The New York Sun
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a lot of rubbish on the web.
Some of it stems from mistakes.
Some of it comes from bad writing and inadequate research.
Some of it is a collection of outright lies.
Which means the web is no different to the real world. One of my College text books was called ‘How to Lie With Statistics’ and I remember how, after reading it, I found every survey or news report a source of fascination.

Over 40% of readers say this is the best thing since sliced bread’ sounds good until you realize it means most people don’t.

Psychologists have shown that we search for and retain more information that confirms our existing view. One result of this is that we hold on to our cherished beliefs even after they have been discredited.

So my question – and it is a question because I don’t know the answer, is how important is the truth? If you are starting a web based business, is it OK to lie to bring customers to your site?

How do you interpret those  ‘standard’ calls to action and ideal headlines – the ones that promise  the universe in exchange for your email address? Has anyone ever really given you the ONE THING you need to know to make money online? Or told you the Seven Secrets of Successful Blogging?

So, why am I writing about this today? Believe it or not there is a reason. On August 25th 1835, the Sun, the a recently opened New York newspaper,  published a series of articles detailing discoveries made by the eminent astronomer Sir John Herschel.  Over the next few days the articles, taken from the ‘Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science’,  described the discovery of a civilization on the moon, complete with buildings, animals and finally, people. Not people like you and me, people with wings and fur, a bit like bats.

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31 Reasons You Need a Grandpa

On August 24, 2010, in Content Creation, by lesley

My Grandfather, James Alexander Ogilvie

Today, August 24th, is my Grandfathers birthday. We won’t be celebrating because he’s dead.

I was going to write one of those terribly earnest and useful posts about using the active voice or common grammatical errors when, as often happens, I could hear him telling me it was the wrong thing to do.

So this post is for my Grandpa who taught me many useful things, but mainly that people like him are incredibly important.

I know that sounds incredibly obvious, but I think writers/bloggers in particular forget that in the people around them they have a huge resource, and here’s an example.  Yesterday I read a very interesting well written post about how to find ideas to write about and deal with writers block. It covered all sorts of techniques, but not the most simple one of all.

Ask someone.

If you run an internet business you need to look at things from your customer point of view. How can you do that? Ask. The people around you want to help and they don’t know the technicalities you’re dealing with. This often gives them a clearer, more straightforward point of view. What’s the essence of the internet? Dialogue with customers. I wish I had a dollar for every time my grandpa looked at me and said ‘ If you want to know – ask.’

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Cover of 'A Woman Without A Man' by Corinne Edwards

Big trouble.

I hired an editor to work on one of my books.

Unfortunately, she was not only a retired English professor –but a nun.  What a combination for someone who writes the way I do.

Her rules.  Every sentence must have a noun, a verb and an objective.

She nearly went nuts with my draft.

Why?  Because I write the way I talk.  Even “spell check” objects.  It keeps telling me my copy has “fragments.”

But my copy reads like someone is talking to you.  Like I am now.  (That’s a fragment!)

Are you revealing who you are in your writing?  Are you talking to your readers?

If you are afraid to do that because you were trained as an English major by someone like my nun –


Start being yourself.   People will love you for it.

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Great White Shark, South Africa
Image by doobybrain via Flickr

or should I say – ‘The Seven Secrets of Singing Sharks?’

OK. I’ll come clean. That was a pitiful way of trying to grab your attention. What I’m really talking about is ‘Seven Secrets’ articles, and why, given half a chance, you shouldn’t write one.  The reasons are simple.

  • The web is full of seven, three, five, etc secrets articles.
  • If you write the same things as everyone else, you won’t stand out, and it’s a crowded web.
  • I don’t want seven bits, I want THE secret.
  • Isn’t a secret supposed to be something you only tell one person at a time?

Does this mean you should avoid list articles? No, absolutely not. List articles are great because

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Peter Mark Roget (Roget's Thesaurus)
Image by dullhunk via Flickr

Tip: Write in your own voice. If you’re whipping out a thesaurus for every other word, your reader will reject your competency. Tweeted by

I spotted that tweet yesterday and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since because I do have a thesaurus, it sits here on my desk and I use it every day. But I don’t think you should reject my ‘competency’ as a result.

I use a thesaurus because I don’t like to use the same word too often and when I find I have, I look for a synonym.

I use a thesaurus because I like to play with words. Repetition is a powerful way to get a point across.

And I use a thesaurus because I want to be good at my job.

Does that make me incompetent?

I don’t use it to show off, or to find grand multi-syllable words, or to write something no-one will understand, but just to help me do the best I can at what people pay me to do, and I have a hard time working out what’s wrong with that.

Words are important. They’re not the most important thing in the world, but for the moment they are our only way to communicate. A thesaurus is designed to help you find the right word. It’s a tool. It can’t steal your voice or make what you write less authentically yours.

So back off My thesaurus is staying on my desk. Words are your business, just as much as they are mine. Why not enjoy them?

What do you think?  Would you reject the competency of an author who uses a thesaurus? I’d really like to know.

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Article Summaries – How To Write One

On August 10, 2010, in Article Marketing, by lesley
A photo of a cup of coffee.
Image via Wikipedia

Do you find that the article summary is something you write last, just as you’re about to submit the article? Do you put much thought into it? Believe it or not this ‘afterthought’ paragraph is pretty important and can make a dig difference to the success of your article marketing campaign, so grab a cup of coffee and I’ll give you my ideas on the subject, I hope you’ll add yours as comments to this post.

Most article directories require writers to submit something called a summary with their article. It is this ‘summary’, which shows up in searches of the directory when publishers are looking for articles to use. A well-crafted summary is essential if you want your article to be picked up by blogs and e-zine’s across the Web.

One word of warning. An article summary is not a summary in the true sense of the word. A true summary or précis is a brief statement of all the information in the article. In the article marketing world this would be counterproductive; a summary which contains all the information in the article, however brief, would be a good substitute for the article, not a good reason to publish it.

So what should your ‘summary’ look like?

Most article directories have strict rules, so in some ways it’s easier to say what an article summary should not contain

  • A restatement of the article title. This is just a waste of words.
  • A true summary of the article. Then there will be no need to publish the article.
  • Less than three sentences. If your summary is too short some directories ignore it and publish your first paragraph instead.
  • More than 100 words. If you go beyond the word limit your summary will be truncated.
  • The authors name. Sadly most article directories do not allow you to include your name – in any search it is probably also on the screen as author anme.
  • HTML. No html is allowed.
  • ‘How’ information. Save that for the article itself.

The summary should be devoted to promoting the article. Not you, not your business. It’s sole purpose is to get people to read or publish the main article.

Be sure to include

  • Keywords – to make sure your article is found.
  • Reasons to read more. Tell the reader or publisher what’s in it for them if they read more or publish your article. What will they learn?

Once successful strategy is to pose a question your reader wants to have answered and indicate that the article contains that answer. Of course if you do, you have to deliver on your promise.

The article summary is very like a movie trailer. It’s not there to summarize the article, it’s there to whet the appetite and build anticipation for the main event, the article itself. You can develop the summary and the article independently, you can even have them written by different people.
Many article directories like take a very strict view of the article summary. If the summary you submit doesn’t meet their guidelines they will use the first paragraph of your article instead. So don’t loose control over this very valuable piece of directory real estate. Make sure your summary fits their guidelines. I found this out from bitter experience. I put some summaries together only to have them ignored, ezine didnt use them because they were too short. The result – my carefully considered words junked and replaced by my first paragraph, and most interesting of all, they didn’t tell me.

Prospective publishers see the headline and the summary and will often choose to publish an article on that basis alone. Your article summary is not an after thought. It’s worthy of your time and consideration.  Just as a bad movie trailer can result in a good movie being released to a silent cinema and deserted box office, a bad summary wont do justice to the effort you put into your article. Once you’ve spent the time writing you want to get the best return you can for that time, so go just a bit further, don’t throw the summary together at the end, craft it carefully so all your efforts will be read.

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