Why overindulging in the exclamation mark is bad for your writing's health

Why overindulging in the exclamation mark is bad for your writing's health

For my recent 50th birthday my wife gave me (at my request) an electronic drum kit. My daughters rolled their eyes. “Mid-life crisis” they said loudly, without having to say anything at all. (There was general acknowledgement that alternative mid-life crisis choices could have been far worse.)

Anyway, to come to the point. As I work my way through a couple of drumming books and numerous YouTube clips, there’s one message that comes through time and time again. It’s that good drumming isn’t about lots of fancy stuff. It’s about keeping a good steady beat most of the time and stepping it up with a flourish once in a while. The art is less about complexity and more about timing – knowing precisely when to break out for maximum impact.

All of this came to mind when I was chatting to editor Heather Kelly the other day. Heather has years of editing experience and has always been an advocate for very sparse use of exclamation marks (or ‘exclamation points’ as they are called in the US). It is a very lucky exclamation mark indeed that survives Heather’s red pen.

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How to say what you want to say in a different and interesting way

How to say what you want to say in a different and interesting way

A few years ago I stumbled on a wonderful series of pictures by artist Corinne Vionnet. Corinne has created her images by layering hundreds of virtually identical images of prominent landmarks, each individual photo taken by a tourist standing in more or less the same place. Her images are striking to look at in their own right. But they also say a lot about the repetitiveness of a lot of travel photos.

One of the biggest challenges of travel photography is avoiding the ‘postcard’ perspective and finding an original way of portraying the ‘classic’ landmarks. There is always a way: waiting for the light to change, for an interesting person to cross the scene or simply moving around to find an unorthodox angle. As a keen photographer myself, this is one of the joys of travel. It also, I like to think, makes our travel tales a little more interesting for friends and family when we get home.

Success in this game, I believe, lies in allowing yourself to look at the world through your own eyes rather than through the eyes of others – taking your own pictures rather than replicating those of others.

This challenge of originality, and the key to success, applies just as much to writing.

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Will you and your business disappear without a trace?

Will you and your business disappear without a trace?

The recent commemoration of Anzac Day’s 100th anniversary was as good a reminder as anything of the importance of keeping records of our history. Photographs from that time may be grainy, blurry and often creased, but they still manage to provide incredible insight into a very different time. This, of course, is even more important now as there are no remaining survivors of that campaign – pictures and words are all we have left.

Which begs the question. In another 100 years, what memories will today’s generations have left to share with our counterparts of the future?

On the surface this seems a ridiculous question. After all, we take billions more photos and write trillions more words today than were collected in the early 20th century. But it’s not that simple. There are two major problems, both relating to the fact that so much of what could be ‘tomorrow’s memorabilia of today’ is not stored in permanently useful formats.

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5 great places to go for advice on grammar

5 great places to go for advice on grammar

If you’re serious about your writing – and I mean any writing that is going to be seen by someone other than yourself – you should also be serious about getting your grammar right. This is the case even if you are of those who thinks grammar is overrated, that it’s ‘getting the meaning’ that matters. Remember that a good proportion of your readers will baulk at any grammatical error and will quite possibly lose focus on what you’re saying after they come across one. 

In any case, good writing is professional writing. If you want to present yourself as someone who knows their stuff, you need to be able to write about that stuff in proper English.

So, next time you are wondering about the rights and wrongs of semicolons or dashes, where should you go for help?

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A 5-step writing process anyone can use

A 5-step writing process anyone can use

“I don’t know where to start!” This must be the most common cry of the would-be writer – the person who wants (or needs) to write a blog post or an article or an essay – even a book – but is overwhelmed by the idea before they put fingers to keyboard. 

In this post I’m going to give you a magic five-step writing process to overcome this inertia. However, I offer this process on the understanding that there is no single ‘right’ way of doing this. Ultimately the only right way to write is the way that works for you. However, finding your ‘right way’ often requires a bit of trial and error and this process just might get you underway. 

The basic philosophy of this writers’ process is to start with a mess and end up with a ‘tidy’ finished product.

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Two changes to Google rankings you should know about

Two changes to Google rankings you should know about

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is not something I write about much. While I try to stay in touch with what’s going on, I don’t count myself as an expert on the topic. (Which is not to say that the countless self-proclaimed experts on the topic are all experts themselves.) However, there are a couple of changes website owners should be aware of that do (or will) affect the way Google ranks websites.

Mobile search results will soon favour mobile-friendly sites

You may have read about the first change as it is starting to appear in mainstream media. It has nothing to do with the words on a website, but I include it here to help spread the word. 

Dubbed ‘mobilegeddon’, it boils down to this: when someone does a Google search on their mobile device, the results Google returns will (very soon) give preference to websites that are ‘mobile friendly’. Sites that previously ranked highly but are not mobile friendly may fall well down the ladder on smartphone and tablet search results.

What’s a ‘mobile friendly’ site?

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Save your hands, and your time, by using keyboard shortcuts

Save your hands, and your time, by using keyboard shortcuts

A little while back I wrote about the benefits of making the investment to learn touch typing. A benefit of touch typing that I didn’t mention in that post is that it gives you quick and easy access to keyboard shortcuts. But even if you’re a hunt-and-peck style typist, learning and using keyboard shortcuts has its own advantages.

Keyboard shortcuts allow you to get things done while leaving your hands over the keyboard, rather than constantly reaching for the mouse. While this may seem trivial, over a day you will find that using shortcuts is not only a lot more efficient than using the mouse, but it is also creates less stress in your hand and arm. Mouse usage is often associated with repetitive strain-type pains in the wrist, forearm and shoulder.

Even if you are already a ‘Control+C/V’ user, chances are there are many more keyboard shortcuts available to you that you are either unaware of or don’t use.

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Is your business remembering the lessons of the past?

Is your business remembering the lessons of the past?

Last week I was walking past a small local warehouse when I overheard a conversation taking place between what looked like one of the supervisors and a storeman. They were ‘debating’ what had happened to some lost stock – something about someone not recording the paperwork properly.

It was an innocuous conversation really, but it struck a chord with me. I knew, because I used to work in that sort of environment, that the same conversation was probably taking place in hundreds of warehouses, large and small, across my city that day. They took place yesterday, and they would take place the next day. Ad infinitum.

The repetitiveness of this type of situation raises the question: If many people in workplaces spend a lot of time fixing problems, why is it that the same problems keeping reappearing, over and over and over again?

The answer is simple: because organisations rarely learn from their mistakes.

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In 2017, 1984 will finally catch up with Australians: you WILL be watched

In 2017, 1984 will finally catch up with Australians: you WILL be watched

You’re driving along, minding your own business. As you round a corner, a police car pulls out and follows you down the road. Logic tells you that the police officers are probably heading back to the station for lunch; that their presence should make you feel safe, not nervous. You know that you have nothing to worry about because you’re driving safely and legally and your car is roadworthy. 

And yet … there is something about being followed by a police car that makes your heart rate increase just a little. Against your better judgement you feel yourself ease off the gas the tiniest amount and become that little bit more attentive to the road in front of you. Your eyes flick up to the rearview mirror more often than they need to.

Eventually the police car turns a corner, leaving you alone, and you silently chide yourself for being silly as your grip on the wheel relaxes and your back melds back into the seat.

Now, imagine the same thing happens with your communications.

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Want to be more productive? Learn to touch type

Want to be more productive? Learn to touch type

Typing is the new handwriting. Honestly – other than filling out a form, when is the last time you wrote anything substantial using a pen? When did you last send someone a handwritten letter? Most of us don’t even send Christmas cards any more, and if we do we include a typed update rather than writing inside the card.

We all type, all the time. Even if you’re not a writer, you are writing. Emails. Social media updates. Web searches. By my guesstimation, writing is now third in line as a written communication method behind typing on a keyboard and tapping on a screen. Bringing up the rear but likely to catch up before long is typing using your voice.

So, given that you spend so much time typing, have you ever learnt to touch type? You know, typing using all ten fingers and without looking at the keyboard.

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