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Top 10 blogging sins

pens and ink bottleI’ve been talking about why and why not to blog recently. Once you’ve committed to your blog, it can be a bit of a minefield. Here are the top ten blogging sins that I see over and over again, or hear other people complaining about. No one can be expected to know everything straight away, and we’ve probably all made at least one of these mistakes, so hopefully I’ll help you to avoid the big, bad ones with this list.

1. Not having an RSS feed

File:Feed-icon.svg RSS is a way to allow blog reader software to collect your content whenever it’s  updated and send it on to any of their readers who subscribe to your blog This Wikipedia article explains it all and examples of RSS readers include Feedly.

If you look at the top of this blog page, you will see that I have an RSS feed logo in the top right-hand corner, and a link in the right-hand menu bar, and I also offer a link to subscribe by email. All blogging software will have something in their settings that allows you to add this. If you don’t add this link, it makes it that bit harder for people who want to subscribe to your blog to do so (they can usually put the URL in their reader software, but are they going to do that extra process? Not always). Not having a button to use to do it quickly and easily can give the impression that you’re not interested in people reading your blog. That’s probably not true. But I’ve seen people get really cross about this and say that they’re not going to look at a person’s blog any more if they don’t have this. I know … but if one person’s saying it, how many are thinking it?

If you get stuck trying to add this button to your blog, the easiest way to find out how, is to Google your blogging software’s name and “RSS feed button”. You should find a YouTube video or set of instructions telling you how to do it.

2. Not updating your blog

If you set up a blog and you then don’t update it, it won’t help you to get more readers or to promote whatever it is you’re promoting. Google and the other search engines thrive on updated, fresh content. If you don’t update your blog regularly, it will fall further and further down the search rankings and no one will be able to find it. If you want to write a blog, commit to updating it regularly.

I’ll be publishing a post about scheduling and keeping active with your blog posts soon, so watch this space!

3. Stealing content from other people

It’s fine to “reblog” other people’s blog posts onto your own blog (where a snippet of the post appears on your page, with a link to the real thing). It’s fine to link to other people’s blog posts and tell other people about them. It’s even fine to be inspired by another person’s blog or content – one of my friends has started a questionnaire series a little like my Small Business Chat one but with an emphasis on marketing techniques: similar idea, different content, that’s fine.

It’s not fine to lift content wholesale from another person’s blog or website. If you quote large amounts of text written by someone else, it’s just the same as if you were using that in an article or essay – you need to reference where it came from and acknowledge the author. It’s fine to talk about newspaper articles or reports in your blog and react to them, not fine to quote them verbatim, or quote people they have quoted, and not give the original source.

Never be tempted to take someone else’s content for your blog post. At best, you won’t get picked up by the search engines anyway (see below). At worst, you’ll find yourself slapped with a lawsuit for plagiarism! And it’s just not right.

4. Reusing content in exactly the same form

Say you’ve had a guest post on someone else’s blog and you’re really pleased with how it’s turned out – so much so that you want to share it. So you post it in its entirety on your blog, too. Not a good idea.

All of the search engines, like Google, like to offer their users varied content. So if the same content appears in two places, both places won’t come up in search results. Effectively, one of them will be invisible to search engines, therefore invisible to people searching for keywords that might lead them to that content.

To look at it from a different viewpoint, if you’ve published information in a guest post, the owner of the blog you’re guesting on will want to be posting up original content, not things that can be found elsewhere. Some people actually specify that the content must be original in their guidelines for guest posters. See more about this in a week or so when I blog about guest posts.

How do you deal with this? Publish a snippet of the post on your blog, with a link to that post. Put some of your own text around it, then the search engines will find your post and your guest post, both of you will get found and viewed, and no one’s copied anything. There are clever ways to deal with all of this in the coding behind your blog, but I’m guessing that most of us aren’t the kind to deal with that level of complication – I’m certainly not!

5. Being rude or negative

I feel like a  bit of a hypocrite writing this, because obviously this post is a little bit negative. But I’m also genuinely trying to help people to avoid making common mistakes! In the same way, I tried to make sure that my 10 reasons not to write a blog article talked about reasons for reviewing your blogging and content and making a positive decision. Whining and moaning and relentless negativity won’t make your readers like you any more than they would like you in real life.

Being rude can get you views in the short term. But it’s like those restaurants that people go to only because the waiters are desperately unfriendly. Fine for a laugh: but will they go back regularly for birthdays and anniversaries? Probably not. Even ranty blogs about politics or issues have to be constructive as well as rude!

If you want to have a rant or talk about a mistake you’ve made, try to vary and space out these posts, and make them as constructive as you can. We can all get a good blog post out of a bad experience, but make sure that you and your readers come away having learned something. I’m going to post soon about managing your social media brand, and this comes very strongly into that, too.

6. Posting inappropriate content

I don’t just mean lurid or dirty pictures here. If you want to share information about your management courses, then blogging about your exercise classes won’t get you the audience you want to buy your courses, unless you’re doing some very clever keyword placement and making the articles valuable to both groups of readers.

I have to admit to having a laugh at funny spelling mistakes as much as the next person. However, I’m careful not to mock or talk about or post pictures on this blog, because a lot of the people I work with as an editor are unsure about their English and using it as a second, third, fourth language … and would be mortified if they thought people were laughing at them (I don’t laugh at their English: I know I couldn’t do half as well as my overseas clients if I was writing in my second language. Bong joor toot le world).

7. Not giving your guest posters what they need

If someone takes the time to write a guest blog post for you to to give you more, fresh content, bring their fans over to your website, give you a marketing opportunity, etc., etc., then you need to do certain things to make the experience a good one on all sides. Chief among these, and something I see people having issues with all the time, is making sure that you provide live links back to their website and whatever it is they’re promoting, be it another website, their book on Amazon, or whatever. A live link is one that your readers can click on and be taken to their page, like this one which takes you to a post I wrote telling you how to add links to your blog posts!

Formatting guest posts that have come through in an email or an attachment can be tricky, full stop. I recommend pasting the text into a Notepad file on your computer, then pasting it from there into your blog post. Lots more on this in an upcoming article. But please make your guest blogger’s links live so that your readers can visit them online!

8. Not letting people respond to your posts

I like responding to blog posts. We all like responding to blog posts. We like to feel it’s a two-way conversation when we read something online, don’t we. But I still come across blogs every day that either don’t allow any comments at all, or make the commenting process so complex that people give up.

I have to say that the blogging software can be a culprit here. I can never seem to reply to Blogger posts, and WordPress itself can give the impression that you have to sign up to a WordPress account in order to comment on one of its blogs (you really don’t, you just need to add your name and email address).

Enable comments, even if you moderate and check all of them for spam (most blogging platforms allow you to set the level of moderation, for example, I hand-moderate the first post by anyone, and am alerted to all new comments, so I can check they’re not spammy or inappropriate). And listen to your readers – if you’re getting complaints about how hard it is to reply to a post, have a look at your settings and see if you can make it easier. One of my blogging friends has a note whenever you go to comment with an email address to use if the process won’t work – very helpful!

9. Not responding to comments

Allied to the above, if people take the time to reply to your blog, it’s only polite to take a moment to respond to them. Some people who get a lot of comments will do a general reply mentioning all of the previous commenters with a sentence addressed to them, and that’s of course fine. But I get a bit frustrated if I comment thoughtfully on a blog post and the author never responds. You don’t have to do it immediately, but I try to do it within 24 hours, a couple of days at most.

Conversations on your blog can be one of the most interesting things about blogging – so get out there and engage with your readers!

10. Only advertising, never helping

Yes, I and other people have told you again and again that having a blog will help your business. That’s true. But just blaring out adverts to your readers won’t make them keep coming back. Imagine two blogs, both about plumbing:

  • One lists the different areas of plumbing the plumber can do, and has carefully inserted keywords to attract the search engines
  • One talks about the jobs the plumber has done this week, including how she solved a particularly tricky question. She sometimes posts a question and answer about a common type of issue, like changing the washer on a tap

Which blog will you go to once, to find a plumber? Which one will you bookmark and read, share and tell other people about? Which one will actually bring the plumber more business in the long term?

I give away quite a lot of free advice on my blog, but just because I tell people how to set up a table of contents doesn’t mean that none of my clients ever ask me to do that now. On the contrary, seeing my expert advice, they trust that I can sort it out for them!

———–

That’s my personal top 10 list of blogging sins. Would you add any to that? Are any of those NOT sins in your book? I’d love to know what you think, and whether you’re enjoying this new series of articles all about blogging!

Related posts:

Top 10 reasons to write a blog

Top 10 reasons not to write a blog

Scheduling blog posts and keeping going

You can find a growing set of articles on blogging and social media in the resource guide. Do click on the share buttons below or comment if you found this article interesting or useful!

 
21 Comments

Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Blogging, Business, New skills, Writing

 

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10 reasons not to write a blog

pens and ink bottleWe’ve already looked at reasons to write a blog. But what are the reasons for not writing a blog, or for taking an informed decision to stop writing one, even if you started?

Note that this, like the last post, is mainly targeted at business bloggers. However, if you have a blog that you want to gain an audience and maybe earn some money from in whatever way, these points will interest you, too.

So, what are the reasons NOT to write a blog, or to give up?

1. You are only doing it because someone told you that you should

I go on about blogging to people ALL THE TIME. I even did it when I was buying vegan food from a stall in Greenwich at the weekend. But don’t just do it because someone tells you to. OK, it’s worth looking at the reasons why having a blog is good (see my previous post) and making an informed decision, but if someone just tells you, “start writing a blog” and you do, it’s not so likely that the habit will stick and it will be useful and fun.

2. You actually dislike doing it

So, you’ve started blogging and you’ve got into a routine, and then you realise that you’re just dreading writing that next post. I’m going to talk in another post about slumps and maintaining momentum (if I forget to link to it here, look in the index). But what I’m talking about here is hating it all the time, disliking putting fingers to keyboard and putting the thing together, resenting the time it takes up. If you don’t enjoy doing it

  • get someone else in your organisation to do it
  • pay someone else to do it
  • stop doing it entirely

3. You haven’t got time to post regularly

Although if you have a personal blog and you’re not worried about statistics and search engines, you can get away with blogging very irregularly, if you are doing it so as to appear in search results and get more exposure for your business, you really do need to post regularly. I find that, for me, three posts a week are the sweet spot. When I publish three posts a week, I get the most visits to the blog. It’s worth noting that not all of those are long posts (my Troublesome Pairs certainly are not), but it’s regularly updated content, full of relevant keywords and useful to different groups of readers.

Once a week is, I think, the minimum you can get away with and still gain value from the process. If you don’t have the time to do this, again, consider outsourcing, or consider not doing it at all.

4. You’re not organised to post regularly

Following on from the time issue, you do need to be organised enough to generate new content fairly regularly. Again, I’m going to talk about this in detail in another article, but you do need to be able to plan what you’re going to talk about, gather photographs and illustrations for the posts, and organise yourself to sit down and write them, and then publicise the posts and deal with any comments that might ensue. If you fly by the seat of your pants and do everything as and when, and find organisation in general to be a tricky thing, blogging for business might not be for you.

5. You’re only in it to make money

You do read loads of posts about making money from your blog. And you can make money from your blog, for example by …

  • Allowing adverts to appear on your blog (but be very careful with this and make sure you only allow adverts relevant to your readers or this will be a big turn-off. The best way to do this is through carefully selected product placement that matches with your content and readership)
  • Hosting affiliate links on your blog so that readers can click a button or picture on your blog to be taken through to buy a product, while you get a percentage of all sales (this is notoriously difficult to make money from)
  • Selling your blog to a publisher to make into a book (but not many people make money writing and selling books, and there’s more to a blog-to-book than just bunging all your blog posts in one place – I have direct experience of this)

It’s not common to make money directly from your blog. It’s hard to say how many page views you need per month to do well out of advertising, but recommendations start at 10,000 unique visitors per month. Not many publishers convert blogs into books outside the big ones we’ve all heard about. What my blog does is let people know about me who then become customers … but that’s using your blog to build your business, not to make money per se. If you’ve read an article or been to a seminar about easy ways to make money online, be VERY careful what you sign up for and get into.

6. You are not interested in engaging with your readers

People who read blogs like to comment on them. People who comment on blogs like to see the blogger reply to these comments. I know that personally I’ve stopped reading and commenting on blogs when I’m never responded to, especially if I can see that the blogger never responds to any comments. This is actually one of my Top 10 Blogging Sins, too.

If you’re not actually interested in having a conversation, in engaging with your readers, in replying to their comments, and you just find it a chore; if you just want to broadcast and don’t want to engage in two-way conversation, I don’t personally think that blogging is for you. You will lose readers as fast as you gain them, and it will never be personally or professionally fulfilling for you.

7. You are not interested in engaging with other bloggers

This is similar to point 6, but we’re talking here about other people in the same line of business as you (whether that business be small business support, engineering or book reviewing). If you see other people blogging on a similar topic to you as rivals, and you want to keep apart from the, set yourself apart and distance yourself, then you may not find blogging to be useful. You probably can’t “beat” the most successful blogger in your industry, and if you don’t want to engage with them, share guest blog spots, link to their material and comment on each other’s blogs, then it might be wise to disengage with the process.

8. You haven’t got anything interesting to say

If you’re boring yourself with your blog content, you will probably be boring your readers. If you’re constantly scratching around for topics to write about, or covering the same ground time and again, consider scrapping that series, if you have various topics you cover on your blog, or the whole thing. I used to post up an update about what I’d been doing in the previous month at the beginning of each month. Although some readers said they enjoyed it, it was becoming very repetitive and boring to write. So I stopped doing it and added something else in that slot on the blog.

Note: what you think isn’t interesting might be to other people – it’s always worth doing some market research. When I meet people like locksmiths, carpenters and electricians, I always tell them they should write a blog about their daily lives and the jobs they do (keeping their clients’ confidentiality, of course) as many of us would find that sort of thing really interesting. I’m talking about when you’re struggling for ideas and you’re maybe not getting any positive feedback or a growing readership, and your blog becomes bogged down and repetitive. Have a rethink or ditch the blog!

9. Your blog isn’t relevant to your target market

If you’re blogging for business, your blog posts need to be relevant to your target market(s). For example, I blog about …

  • Word tips and hints – because most of my clients and target market use Word
  • Language tips and hints – because my business lies in improving written language
  • Business tips and hints – because I’ve written a book about business and I am passionate about engaging with other businesses
  • Blogging tips and hints – because I get asked about this a lot and because of the business reason above and because I noticed that I get searches coming through to my blog on that topic already, so people want to know about it

If you sell garages but blog about hairstyles, the people who read your blog are not likely to have a huge overlap with the people who are going to buy your services. If you have a book review blog and want to engage with mystery authors but only review romance, that’s not going to engage your audience. There needs to be a big overlap between what you talk about on your blog and the people you want to attract to read it. Even “the general public” has niches – people who like to read about fashion, or the work of an ambulance driver, or about low cholesterol eating.

10. Nobody is reading your blog, even after 6, 12, 18 months

It takes time to build a blog and its audience. Both of mine have grown over the months, pretty gradually. My book review blog wasn’t growing its audience much for a while, and I did wonder whether to cancel it. I actually published a post asking if people found it interesting to see whether anyone was reading it! What I found out was that many people were reading it on blog aggregators, which don’t show up on my statistics. So it was worth doing, but I also took steps to add value, beefing up my reviews, adding some more web pages to the blog, and importing a whole wodge of old reviews from another blogging service I used to use. My traffic improved and the blog was saved. But if you do that, and you change things and no one’s looking, maybe it’s time to consider other ways to market and raise awareness.

———–

These are not necessarily ten reasons to stop blogging altogether. They certainly are reasons to stop, look at what you’re doing, reconsider things and maybe tweak your posts, style, content or other aspects.

Have you stopped writing a blog? Why?

Relevant posts:

10 Reasons to Write a Blog

Reciprocity and social media

Top 10 blogging sins

Scheduling blog posts and keeping going

Coming soon …

WordPress blogging 101

 

 
12 Comments

Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Blogging, Business, Writing

 

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10 reasons to write a blog

pens and ink bottleWhy should you write a blog? Why should you start writing a blog, and why should you continue writing a blog? Here are my top reasons why. I’m really looking at business blogging here, but the first one applies to everyone!

1. Because you want to

This reason covers both personal bloggers and business bloggers. You should start writing, and continue writing, a blog, because you want to. Forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do is no fun, and you should enjoy the time you spend designing and honing your blog and writing those entries. Whether you want to share holiday pictures or reviews of restaurants or share your professional expertise, do it because you want to.

2. You’ve got something interesting to talk about

There are so many interesting things to talk about. I often meet people running businesses where I have no idea of the nitty gritty of their everyday lives. How does a carpenter learn his trade? What does a freelance solicitor do, day to day? How many projects does a crafter have on the go at any one time, and how does a mobile hairdresser help their clients to choose a new hairstyle?

I have found that my posts on building my business struck a chord and interested many people. A series of posts that I started really for myself about Word hints and tips has turned into a popular series. If you run a business, think about some of the behind the scenes things, some of the aspects of your knowledge that people might be interested to know about (don’t worry about giving away your secrets – I might publish articles on Word headings and tables of contents, but I still get asked to do them by my clients!).

Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t share personal details about your clients. But I think it’s fine to talk about them if they’re heavily disguised – or ask if they’d like to have a case study published with links back to their website!

3. It will set you up as an expert in your field

This is invaluable when you’re building your reputation and your business. Don’t see it as giving away information for free, think of it as sharing your expertise with the world. Once you start appearing in people’s Google searches when they’re trying to resolve a problem, they’ll be more likely to come to you for help when they need your services. If you can offer a back catalogue of useful, targeted advice on your blog when you’re negotiating with a new prospect, they will see that you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

This may not lead to direct sales – but I’ve often seen my blog posts shared among other people and organisations in my field. Keep your name in front of them as well as prospects, and you never know where the next recommendation and job might come from!

4. It will attract people to your site

This links in to the above point. The more content you have on your website which is packed full of keywords and language to do with your business, the more findable it is in the search engines. The more people find information that is useful to them and engages with them, the more time they will spend on your website. The more time people spend on your website, or the more repeat visits they make, or the fact that they’ve signed up for your RSS feed and get regular updates into the RSS* reader or email inbox, the more likely they are to remember your name and your products or services when they or a contact need them.

More website visitors does not directly lead to more sales in a quantifiable relationship. But as long as you do show genuine expertise and a willingness to engage with your audience, you will build your exposure, get more visitors to your site, and this will help you to become better known and gain more sales.

5. It will build your platform

Your platform is the group of people who are engaged with you in whatever way – through personal connections, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, through your email newsletter, through your blog – and who can then be “leveraged” (horrible word) when you want to get the word out about something new that you’re offering.

For example, if you’re self-publishing a book, it’s vital to have built a circle of connections before it comes out, so you have a guaranteed audience of at least a few people. If you start offering a new service, for example when I added transcription services to my proofreading and editing offering, it’s useful to have people who you can tell, and who will then hopefully spread the word.

Having a blog builds your platform because it engages people’s interest. It brings them to your website, it gets them reading your content regularly, and it encourages them to sign up for your RSS feed or to receive your posts by email as they’re published. Once you have subscribers, you can get information out to that guaranteed audience when you need to. That’s much harder if you only have a static website for them to visit.

6. Regularly updated content will boost your position in search engine search results

It’s fairly common knowledge that the search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) like content that is regularly updated. This means that their complex and little-known (and ever-changing) algorithms will promote websites that are frequently updated above those that are static. Updating your blog once a week or more gives all of the content on your website a better change of being found by potential contacts and clients, because it gives it a better chance of appearing in a higher position in the search results.

7. So will information crammed full of the keywords that are important in your industry

Keywords are vital for search engines, too. If you just write a set of keywords over and over again, the chances are the the search engines will pick up that it’s not real content, and will not show it to searchers. But if you are writing well-crafted copy which includes a good sprinkling of keywords among the text, you will find yourself doing better in the search engine results.

I write natural text in my blog posts that is (hopefully) interesting and gives something to the reader – but I am also careful to include relevant keywords at a regular rate in the blog posts I write, which does improve my search engine optimisation no end (it’s also good to get them into sub-headings and the blog title itself). SEO is a fairly dark art, but the more keywords you can sensibly insert into your content, the more the search engines will be happy to find and display your content to their users.

8. You want to engage with your readers / prospects / clients

Blogs are not a one-way conversation. Once your audience has built a bit, you will get comments, shares, etc. on your blog posts, and on the places where you promote them (I will get almost as many comments on my Facebook post advertising a new blog post as I will on the post itself).

One of the golden rules of blogging is that you need to respond to your comments. Some bloggers are very good at this, some are not. I’m sure everyone’s commented excitedly on a blog post, only to find their comment is effectively “ignored”, with no reply from the writer. I think that’s quite rude, and I am likely to engage a lot less – or stop engaging – with bloggers who have a habit of not replying. Obviously, we all get times when we’re away or too busy to reply that moment, but most blogging platforms alert users to replies, and you want to keep that feature switched on and engage with your audience, otherwise they will stop coming back.

And those commenters might just be your friend Ali or your ex-colleague Steph, but every person who engages with your blog is a potential client or recommender.

9. You want to engage with other bloggers

There’s nothing like blogging for building communities of like-minded people. Once you’re blogging in a niche area, whether it be fiction writing, editing, ironing services or Sage, people who are interested in the same sorts of areas will start to follow your blog, comment on your posts and share what you’re saying.

This is useful for a couple of reasons: firstly, it’s always good to have colleagues. I’ve written elsewhere about how I treat other people in the same line of business as me as colleagues rather than competitors. It’s always good to have people to recommend prospects on too if you’re fully booked and can’t take them on, and to have people to send you referrals. Sometimes you need to have a moan or a chat or ask advice, and you might want to do this privately rather than publicly, which is where your network of colleagues can come in very handy. You can also read what they’re saying, get new ideas, keep up to date, and slot into networks that offer mutually useful posts, services and applications.

Secondly, this may give you the opportunity to guest post on other people’s blogs, and vice versa. We’ll talk about sharing your content in other places next. But just to give you some examples, if I hadn’t started blogging, I wouldn’t have got to know many of the editors I now know who link to my blog articles, share them on social media, and act as a sounding-board when I need to talk things through. That’s worth every hour of effort I put into my blog, to be honest!

10. You want to share your content in other places on the web

The good thing about your URLs and name appearing in places on the web that are not connected directly with you, your website and social media is, you guessed it: it boosts your position in search engine results. The more times your URL appears on a website that’s on a solid standing itself and has followers and people talking about it, the more the search engines will consider your website to be appropriate to present in their search results listings.

These links to your content on other people’s pages are called backlinks. You can secure these in a number of ways:

  • Comment on someone else’s blog post, including your URL
  • Contribute when someone asks for examples, experiences or feedback, again making sure that your URL is included
  • Write a guest blog post for someone – ensuring that the biography at the end includes all of your links

Now, you’ll know if you’ve ever allowed comments on a website or blog that a lot of companies do this seemingly randomly, just to get their URL into other people’s comments, and now you know why they do it. So do make sure that the content and comments you share are appropriate to the topic of the post on which you’re commenting! But this is a great way to increase traffic to your website and blog.

So, there are 10 top reasons for writing a blog. Do you have any others? Why did you start yours? Do also read … 10 top reasons NOT to write a blog!

File:Feed-icon.svg *What’s this RSS stuff I keep talking about? RSS feeds are file formats that allow your regularly updated content to be collected and sent on to readers, usually involving them reading all of the blogs etc that interest them using an RSS reader that accumulates them all in one place. This Wikipedia article explains it all and examples of RSS readers include Feedly. RSS feeds can be found on blogs around the symbol at the beginning of this explanation.

Related topics:

10 top reasons NOT to write a blog

Reciprocity and social media

Top 10 blogging sins

Scheduling blog posts and keeping going

 
31 Comments

Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Blogging, Business, New skills, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Be careful: icon / iconic

Photo by Sarah

Source: Sarah Gallagher 24.06.13. Street artist unknown, Melbourne

When I posted my last Be Careful! post on the use of decimated, my friend Sarah, New Zealand librarian, asked me if I’d looked at icon/iconic and its overuse. So I invited her to write a post for me, and here is the rather marvellous result!

After vociferously agreeing with a recent blog Liz wrote about the misuse / overuse of the word decimate, I was invited to write a guest blog post about the similarly misused / overused word, icon and the adjective, iconic. We certainly overuse and misuse it in NZ, and hardly surprising, it happens elsewhere to. We have all been doing so for quite sometime. It seems that hardly a day goes by where these words are not used to describe a person, thing or sometimes, a place. In some cases it really has gone well past the point of ridiculousness. Here are a few particularly amusing examples I’ve discovered recently:

Iconic image of pepper sprayed woman becomes icon of resistance
Iconic green caravan … An icon of Tokoroa
Iconic sign gets a makeover
Gene Wilder, icon, and star of iconic Charlie and the chocolate factory film
10 iconic t shirts
The anatomy of an iconic image – I agree, the fashion industry over uses the term. I disagree, Kate Moss is not an icon. Nor is she iconic.
Top 10 political icons

So what do these words actually mean? The OED defines icon as having four meanings, two of which are relevant here: an icon is defined as either, a representation of Christ or a holy figure, or a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration. Meanwhile, iconic refers to something that is representative of an icon, so veneration is applicable here too.
Definition of icon – OED
Definition of iconic – OED

Veneration. Perhaps there is a correlation between the overuse of these words has something to do with our increasing societal secularism. Has anyone considered that? Or maybe it’s aligned with our instinct to hyperbole, or a deficit of other adjectives. It some cases these words have become a device to express the importance or significance of something.

My own understanding of the word icon comes from my background and training as a classicist and specifically as a student of iconography. The study of images, and for my research, specific likenesses, brings with it the need to identity work by style, describing their content, and placing them in a stylistic context. In part this happens by identifying patterns in depiction and symbolism. It’s a world where gestures, colour, pattern, and attributes articulate meaning. In preliterate societies it was these subtleties that allowed artists tell stories, or pass on messages to their audiences, and for the illiterate public to ‘read’ the images (think pictorial shop signs, statues of deities, stained glass windows).

So when I read that someone or something is an “icon” I expect there will be a number of attributes: the object of veneration will represent something of deep meaning to a significant group of people, it will be of sufficient gravitas/ age/ mana (this is a Maori word) to demand respect of even those who do not believe in it themselves. It is something or someone who transcends the ordinary, and is truly representative of e.g., a deity, an explorer, a scientist, an artist, a place of worship, a building, a monument; and who has a belief system, story or legend that is inherent in their being. Iconic seems to have come to mean a symbol or to be representative of. Symbols, logos, emblems and insignia all convey meaning but do they truly, hand on heart, evoke veneration in the way a true icon would?

I’ll close with an example of the Virgin Mary:
Here’s an icon
The modern image that illustrates this piece (see top) is an iconic image
Finally, here is a modern icon

Try this yourself. Run a Google image search on the words icon and iconic and see what results. You might be surprised.

References:

Iconic the adjective of an age
Icon, iconic and other overworked words
Cultural icon
Cultural Icons: A Case Study Analysis of their Formation and Reception

Biography:

Sarah Gallagher is a Medical Librarian based in Dunedin, NZ and holds Masters degrees in Classics and in Library & Information Studies. She’s an early adopter of social media and is interested in how these tools can be used in the GLAM and heath professions. Sarah’s also writing a book about named student flats in Dunedin, an ephemeral print culture.

Sarah’s Tumblr
Sarah on Twitter
Sarah’s official bio page

Read more Be Careful! posts …

 
 

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Bullet points – grammar and punctuation

Last week we talked about when to use bullet points and how to personalise them. This week, we’re going to have a look at the actual language of bullet points, including top tips on making them easy to understand for the reader. There are two parts to this: word forms / grammar and punctuation.

Punctuation in bullet points

Over recent years there has been a shift towards less punctuation and “cleaner” looking documents. I remember this being called “open” punctuation, and it’s the difference between typing an address as:

1, Avenue Gardens,

Brighton,

BN1 1AA.

and

1 Avenue Gardens

Brighton

BN1 1AA

Of course there is a place for punctuation, but it can get a bit messy looking, and I’m all for clean lines as long as you don’t forget your semi colons within normal runs of text!

So, here are some things not to do. We never introduce a list in a sentence with a semi colon, and we don’t introduce a bulleted or numbered list with one, either.

It used to be the case that we included semi colons and even “and”s at the end of every line. But I think that does look old-fashioned and cluttered nowadays …

Regarding the full stop at the end of the last bullet point … well, the jury is out on that one. It’s one of those style choices that don’t have a specific rule. I’ve checked in my New Oxford Style Manual and my Oxford Guide to Plain English: the former doesn’t talk about the punctuation much at all, and the latter has some general standards to consider following.

Here are my suggestions:

  • If the bullet points come in the middle of a sentence, and it is still clear when you read that sentence even though it’s got bullets in the middle, you can
    • start each bullet point with a lower case letter
    • put a full stop at the end.
  • If the bullet points are very short and don’t form a sentence, like this:
    • Start with a capital
    • Don’t add full stops
    • Use full stops sparingly
  • It is fine to add a full stop at the end of each bullet if the bullet points are long and include:
    • More than one line of text which therefore forms a solid block when you look at it on the page.
    • More than one sentence. It would look odd to have a full stop there and not here.

In summary:

But the single most important thing to do is KEEP IT CONSISTENT within each bulleted list! If you use capital letters or lower case letters to start each bullet, keep them the same throughout. If you end the first bullet with a full stop, end each of them with a full stop.

But of course, you can use different styles for different lists, as the context demands, although I’d be wary of having wildly different ones very close together, as it can look messy.

And this point on keeping it consistent brings me on to …

Grammar in bullet points

We insert bullet points into a text to make it more easy for the reader to understand. This means that the grammar within the bullet points should be consistent, so the reader doesn’t end up scratching their head and going over and over the same bit of text, trying to work it out.

Have a look at this example, and you’ll see what I mean:

Even if the reader can understand the basic sense of this, the uncomfortable disconnect between the different grammatical forms bring the reader’s attention to the form of the text and not the meaning of its content. And that’s not what good, clear writing should do. However, this is one of the most common mistakes I find in the text I proofread and edit. Especially if the bulleted list is long, the writer will lose track part way through and start going all inconsistent.

This is what that list above should look like:

Nice and tidy: everything following the same structure.

The grammar of bullet points must be consistent and matching so that the reader is not confused. It’s a different matter with the punctuation, which is, when it comes down to it, more of a matter of choice. Personally, I prefer capital letters and no full stop in my bullet points, which is why, if you’re my client and your bullet point punctuation is a little inconsistent, you’ll find me using that as standard!

So now you know all about how to insert and customise bulleted and numbered lists, and the grammar and punctuation to use with them! I hope you have found this helpful.

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Do let me know if this has helped you – and do share with the buttons at the bottom of this article.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Language use, New skills, Short cuts, Writing

 

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Bullet points – how and when to use them

It’s Word Tips time and today I’m going to talk about bullet points – why we use them and how to use and format them. Next week, I’m going to treat you to some tips about how the language and punctuation of bullet pointed text works. But for now …

Why do we use bullet points?

Bullet points help to make what you’re saying more clear. They break up blocks of text into tidy chunks so the reader can take in what you’re saying. They present lists in a clear format so people can see it’s a list. They emphasise points you want to emphasise. They show the organisation of things. In short:

  • They’re useful
  • They’re tidy
  • They’re good at emphasising things
  • They make sure the reader knows this is a list

How do I use bullet points in Word?

In Word, you want to be in the Home Tab. Then, look at the Paragraph section and you’ll find a set of useful little buttons. One has a list of dots, one has a list of numbers, one has an indenting list of numbers, and two have paragraphs and arrows:

These are the buttons you need to make your bullet pointed lists.

So, here’s a plain list without any bullet points. To make a list bulleted, you need to highlight the areas you need to change. So in this example, we want to leave the first line alone and highlight the other ones:

Once we have the lines highlighted, we can click on the bullets button (just in the middle of the button for the time being) to make the highlighted lines into bullet points:

You can do the same but hit the number button to the right of the bullets button – now we get a numbered list:

How do I create sub-bullet points?

What if you want nested bullet points in sub-categories? That’s fine – put your list into bullets, then select just the line you want to change and click on the Increase Indent key to move it along one. You’ll see the bullet point itself (or the number) change when you do this.

There’s another way to do this (of course there is!) – get your cursor just before the first letter of the first word of the line you want to indent and hit the Tab key on your keyboard. You will get the same effect.

How do I customise my bullets and numbering?

You may not like the standard bullet points you’re given by Word. That’s fine, because you can customise them.

The bullet and number button each have a tiny arrow on the right-hand side of the button. Try clicking on the one on the bullet button …

… and you’ll get a choice of different bullet markers you can use. If you click on Define New Bullet, you can even upload your own images to use as bullet points: useful if you’re creating a document that needs to be on brand with the rest of your brand identity, for example.

You can do this with the numbers, too, allowing you to choose between letters, Arabic numbers and Roman numerals:

Again, you can define your own new number format if you want to.

Customising the list style

To go just that little bit deeper into customisation, you can also fully customise how the sub-bullets work and even set a new Style for this document or all future documents.

To do this, we use the Multilevel List button. This one’s a bit of a swizz, I think – it gives you a tiny arrow on the right, but it doesn’t actually matter where on the button you click; you will still get the same menu.

So this gives you the chance to choose between different multi-level list formats and to define your own.

If you select Define New Mulitlevel List you will be given a new set of options. Choose this if you just want to change one list in your document.

If you want to define a style for all of the lists in your document, or a new List Style to use in all documents forever, choose Define New List Style.

Then you can go ahead and crate a new list style that will appear in your Styles on your Home tab, and can be used for lists in just this document, or documents from now on.

We’ve learned how to set up and customise bulleted and numbered lists.

Next week, we’ll look at the text you write in lists and how to make sure that works clearly and appropriately.

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Do let me know if this has helped you – and do share with the buttons at the bottom of this article.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing

 

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My short cuts: adding shortcuts to the quick access toolbar

Do you use commands in Word that are usually buried inside a menu inside a menu inside a menu? I’m going to show you how to add these onto your Quick Access Toolbar, so you can get at them using a shortcut in just one click. And scroll to the bottom for a very quick way to do this …

The example I’m going to use is AutoCorrect Options. I have posted about how to find and work with AutoCorrect, but it is buried within some nested menus, which means you have to click and click and click whenever you want to add a new entry, wasting time to do something in order to save time. Now, I can access the menu I want with just one click!

So, first of all we need to go up to the Quick Access Toolbar, right at the top of your screen in Word 2007 and Word 2010 (in Word 2003, right click on the main toolbar and customise it). Note the down arrow to the right of your standard buttons, and click it:

You will notice an option to choose More Commands – this is how you add more buttons to the Quick Access Toolbar. Click on that, and you’ll get a screen which allows you to customize the Quick Access Toolbar:

Note at this point that you can access this menu via Word Options – Customize, too, if you want to.

We can now see a whole load of Popular Buttons you can add on to the Quick Access Toolbar – so you can pop them on there to get at them whenever you want to. These are a few buttons that appear at the top level when you click on any of the tabs on your main ribbon.

We’re going deeper, though, into buttons and commands which don’t appear on the top level of your tab menus. So click on the arrow next to Popular Commands and you’ll get a list of options:

You can choose All Commands, which will give you every command and button (with a hover-over tip to which menu they belong to so you can choose, for example, Spell Check from the Review tab rather than the Blog version, which won’t do much for you in a standard Word document. In this case, to add our deeply buried button, we want to choose Commands not on the Ribbon.

Now you have a list of every command and button that exists in Word. How handy that AutoCorrect begins with an A! Look for your button and highlight it, then click on Add >> to add it to the list on the right – which is the list of buttons that appear on your Quick Access Toolbar. At this point you can even choose when these buttons will appear, but I always leave it on All documents. When you’ve pressed Add, there it is, on the list:

Click on OK and it will magically appear on your Quick Access Toolbar:

Want to check it’s true? Click on the little icon, and there’s our familiar AutoCorrect menu.

What a time saver! I’ve added all my very commonly used buttons from different menus onto my Quick Access Toolbar, from Bold to Spellcheck and all sorts of other things in between …

Adding items quickly to the QAT

Edit to add: If you have the button you want to add to the QAT in front of you, simply right click on that button and you will get the option to add it to the quick access toolbar!

Magic! And it works however deeply buried the button is in your lists of commands – for example, you can choose something that appears in a menu within a menu:

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010, all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word

 

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What I got up to in April

Welcome to my April round up of what I’ve been getting up to. Do you find these round-up posts interesting? Would this series be better on my Libro Full-Time Blog? Do leave a comment, click on the share buttons or share my notifications on various social media locations!

Being self-employed full time

I was pretty busy for most of April and had to abandon a few attempts to get to networking events, but I did manage to make it to the Elizabeth Taylor Day in Reading and the BookCrossing meetup in town. I’m also much better at not worrying if it’s a quiet week. If it is quiet, I make sure I get some rest, catch up with my reading or work on my research project, rather than fretting.

Editing, writing, transcribing and proofreading

I’ve been busy with a variety of projects throughout April.

I started off the month finishing a batch of transcriptions for the international organisation I work for regularly. I also helped to recruit a few more transcribers for them, as I’m ideally placed to tell people EXACTLY what it’s like and make sure their expectations are set (“so, you’re going to be typing like a maniac for 8 hours a day, listening to non-native speakers of English talking about international affairs and taking their presentations down in a way that turns them into native English …”)

I did more work with my Master’s students including some pretty intense work to get their essays finished off for the beginning of the summer term, as well as proofreading other essays and dissertations for the student proofreading company I work for. In fact, looking back, it’s been a lot about the students this month!

I didn’t do a lot of writing for clients this month, but I did manage to finish writing my e-book (How I Conquered High Cholesterol) which is now in beta-testing and will shortly be available via Amazon.

I did a fair bit of US to UK English localisation for a couple of my clients, including working on a technical manual for some medical equipment, which was unusual and interesting! I do like the intellectual challenge of working out what “we” would say in a given situation, although I have to go off and refocus my mind when swapping between the two languages!

I’ve helped one regular client start to shape some blog posts into book form by editing them for consistency and taking out all the redundant bits, and I’ll be doing more editing for her in the coming month or so.

I’ve worked with the usual translators, too, of course – most of my clients are ongoing regulars now, which I like a lot!

Blogging and tax

I would be amazed if anyone didn’t know that I’d done my tax return in April (but here’s why, including the full horror of Going On To Payment On Account). Anyway, I know where I stand and what I’ve got to pay in tax this year, that’s all set aside and I’ve given myself the balance, so all set for a slightly less constrained year.

I’ve continued adding to my series of articles about using Word and my series of interviews with fellow small businesses , and I decided to put together a resource guide to the information to be found on my blog for businesses, students and Word users.

I published another five-sentence monthly newsletter – do sign up here for a quick read!

In more sociable news, I helped at the city centre Social Media Surgery session, and attended Social Media Cafe as usual (I wouldn’t miss that for the world). Finally, over on the Libro full-time blog I’ve added a few new resolutions to my list for Home Workers!

Coming up – transcription madness

I’m booked in for more transcription from late May into June, so I’ll turn into a hermit then (but I can’t wait to find out what happens to all the ongoing projects the organisation is working on!). Until then, I’m currently working on a rather technical geology text as well as the usual ongoing student, translator and editing bits and bobs.

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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New ways to navigate the resources on the Libro blog

I’ve built up loads of information on all sorts of topics on this blog over the past few years, so I thought it was time to put together a resource to help you find what’s most useful for you. I ran a poll, people said yes, so I did it!

I put this new guide together about a week ago, and it’s proved popular so I thought I’d let you know about it quickly.

I’ve put together one simple resource guide with three main sections:

  • Resources for business – these include posts on how to set up a small business, things to do to grow your business, hints on networking, motivation, etc.; then some information about tax and finally an additional link to my small business interviews (note that business formation and tax posts are relevant to the UK although the rest of it will translate anywhere)
  • Resources for students – how to write an essay or dissertation, plagiarism and quoting sources, and lots more to come
  • Resources for Word users – all sorts of tips and hints to make your documents more consistent and easy to write, change and navigate, including tabs, margins, headings, contents pages and more obscure matters like how to put text in alphabetical order. Also includes a few notes on PowerPoint and other applications,

The whole resource guide offers a good way to find out what you need to know – do have a look and a play around, and let me know if you’ve found anything particularly useful!  I’ll be adding both resources and entries to the resource guide as I go along, of course. Watch this space …

And of course, we still have the index to the Troublesome Pairs and index to all the Saturday Small Business Chat posts.

I hope you enjoy the resource guide and indexes, and the resources they guide you to!

 

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What I got up to in March

Welcome to my March round-up of what I’ve been getting up to. Do you find it useful/interesting/inspiring reading these posts about the life of an editor / writer / transcriber / small business person? Do leave a comment, click on the share buttons or share my notifications on various social media locations if you do!

Being self-employed full time

Libro continues to go from strength to strength and I’ve settled into a nice routine of enough work to keep me nicely busy (and to keep the wolf from the door) while having the flexibility to pop to a networking event or just a walk in the park with a friend.

Editing, writing, transcribing, proofreading

So, work-wise I have had a busy and interesting time.

I edited a really interesting set of EU documents for a French company that was new to me, and apart from that it was pretty well all regular customers all month.

I am working with some Master’s students through their courses, giving them feedback about their English and offering ways to improve it, as well as proofreading their essays. This is really rewarding, as I see them taking on board what I suggest and their English improving. It’s also interesting to see how their ideas for their dissertations start to take shape.

I did the usual writing for some commercial clients, including finishing off writing a library of 50 x 500 word articles for one particular client who wanted to build up a library of information on their website that would also boost their SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It’s a challenge to build up that many words on a network of inter-related subjects, including making sure there was room for plenty of linkage to help the visitor navigate through the information on offer, but I enjoyed being able to make it genuinely informative for the reader as well as useful for the client in terms of driving people to their website and keeping them there for as long as possible

I proofread a few PhDs or parts of PhDs, including some really interesting ones in the social sciences. I always tend to learn about what I’m editing, so it’s nice when it’s something I genuinely find interesting (luckily, I can find something of interest in pretty well everything I work on … otherwise I think I would probably be in the wrong job!)

I picked up a new localisation client or two and will be working with at least one of them long term: localisation is a nice intellectual challenge, as it’s not just about turning color into colour but really thinking about how British and American English work and getting right into the guts of the text.

I’ve worked with the usual translators, too, including on some interesting annual reports of companies (yes, I sign a lot of Non Disclosure Agreements) and at the end of the month I went into hermit mode as I had another big project from my main transcription clients, so typing away like a demon with headphones jammed into my ears (and then going to the gym to row out my stiff shoulders) has been the order of the day.

Networking, videos, blogging

In non-billable hours news, I featured in this video by Enterprise Nation extolling the virtues of networking and, in particular, the Twitter event #watercoolermoment, which is a gathering of home workers at 11 am on weekdays to have a chat about this and that – just like you might do in a “real” office. I also redesigned this website and blog – I really love the new look, what do you think?’

I’ve added some new posts to my series of articles about using Word, which are hopefully useful to students, writers and administrators alike, and my series of interviews with fellow small businesses is building nicely – there’s space in May if you’d like to take part!

Oh, and for a while now, my monthly newsletter has been only five sentences long so do sign up here for a quick read!

In more sociable news, I helped at the city centre and local Social Media Surgery sessions, and attended Social Media Cafe as usual (I wouldn’t miss that for the world). My local “notworking” group Kings Heath Home Workers group has a few more members and I’ve been meeting up in a cafe with a local friend once a week. I have also resolved some pressing issues around time management which I’ve talked about over on the Libro full-time blog.

Coming up – taxes and a new financial year

It’s the end of the financial year this week, and the end of mine, too. I am looking forward to getting my tax return done so I know how much of my earnings I can keep and how much is going to the taxman – although this year I will start Paying On Account, so will have to give him a lot more than usual – in fact double! Watch this space for a great guest post explaining all that later on this week. I have more transcription to do, more students to work with, more of the same – and I bet I love it as much as I did this month!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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