Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Effective Communication

As an Internet business mentor, I see a lot of websites. Some good, some bad. And I see a lot of people who struggle with written communication.

And as cool as graphics, animations, and visuals are, it comes down to the fact that the web is still primarily a text-based medium. That means that when people come to our websites, they’ll judge us by our writing.

So, here’s some tips to make the writing easier and more effective:

1. Write like you speak, then clean it up a little

It’s easiest to just start writing and let it all flow. In a lot of ways, it’s like opening the tap on a barrel. That won’t be your final draft, but it will get the ideas all out.

It’ll also have the benefit of keeping your writing style conversational. You’ll sound casual and relaxing, and that will make it easier to read. I know people who tend to write more formally than they speak. Just let it all go.

That will, however, mean that you’ll also need to clean it up a bit. Not saying that you might have a dirty mouth, not at all. Rather, I mean that we don’t always speak in good, grammatical English. And sometimes that needs to be cleaned up a little after ward.

2. Write first, edit later

While you’re writing, don’t concern yourself too much with mistakes. Just write. It will come out naturally. Then, after your creative spurt, you can go back and say, “This sentence should be at the top,” and, “This doesn’t make sense, I’ll delete it…”

3. Incomplete sentences can be fun

Do you always have to have complete sentences? Nope. Sometimes it’s more immediate not to. Works better. More concise. Makes more sense.

4. Run-on sentences are not

Even though it can be fun to see just how long you can go without breaking, using many clauses and commas, as well as interjecting thoughts and going off on tangents, like changing the topics mid-sentence and shifting the focus, it can be very distracting for people, some of whom might have troubles following your train of thought, to make any kind of logical sense out of a sentence that is so filled with ongoing and diverse ideas that it tends to lead away from the original, albieit buried, point.

See what I mean? Keep ‘em short.

5. Paragraph breaks

Just like people don’t like to read long and drawn-out sentences, huge blocks of text can also be a big turn-off. If I get to a website and I see that the text is not broken up into nice, bite-sized chunks, I don’t stick around and read.

6. There, Their, and They’re, also Your, and You’re

There are a number of common grammatical problems that I see in writing all over. And if you’re making these mistakes, you’re in good company. I used to work at an elementary school, and I saw TEACHERS doing these same things.

“There” is a location. As in, “Put the bench over there.”

“Their” is a statement that shows that someone owns something. It’s called “possessive”. “Why did you steal their car?”

“They’re” is a short way of saying “They are”. Whenever you come to one of these three, stop yourself and ask which category it falls into. Read it and use the words “they are”. If it works, then you use “they’re”. But if that doesn’t make sense, then see if it’s talking about a place. Finally, is it talking about something that belongs to someone?

7. Possessives and plurals

While we’re talking about possessives, let’s clarify something, too. Look at the phrase “The car’s tires are flat.” There is one car, not many. There’s an apostrophe in the word, separating the “s” from the rest of the word. That indicates that we’re talking about the car “owning” something. The tires belong to the car. Notice there’s no apostrophe in the word tires. The tires own nothing in this sentence, but they are plural. There’s more than one, so you put the ending “s”, but you do it without the apostrophe.

Basic rule? If it’s possessive, use the apostrophe. If it’s plural, don’t.

8. Its and It’s

Here’s another example that often gets confused. And it can be confusing because it breaks the rule I just explained. “Its” is possessive. “It’s” is short for “it is”. So, whenever I type that, I have to stop and see if I can replace it with “it is”. If it works, I use “it’s”. If it doesn’t make sense, I use “its”.

9. Spell Check is not God

Never, never, never, ever, never assume that since your document passed spell check that it’s all accurate. Spell check will test to make sure that you spelled the word right, but not that you used the right word!

“Spell Czech

“Eye halve a spelling chequer. It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marques four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

“Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write. It shows me strait a weigh.

“As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose be fore two long
And eye can put the error rite. Its rarely ever wrong.

“Eye have run this poem threw it, I am shore you pleased two no.
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh. My chequer tolled me sew

“—Sauce Unknown”

10. Proof, proof, proof

Always have someone else (not yourself) read and proof your text. No matter how good a writer you are, you will miss your own mistaeks. Oops. Mistakes. Sorry…

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