s reputation. A little understanding, diplomacy, and patience can go a long way.

How to handle it: For writers and content creators

If it’s your work that’s being edited, try to distance yourself from the piece. Don’t think of it as your baby. It’s a living message that’s as good as dead if it’s not effective. Editors, writers, content experts, and members of your organization all have the same objective: to make the message as effective as possible. You’re all on the same team; you just bring different skills to the table.

Stay tuned for part 2: checking your ego at the door.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Can't you read the sign?

Dogs can’t read

While walking my dog, Molly, we came across the above sign. Molly stood staring at the gate, wanting to get into the baseball diamond. But here’s the thing: dogs can’t read. This incident prompted a couple of questions: Do you really know your audience? Are you targeting your audience?

Know your audience

Obviously, the sign was posted for dog owners rather than the dogs themselves, but in reality it was Molly who wandered over to the gate on her own and even bumped it a couple times indicating her desire to enter. So you have your message out there, but do you really know your audience? While you may be targeting your audience with industry-specific language and scientific terms and acronyms, you might also be excluding other potential viewers and, ultimately, clients. Before you send your message out to your current colleagues and faculty, take a step back and think about any further audiences that may be interested in your work. For example, not only may your paper on treatment for schizophrenia be of interest to psychologists and physicians, but it may prove valuable for social workers, case workers, patients, and pharmacists. If writing a piece for one audience wouldn’t work for another, consider writing separate pieces and providing different online and printed tools to meet your audiences at their level.

Effective communication is the key

The age-old adage that communication is key to any relationship also holds true in the business world. If your message is out there but it is not clear, accessible, or understood by those receiving it, there will either be a breakdown in relationship or the relationship will be snuffed out before it has even begun. Get to know your clientele and research your potential audience. Just as posting a sign telling dogs not to enter the park will not keep them out, producing text heavy with scientific information will not relate to the average lay person. Equally, creating a book on how to cope with vision loss will not work unless it is in Brail, large print or some other accessible form. Instead of limiting yourself to one audience, produce various versions of your message and in several media to ensure you are not excluding anyone.

Will your clients see the sign? Make sure they do by hiring an editor today!