Category Archives: Writing

What Constitutes Copyright Infringement on Intellectual Property?

By Stacey J. Haseleu

Intellectual Property and YOU

 

As writers in a digital age, we face greater challenges when it comes to protecting our work.  But the sword is double-edged.  While we want to protect our intellectual ideas, we also want to be able to share our thoughts, feelings, and emotions; it’s who we are as writers.  Likewise, we like to read and expand upon the ideas of our colleagues and people we aspire to be more like.

So now that sharing a thought/idea is literally as easy as the click of a button, is our work protected?  And what are our obligations when we expand upon someone else’s ideas in our own works?

Oddly enough, the inspiration for this post derives from my terrible addiction to The People’s Court.  I know, I know, I should be using that hour of my life to write, not watch a bunch of silly small claims court numbskulls fight about whether or not an apartment was damaged in the 5 years a drug dealer lived there.

Regardless, I was watching and a very interesting case came on.  Not interesting in that the Plaintiff and Defendant were shady characters, but the topic was actually of intellectual interest.  A woman was suing a small company for intellectual copyright infringement.  Say what?

Apparently, the Plaintiff wrote and published a book back in 1997.  The Defendant quoted various parts of the Plaintiff’s book on her business website.  The Defendant’s claim was that she didn’t know it was an infringement on intellectual property copyright because she directly quoted, and gave credit to, the author.

This was my understanding as well.  Always be sure to properly quote, and fully cite your sources and you’ve done your due diligence right?

Apparently, not so much.  To my surprise, Judge Marilyn Milian actually took the time to explain Intellectual Copyright Infringement on a deeper level.    To determine if the intellectual property has been infringed, there are 4 factors to take into consideration.  They are as follows:

Purpose of Use 
Was the work used in a commercial or non-commercial context? (If commercial use, this provides a stronger case for the Plaintiff)  In other words, is the infringer making money off of someone else’s intellectual property/ideas?

Nature of Copyrighted Work 
Is the work fiction or non-fiction? (This constitutes whether it is original intellectual property or considered common, or widely used or known facts).  Published or non-published?  (If it’s published, this militates towards the defendant because the author has sold the intellectual property).

Amount of Work Used
Is it a single quote?  An entire paragraph?  Or many parts of the writer’s work, which basically recreates the same ideas the original author set forth?

The Effect of Use
Did the use of the author’s work affect promotion of the original work negatively or inhibit the original author from capitalizing on the work or future related works?

Ultimately, Judge Milian determined that although the Plaintiff’s intellectual property was used for commercial purposes, since the work was non-fiction in nature, the quotes were now removed from the Defendant’s website, no profit was gained from the content being on the site for the brief period of time, and since the Plaintiff’s work was over 10 years old, the preponderance of the evidence favored the Defendant.

Seeing this got me thinking about intellectual copyright on something like this blog.  Were the ideas I share with all of you on a regular basis protected as my own intellectual property?  Or did I somehow have to register the content for it to become my property (like a patent)?

To save you all from research, the answer is that when you write and publish content it is automatically copyrighted.  However, if for any reason you need to sue someone in the future for infringement, you must go through the copyrighting process.

So now I want to hear from all of you…. What do you think about intellectual property infringement in the days where the world wide web is the most common tool for sharing ideas?  How do you protect your site?

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Why Businesses Need Freelance Writers — Not Employees Who Also Write

By Stacey J. Haseleu

failure or success

Recently I went to a networking event.  I was speaking with an attorney that works for the government.  Long story short,  I found out that a lot of Social Security claims that get denied are done so after a lawyer reviews the medical documentation and decides if that individual is capable of gainful employment or not.

I worked in the disability management field for 8 years and NEVER knew this information.  My good friend, who is a practicing nurse and legal nurse consultant, was also a participant in the conversation.

After the networking event we sat at the stools of our local Applebee’s having drinks and expressing our utter shock and disapproval of this procedure.  How are attorney’s qualified to decide if an individual is medically impaired?  How is it even fair to the attorneys to make them read medical documentation and render an opinion without proper knowledge and education in the medical field?  Isn’t their time better served focusing on the legal aspects of their positions?

What a waste of legal resources, money, time, and, not to mention, how unfair for those people that are being denied based on medical information that’s not even reviewed by a medical professional.

The more I thought about this situation, the more I realized how much it parallels what most businesses do (or try to do) in today’s corporate world with writing and communication tasks.  They assign workers with no training or experience in writing to do a writer’s job.

For example, in my previous job as a Benefits Administrator, I was hired to manage leaves of absences (short-term disabiliy claims, FMLA, military, child birth leaves etc) for the company.  My major responsibilities included counseling managers, employees, and HR Business Partners on corporate policy.  I communicated claim determinations to employees and managed our disability vendors who reviewed the medical records.  My everyday job functions did include some writing and communication, but not original content creation.

During my employment, I was asked to lead a team in re-writing all of the department’s employee correspondence letters.  While I was excited at the prospect of dabbling in writing (what I longed to do professionally anyways), I found it very difficult to juggle my daily responsibilities while focusing on creating the best written product possible.

The company put together a team comprised of myself, my manager, and a (very pricy) consulting firm who didn’t specialize in writing, just document creation.

Soon I found myself in 2-3 meetings per week.  Each meeting lasted between 2-3 hours.  Something had to give — either I needed to stay extended hours to complete my other work, or the quality of my daily tasks was going to suffer.  I ended up staying overtime (without pay) in order to complete my daily tasks.  But the quality of my everyday tasks still suffered.  And the letters weren’t my best specimens of writing either.

Looking at this scenario, what the company ultimately ended up with was an over-worked employee providing mediocre customer service and performing her daily tasks at a lower level than normal.  The letters they got at the end of the project were usable, but not up to the standards they could have been.  And the project took over 10 weeks to complete.  Not to mention the hefty bill from the “consultants” they hired who, between you and me, only really slowed the process down.

Wouldn’t it have been much more cost-effective to hire a freelance writer to create the employee correspondence letters?  In doing so, I could have kept up the superb quality of work in my everyday functions.  The company wouldn’t have needed to hire a “consulting” company, and the final product would be polished, professional letters.

You see it all the time; businesses trying to “cut back” on expenses by tasking out multiple jobs to individual employees to “save” money.  What they don’t realize is that, in fact, they are costing the company more money than if they were to hire a professional contractor/freelancer to do that specific project.

This is especially true in the field of writing.

Instead of paying overtime wages to a benefitted employee they could just pay a flat fee to a writer.  Not to mention the consultant company wouldn’t be needed (major savings for the company). The writer would be able to focus squarely on the writing project at hand; thus, the employer would end up with a quality product in a shorter period of time, for less money.

You wouldn’t go to a bank if you broke your leg and needed a cast, why would you task out writing to anyone besides a professional writer?

 

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5 Reasons Written Communication Skills are Crucial to Your Career Reputation

By Stacey J. Haseleu

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

What you write directly affects your reputation.  Although this statement seems pretty obvious, you would be surprised how many people think they can somehow get away with ineffective communication just because they’re writing and not speaking.

Working in the corporate world for the first 8 years of my professional career taught me a few things about communication.  One of those lessons is that people seem to become more brave and less careful when they communicate through writing than when they talk on the phone or face to face.

I would argue that effective written communication has more of an impact on your professional image in this day and age than verbal communication does for the following 5 reasons:

  1. Digital media is permanent; it can’t be “taken back.”  In the age of e-mails, text messaging, and “tweets” as the new tools for communicating important thoughts and ideas, people have become lazy.  They feel like they aren’t held directly accountable on the spot for what they say because they’re interacting with a computer rather than another human being.  How many of you have typed up an “angry email” in a fit of rage when you were completely frustrated by a work situation?  I bet ten minutes later you regretted sending that message.  But with the new digital age, taking back what we say is impossible.  What we write becomes even more important because it can essentially be preserved for years, which brings me to the second reason written communication skills are more crucial than verbal…

  2. Body language isn’t apparent through an email.  When you email a colleague, client, or your boss, even if you think you’re being cute and witty, that person may not take what you write with the same humor that you wrote it with.  I’ve seen it many times.  Someone writes a comment to a co-worker thinking it’s a funny, sarcastic way to end an email and World War III erupts in the office.  When you write your business thoughts, you have to be extremely careful not to try to insert wit, humor, or sarcasm.  These are qualities that can be appreciated in verbal interaction through body language and voice intonation, but as of yet, we don’t have a way to convey these emotions through emails and text messages (especially since emoticons and text-speak like LOL and BTW aren’t appropriate in the business world).

  3. Most first impressions are made through written communication.  When we apply for jobs, the first form of communication we have with our potential employer is through our resume and cover letter.  If we don’t make the right impression through these documents, we can forget about an interview, let alone getting a job.  The words we choose and how well we convey our thoughts and ideas is crucial to perspective employers and to moving up in the company we’re currently with.  If you can’t communicate effectively in your resume and cover letter, then chances are you won’t advance in your career.  If you need help making the “write impression” with your resume contact me for a free quote.

  4. Written communication is more difficult than verbal communication.  When you meet with a client, colleague, or boss, you have the ability to interact back and forth and to ask one another questions to clarify statements you make.  While this is still possible through written communication, it can become tedious and time-consuming.  With that being said, when you initially send a written communication to someone, it’s imperative that your writing to be concise, comprehensive, and clear.  People have a tendency to write in code, that is, they don’t write what they mean to say.  Written communication can make people turn into clumsy communicators, trying to use large words to impress their audience.  Instead they end up looking stupid because the audience understands the communication would never be used in a verbal conversation.

  5. Written communication has a larger audience.  The one thing you’ll always hear me preach to my clients is that “audience is king.”  Everything you write should be tailored to your audience’s specific needs.  When you speak to a group of individuals, narrowing down your audience is easier than when you write.  When you are speaking, your audience is directly in front of you.   You are able to take into account age, ethnicity, and usually corporate status (ie is this a CEO or a mail delivery clerk?).  When you write, though, you cannot tangibly see your audience in front of you.  And this is where most people make the mistake of thinking that because they can’t see their audience, they don’t have to tailor their writing to any particular demographic.   Since your communication has the potential to be spread to more than one audience, it becomes crucial to recognize all of the possible individuals who may read your communication.  If you use large words you may lose some members of your audience.  If you write with an informal tone, you could offend your superiors.  All of these aspects can be taken into account when verbally communicating without much effort.  Written communication is challenging in this aspect because without seeing your audience, you must be aware of any potential viewers of your piece.  You must always take into account that whoever reads what you write has the potential of “forwarding” what you wrote to another audience (a secondary audience or even a third group).

With the evolution of business communication shifting from face-to-face interaction to emails, LinkedIn accounts, and text messages, understanding the importance of written communication is crucial.  So the next time you sit down to write an email to a colleague, client, or superior, remember the 5 tips above.  Would you say what you write to your boss face to face?  If not, you may want to rethink what you wrote.

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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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Which Comes First? Proofreading vs. Editing

http://www.siliconcloud.com/blog/bid/61717/Which-Comes-First-SEO-Website-Design-or-the-Egg

Much like the age-old chicken vs. egg mystery, writers continue to debate whether editing should occur before or after proofreading.  In fact, I’ve had many people ask me if there’s even a difference between the two, to which I reply, “Of course there is!”

Proofreading and editing have two completely different functions.

Think of proofreading as the smaller stuff: spelling, punctuation, word choice.  After you’ve “completed” the initial writing process (I put completed in quotation marks because I truly believe a piece of writing is never complete, it’s always evolving or at least has the potential for evolution), you take a general, first glance at what you’ve written.

This first glance is what some writers consider the “proofreading” phase.  It allows you to see if you’ve skipped any words, if you’ve spelled affect with an “e” instead of an “a,” or if you’ve created a run-on sentence, much like the one I wrote above.

Editing, on the other hand, allows you to completely manipulate your document.  It analyzes sentence structure, format, placement, and gives the author (or editor) power to evaluate the overall aesthetic, tone, and purpose of the document.  Editing is a much deeper exercise than proofreading, which seeks to affirm the strength of your topic, supporting evidence, and ideas.

In general, when I proofread a document I am looking at each individual word first.  Is is spelled correctly?  Then I narrow in on each individual sentence.  Is the sentence a fragment?  Does it have proper punctuation?  Is it structured properly?  I’m not making any large changes to the overall substance of the piece, I’m just giving it a little cosmetic changes.

Editing v Proofreading 4

When I edit a document, my red pen runs out.  I cross out entire ideas and phrases, re-write an entire paragraph, insert bullet points and headings, and pretty much turn my masterpiece into a grade school student’s worst nightmare.

For me, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to which should come first, proofreading or editing.  In fact, I believe the best pieces of writing come from a combination of proofreading, then editing, then proofreading again.

What is important is to recognize that not all changes to a document should be made into one step.  That means you SHOULD NOT consolidate the proofreading and editing phases.  When you consolidate these two steps, you tend to lose perspective.

For example, if I’m reading a piece to check specifically for spelling errors, my brain becomes wired to look for mis-spelled words, but it can’t muti-task and also evaluate for content comprehension simultaneously.  Thus, while I may think I’m keenly picking out sentence fragments or missed letters in a word, I’m not able to also comprehend an entire paragraph’s importance to the central theme of my document.

Don’t overload your brain!  Making sure you separate proofreading and editing into two separate processes will allow you to look at your document from multiple perspectives.  If you don’t have anyone to help you with editing, the more times you step away and come back to the piece, the better.  It’s like a fresh set of eyes every time!Cryptic clothing label

If the writing process could have it’s own little clothing tag, it would read “Proofread, edit, proofread — repeat.”

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