Author Archives: Stacey J. Haseleu

From Presentation Attendees…

AALNC

April 10, 2013 AALNC Pittsburgh Chapter Presentation

  • Rated  “Above Average” by 100% of presentation attendees.
  • Rated  “Excellent” by 87% of those attendees.
  • Did not receive a single rating below “above average.”

Comments from attendees:

“Stacey was informative and gave great advice on how to improve my report writing and how to make my report more interesting for my client.”

 

“Stacey was a very good speaker, who offered new information.  She spoke clearly and asked if we had questions throughout her presentation.  Her presentation was clear and concise.”

 

“The presentation powerpoint and graphics were great.  The information was so relevant and I really enjoyed learning these new techniques that are relevant to my field of work.”

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5 Reasons Format Matters In Your Writing

By:  Stacey J. Haseleu

usability 3

This is a picture of the A/C controls in David Cole’s car.  In his article entitled “Proximity in Design: Why I Can’t Use My Car’s A/C” he outlines how his daily commute to and from work is filled with frustrating moments of artctic blasts  or desert-like heat blowing “his beard off,” as he puts it.

Cole goes on to attribute  the drastic climate changes in his car to the proximity of the A/C controls on his dashboard.  He can’t afford to take his eyes off the road to find the control he’s looking for, and for some reason, the controls never seem to be where they should be.  He blames this on poor proximity.

There are several usability heuristics in the design principle world, and proximity is one of them.  The proximity heuristic suggests that similar objects should be placed closer together.  Cognitively, the human brain functions by discerning patterns and associating specific functions that are similar to one another.

So in Cole’s case, the “temperature” dial  is separate from the “A/C” dial which causes him to turn up the fan rather than cool down the temperature in his car.  As you can see in the figure above, in order to cool down his car, Cole would need to hit the A/C button furtherest to the right, then use the dial furtherest to the left to change the temperature to “cool.”

Although Cole has driven this vehicle for many years, his brain is somehow wired to hit the A/C button and turn the same control to cool down the temperature.  His brain is wired with the proximity heuristic.

Don’t look confused.  This article is about writing and format for writing, but I had to tell you the story about David Cole and his car to make my point.  If car controls, machines, and computers use the heuristics of usability, shouldn’t writing also use these same principles so that it’s easier for us to cognitively digest?  I’d say so… and that’s why formatting your content is just as important as making sure the content you write is high quality.

Without further ado, here are the top 5 reasons formatting matters when you write:

  1. Your audience is “King” — This is  Nancy Duarte’s statement in her “5 Rules for Presentations;” but it applies to writing too.  If your writing doesn’t resonate with your audience then your piece failed.  I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.  Your writing is only successfull if it affects your audience in some way.  With this in mind, if your audience is anything like David Cole (or any other human being), then the proximity heuristic is important.  How you organize your information will make it easier (or harder) on your audience.  If you use proper formatting, then you are cognitively feeding your audience little treats.

  2. Organization/Flow — How many people have read a user’s manual that makes them flip back and forth between multiple pages to find out how to complete a simple task?  Why isn’t this information put closer together?  Why didn’t the writer employ the usability heuristic of proximity?  When you write, if you don’t use proper formatting (ie headings, subheadings, bullet points) then the flow of your document suffers.  If the flow of your document suffers, you’ll find your audience skipping back and forth, frustrated that they can’t find the information they want to know.

  3. Aesthetic Appeal — Who wants to read boring, fifteen-sentence-long paragraphs?  If you were tasked with the responsibility of writing a one-page list of instructions teaching someone how to brush their teeth, would you write it in all paragraphs?  If you answered “yes” to that question, please keep reading this article, then go back and re-read it again.  No one wants to read a narrative on how to brush your teeth.  People want to be able to see the specific steps for brushing your teeth.  People want to view a document that looks like this.

  4. Usability — OK, so this ties back in to your audience.  You want your writing to be used, not just read and discarded.  If you write a piece and the length starts to drag on beyond 3 pages, you might want to consider adding some formatting.  Headers and subheaders give a document easy reference-ability (yes, I made that word up).  Instead of having to read through each paragraph to find the information needed, someone can easily reference specific points you make if you add headings and subheadings.  If you want to get real fancy, add a table of contents.  I know, I just blew your mind!

  5. Because it’s a rule — I’m not joking.  MLA, APA, and just about every other style of writing gives you guidelines on how to format a document, so why wouldn’t you follow them?  These formats were established because they make the documents you write easier to read and easier to reference.  So use these guidelines.  Follow them. Period.

You could, of course, choose not to format your writing.  But then you’ll run the risk of every one of your audience members turning into a David Cole.  Keep your readers’ beards on.  Format your writing.

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Word Recycling

By Stacey J. Haseleu

Recycling image

As writer’s, we’re not always fortunate enough to have a never-ending stream of ideas enter our minds consistently.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at my computer screen, the blank white page of a Word document staring me in the face, only to promptly close the window, shut down my computer, and turn on the T.V.

Sigh

The one thing I’ve found to be annoyingly true is that words come to me at the absolute least convenient of times.  Like when I’m finally getting to bed at 2 a.m. after working on multiple projects and course work for 12 hours straight. Without relucatance, hesitation, or remorse, the words immerse my mind — repeating themselves until I finally give up, get out of bed and write them down.

I’ve wised up to this and placed a little pink journal and my favorite pen next to my bed. When a word or phrase starts to heckle me, I simply open the journal and write it down. It’s like taking the phrase by it’s hair and throwing it out the door.

But it would be ashame if all these insights were somehow lost in the vacuum of space forever.  Some of my most creative thoughts come at these times. But how to remedy this?

Sage Cohen, author of The Productive Writer, suggests we start to collect all of these small, seemingly meaningless thoughts by writing them down in notebooks, on index cards, or sticky notes.  “Acorns” she calls them.  Then set up an “in-box” to deposit the “acorns” and when you have time pull one out and start writing around the thought or words.

A squirrel, I am not, but the idea really is genius — collecting your mis-fit ideas and repurposing them into their own, shiny pieces.

She even suggests in business writing to develop a “darling” page.  So when you go through the pain-staking process of editing a document, the words, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs that don’t make the cut don’t end up in a black hole.

A darling page, for me, is word heaven.

Although a particular idea doesn’t fit in with the core message I am trying to convey in that piece doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled in a later piece, perhaps even become the focus of a new idea.

I’ve found, as Cohen so aptly states, that “Darlings have liberated me to be a far more swift and spontaneous editor. I can take action without second-guessing myself too much, because nothing is ever really lost; it’s just relocated to the darlings file, where I can always grab it again if I need it” (The Productive Writer, pg 49).

Looking at content this way makes me feel like I’m not wasting time; like every idea, word and phrase is worth something. Not to mention when I’m out of original ideas, I need only to look into my “acorn” box or “darling” file and find an old, but no less special idea, shine it up, and take it for a ride.

 

 

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What is Your Writing “Essence”?

By Stacey J. Haseleu

CP-Brand-Essence-Wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneurs everywhere are hopelessly obsessed with figuring out the essence of their brand/product. Millions of dollars are spent each year on advertising, marketing, and collaboration on products and images of companies to give them an “essence” or allow them to make a statement in their perspective market.

Take the Superbowl, the one time of the year when companies invest copious amounts of time and money for a 30-second spot promoting their product or service.  These commercials aren’t created in a day’s work, they’re rigorously tested against multiple ideas until the perfect message is conceived that adequetely conveys that company’s essence; their brand, their image.

Writers are no different.  Perhaps we aren’t selling a tangible product, maybe we’re not selling anything at all.  But we do have an essence; our writing has a distinct voice and personality.  Once we figure out our essence, we can get to the core of who we are as writers and understand our writing better.

Knowing what lies at our core as writers enables us to incorporate those qualities into our writing and gives us a voice.

So how can we figure out our “brand essence” as writers?

There are few simple exercises which will lead you to the core of your “essence” as a writer.

For the first exercise you will need to look at the brand essence wheel above.

  1. Using some of the adjectives on this wheel, as well as some of your own, write down 15 words that best describe who you are.
  2. Narrow your list down to just 3 words.
  3. Talk to friends and family and see if these 3 words describe you best.

These 3 words are your “essence.”  They should adequetely convey who you are at your core.  In other words, they should express your personality, your goals, your being.

In Pitch-Perfect Marketing: Building a Brand While Staying True to Yourself  Mary Reynolds Thompson takes the art of building a “brand essence” to another level by building a vision essence board.

She says:

“Your essence vision board will be a collage of gathered images, words/phrases, colors, and any other elements that seem to speak to your essence.  You can create your own artwork or use photographs or take images and words from magazines.  The only criteria is that you respond to the elements through the lens of your essence words.”

In a way, writers are naturally inclined to gather little pieces of life that inspire and motivate us.  We’re also inclined to write down our thoughts and feelings and to journal the heck out of everything.  The essence vision board is another way to reach our inner-most feelings and desires and to tap into our creativity.

Additionally, if we ever decide to write professionally or try to publish our works, our vision essence board provides us with a roadmap to the colors/visuals we choose for our website and marketing materials, our business name and tag line, and even the design of our workplace.

What are your “essence” words?

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