writing

writing editing proofreadingThe widespread (and growing) use of online technology continues to push organizations to realize the value of creating their own content. (Full disclosure – here at AHA, we push them to take advantage of this opportunity too!) It is a good way to connect with stakeholder groups (including customers or clients).

Creating strong, compelling, engaging and informative content doesn’t happen without effort – or good writing and editing. I was fortunate that I worked in the world of journalism prior to jumping the fence to PR and strategic communication. At Maclean’s magazine, where I worked, each article was developed by a team – there was the journalist/writer, the editor*, the researcher/fact checker, the copyeditor and the proofreader. It took several different skill sets to produce a good article. (*There were actually several editors – the section editor, the senior editor and the managing editor – who reviewed each piece with different perspectives: the piece itself and how it fit into the section and the overall magazine.)

For a communications piece – whether it is an annual report, newsletter, white paper, brochure, website content, frequently asked questions document, news release, speech or other document – it is important to understand and make use of all of the skill sets at your disposal.

The Writer

The role of the writer is to gather the information, arrange the thoughts and ideas, and present an organized approach for the piece. A writer normally provides a creative outline or brief on what we expect to deliver. It may be as straightforward as a newsletter outline that identifies each article with its key messages, if anyone will be interviewed and quoted, and the deadline. Annual reports or other more complex documents get more detailed outlines.

The Editor

The substantive editor is a person who works closely with the writer and deals primarily with the creative aspect of the content and the structure and order of the piece. If the content is highly technical, this person normally liaises between the writer and the subject expert as well. This person brings a clear perspective to the writing and supports the writer in ensuring that the information is clearly communicated, well organized, and that it makes sense. (Sometimes a writer can be so deep into the topic that they need support in making sure someone who is not as knowledgeable can understand the information.)

The copy editor deals with matters specific to the words (rather than the ideas of the content) and focuses on clarity, flow, sentence length, word selection, grammar, spelling and internal consistencies.

The Fact Checker

Another crucial role, the fact checker works with the writer and/or editor(s) and confirms the factual accuracy of the information in the document.

Proofreader

The proofreader reviews the document after all levels of editing and fact checking have been completed. The content is reviewed for overlooked errors in spelling, grammar, typos, etc., and when visual elements are used, they are the final check that all visual elements are placed correctly.

From our experience with our clients and in speaking with many of our colleagues who work in-house at organizations, many communicators either don’t have all of these skills or they don’t have the time to effectively write or edit pieces, with everything else on their plate. It’s a bit of a challenge because to develop a useful communications piece that informs, engages and inspires your target market or stakeholder group to action, it takes time and effort. For us, nothing is more disappointing than when we see a poorly written or edited piece; it loses its value and, unfortunately, doesn’t create the expected results (and it doesn’t look good for the communications professional). The need to create good content continues to grow, and understanding how to deliver solid content is an important component of the role of a communicator.

We have a strong writing, editing and proofreading team at AHA and, because of this, we do a great deal of this type of work for clients. One of the most high profile projects we have worked on was editing Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry – a 1,400-page, complex report.

At AHA, we offer a full range of editorial services – we write and/or edit and proofread newsletters, annual reports, special reports, white papers, briefing notes, plans, speeches, brochures, websites… the list goes on and on. We have always had a focus on content creation, and we have grown our writing and editing team to reflect that.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-latin-writing-image20423572I was fortunate; not only was I a voracious reader growing up with a natural ability with words, I also worked with some incredibly gifted writers and editors at Maclean’s. Working with some of the best in the country (I would say the world) makes you up your game. There is a much higher bar when the talent level of your colleagues is through the roof.

At AHA, we work with clients to write, review, revise and edit a wide range of documents. At some point, each project we work on involves the craft of writing – speeches, e-newsletters, web content, messaging and positioning, presentations, communications plans, video scripts, news releases, media pitches, media kits, briefing documents… the list goes on and on. And then there is the process of editing. Which is a very important piece of the puzzle. A solid edit can make a good piece great.

We are always interested in improving our craft. We take courses, participate in workshops and webinars, and read articles and books that give us tips and techniques to improve our writing skills. It is a never-ending quest for improvement.

Active voice vs. passive voice is something we look for in every document. While passive voice isn’t necessarily wrong, active voice is always right. Passive voice can be vague and it is an inefficient use of words. Active voice communicates a different energy and is more effective – it just works better. Grammar Girl has an informative blog post on it here. There is also a piece on Ragan.com that talks about cutting the fat from your writing which highlights the same approach. They are definitely worth reading.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-feather-ink-bottle-image19427719Here at AHA, we do a lot of writing. And I do mean a lot. Speeches, newsletters, articles, briefing notes, annual reports, op-ed pieces, video scripts, news releases… the list goes on and on.

If you write, that means you need an editor and a proofreader. Both of these are of great value and are two very different roles. And don’t let me forget, you also need a fact checker. I am fortunate in that I spent much of my early professional life learning how to write and about the value of the roles of editors, proofreaders (we called them copy editors) and fact checkers at a national news magazine.

We act very much like a magazine does when it comes to creating written communication. It’s a process and we take the time to do it right. And because we do it right, we have achieved great success on behalf of our clients. Our speeches have received standing ovations, the articles we submit to media get picked up on a regular basis, news releases generate media attention… you get the picture. It’s not because we are these incredibly talented writers who write one draft and then magic happens. We work at our craft. And it is work. It takes time, effort and focus – on both the information you want to communicate out and on how you tell a story.

I came across a great piece on Ragan.com that offers some tips and insight for writing, editing, proofing and fact checking. For anyone who communicates as a part of their job or in their personal life, this is worth a read.

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Writing is a challenge, even when it goes well. Good writing is a gift from the universe, but it’s never guaranteed. Even people that write incredibly well have times when it just doesn’t click; the piece never comes together as they had hoped.

For those of us who write often and who are always chasing that “click,” this article provides some good tips and hints on how you can improve your writing – sometimes without changing a word.

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Every once in a while, I come across an article or blog post that is so helpful it is almost unbelievable. The online world and social media have given us access to so much great information (and some not so great, so you have to be discerning).

Every great writer I have worked with has realized the value of a great editor. Creating interesting, informative, relevant and engaging content takes both a writer and an editor. It’s a little bit like peanut butter cups… On their own, chocolate and peanut butter are really good; together – it’s a whole different level of delicious. The same goes for those making their living with words. Behind every great writer, there usually is a great editor.

This blog post is of incredible value for anyone who writes or edits. It’s so good that I will leave you to it. Nothing I could say would improve this piece.

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