Category Archives: Good practice

HSE in typo-ridden, grammer-challenged style guide shocker!

In-house style guides are there to keep publications clear, consistent and accurate so shouldn’t they be proofread for spelling, grammar and punctuation themselves?

You’d think so, but it seems the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland forgot to check its work (or it hired the worst proofreader in the world) when it published a Plain language style guide for documents.

You can see the pretty long list of the errors on the document in Stan Carey’s post: HSE – Who proofreads the proofreaders? There’s also a good discussion going on in the comments.

My experience is that this kind of work can easily fall between the cracks in a big organisation. It is often the comms people who create the copy and the illustrators who lay it out. Technical points or queries about sense will most likely be run past a subject matter expert.

But basic proofreading is often passed on to the person in the department considered to have a good grasp of English. This is like giving the company accounts to someone who likes numbers, or layout to someone who is good at drawing.

Big orgs seem unaware of (or unwilling to prioritise the budget for?) proofreaders. But proofreading is a skill. Not only does it keep spelling, grammar and style points on track but, through accuracy and better readability, it builds trust in the reader.

I’ve only worked for two public sector organisations and both had previously just done the proofing themselves. In some cases, they didn’t do a bad job. But when they saw the level of red pen marks of a qualified proofreader, then they realised the difference between a quick read-though and a proper markup.

Still, the HSE errors are particularly surprising – even an automatic spellcheck should have picked up many of the issues that Stan highlights.

But, yanno, whatevah! I’m sure HSE is not the only outfit in the land with a dodgy style guide. I remember a superbly accurately Radio Times style guide that was completely unusable because it was the size of a doorstep.

Anyway, enough finger-pointing. Here is a LOLcat to rebalance the universe.

Starter kit: how to blog for your company

Here are the quick links to my Blogger’s Style Guide. This is the ‘how-to’ that I give to my company bloggers when they start writing posts for their employer’s blog. It acts as a support document for those who know their subject well, but know little about blog writing or publishing in general.

The Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. How is blogging different?
  2. What readers like / ideas for your posts
  3. How to structure long posts
  4. Short or long?
  5. What does SEO mean for writers?
  6. Links are good!
  7. Five tips on tone
  8. Comments and feedback
  9. Writing a good title
  10. Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!

Blogger’s style guide: Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!

Whatever you are writing about – whether it’s offering niche expertise and explanation, an engaging anecdote on something that happened in your business this week, a review of a new product, etc – it is good to be aware that your post is going to be published and archived.

Which means it’s important to be aware of company blogging guidelines – even if you have a blog of your own where you might mention your employer.

Many companies have a Corporate Blogging Employee Policy, where you can read legal guidelines and best practice, so make sure you are given these or ask for a copy of them as they are there to help you blog.

As a quick guide

  • be honest and transparent without revealing company secrets
  • be accurate and attribute any quoted facts and figures back to the source
  • be respectful of others and underline where your post represents your own view

Finally, one quick way to protect yourself and the company is this great advice (I’m not sure who said it first): ‘Never say anything you wouldn’t be happy to say in front of your mother or your bank manager.’

Happy blogging!

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Writing a good title

  1. Make the title or headline of your post specific – it lets your reader know what to expect BEFORE they click.
  2. Don’t promise something you are not going to deliver as this will result in a broken experience and an annoyed reader.
  3. Resist the hilarious pun – it most likely won’t make any sense out of context.
  4. Include both first and last names if a person is the subject of your post – this is better for SEO (see  previous post on  SEO for writers).
  5. Think mobile. Many people now read content on their phone or in an RSS reader, so they may only see the first few words (40-60 characters). Based on that, they will decide whether to click through and read on – or not. The trick is to be plain, include your keyword/s and also be as enticing as possible, which is not that easy. Oh and don’t write a headline that is dependent on an accompanying image/video – these don’t always appear on portable devices.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Comments and feedback

Feel free to invite a response, ask for help or even not fully complete your thoughts on a post. This encourages people to respond; after all, this is a conversational not a broadcast medium. However, don’t worry if your posts are NOT getting replies, as 90% of internet users are passive readers who read without commenting.

It can be handy to have your own community of followers on Twitter/Facebook/etc so you can announce that you have a new blog post up – commenters are people who are interested in either the subject or you as a blogger.

Also, be reassured that company blogs are usually pre- or post-moderated for spam, rude responses or other comments breaching trade or company rules. Responses where people disagree, however, are generally seen as part of the conversation and offer great opportunities to respond, learn or even develop fresh blog post ideas.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Links are good!

Links are useful for the reader and vital for SEO – read my previous post on SEO for why that is – but they are also useful shortcuts for you as a writer.

For example….

Want to link to a quick explanation of what you are talking about so you don’t have to rehash it all yourself? Found something interesting elsewhere that you want to write about? Are you mentioning a previous post or a survey and need to source it?

Then use a hyperlink.

Linking is a way for readers to jump out of your post to context, explanation or source material. It adds value to your post and also saves you including reams of information or explanation.

Here’s how to link. Just highlight the words you want to turn into a link and then click the ‘chain tool’ or ‘add link’ button in your blog platform or CMS. A box will pop up for you to paste the link into. Make sure you include the ‘http://’ bit or the link won’t work.

If you are presenting work in a Word document, then underline the relevant words and paste the link just after them so whoever is uploading knows what should link. I’ve used an example in the blurb below.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Short or long?

There is room for both, depending on the content and what you want to say.

Short posts – around three paragraphs – are great for when you have a simple observation or point to make, or you’re short of time (see the three things to tell a reader in How is blogging different?)

Long posts – for more indepth analysis – are best broken into manageable chunks that the reader can scan easily (see my previous post on structure).

A series is good for breaking up a complex subject, and can later be pulled together in a round-up post, eg, the Blogger’s Style Guide!

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: How to structure long posts

Structure: manageable chunks!

People don’t tend to read online. They scan the screen for what they find interesting, which means long posts of running copy are often skipped over. A short-form, three-paragraph post noting, explaining and presenting one particular issue is often the ideal for the reader (as noted in the first post of this series How is blogging different?)

But sometimes you need to write a little more, especially when explaining a complicated subject. Luckily, there are many different ways to break up a long post and create some ‘white space’.

7 ways you can package your thoughts:

  • Snappy sub-heads – such as the one above!
  • Lists – a top three, five or 10, for example.
  • Q&A – create questions (which you then answer).
  • Images – pictures and graphics provide a nice visual break.
  • Quotes – block quotes are longer quotes that can be styled differently.
  • Bulletpoints – ideal for short lists like this one.
  • Use shorter paragraphs (and shorter sentences) in general.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: Ideas for your posts

What readers like…

  • Original research and surveys
  • Benchmarks, quantative analysis
  • Relevant news not found anywhere else
  • Insight – leading-edge thinking, novel perspectives
  • Precis, time-saving summaries and reviews
  • Useful tools and checklists
  • Personal stories, first-hand accounts, experiences, lessons learned
  • Live reports from events
  • Short educational pieces
  • Relevant ‘Aha!’ graphics
  • Fun stuff – quizzes, self-evaluations, interactive content
  • Great photos and illustrations
  • Useful finds – resources, blogs, posts, graphics

(Source: The Corporate Blogging Book by Debbie Weil)

If you work for an organisation, there is your rich source of information on a subject, but think about tying this in with what is going on out there in the world outside. Read the news or subscribe to RSS feeds for blogs and websites that also cover your subject area – find out what they are talking about and think about joining in the conversation by posting about topical news and discussion.

Also think about timing. What big events are happening throughout the year that would be relevant to write about/around for readers – both generally and specifically. For example, if you were a family lawyer, get your help and advice posts on divorce issues written in December, ready for the ‘January Jilt’, and your prenuptial advice published ahead of February 14. If you’re an accountant, you’ll be thinking about Budget dates and Pre-Budget Reports.

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

Blogger’s style guide: How is blogging different?

[FYI: Last year I wrote a Blogger’s Style Guide to help people in the organisations I was working for start writing posts and publishing them on the company blog. Many had never written anything beyond an email before but they did know their subject far better than I, so they just needed a good briefing in style, tone, structure and so on. This is that starter kit for company bloggers, consisting of  10 mini-posts in all.]

How is blogging different from other types of writing?

Blogging is a different type of communication. The style tends to be: informal and conversational; easy to read rather than big blocks of copy; human not corporate; real rather than perfect; a space for you to talk about what interests you.

Your opinion is valuable – in fact, the best posts are often ones that tell a reader three things:

  • what has happened, what is the issue of interest
  • an explanation of what it means, some context
  • an opinion on what you think about it (if blogging for a company, this will probably be the company line)

As you can also see, you can also speak directly to your reader. (Hi, by the way.)

The other big difference is that your reader can easily say ‘hi’ back. They can respond to what you are saying – and you can have a conversation about the subject of your post.

Think of it as a dinner party that you are hosting. What are you going to say? Hopefully something that will interest them. So, what will interest them? I’m glad you asked. Next up in this series is: ‘What readers like (or ideas for your posts)’.