Book Review: On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

Book Review: On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

As a part of our required readings for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase and read On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This was a terrific book.

On Writing Well covers a multitude of issues that writers can face. Zinsser gives writers the freedom to occasionally break some rules, or at least to bend them. Moreover, he gives reasons why one type of construction might work better than another.

William Zinsser
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

What’s Important

For Zinsser, the start and the end pack heavy punches. On Page 54, he writes,

“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he’s hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the ‘lead’.”

Not only is this good advice for fiction writing, it’s excellent for report writing and for writing for the web. How many times have we had to slog through a ton of prose before getting to the good stuff? How many times have we tried to hang in there when we’d rather be doing anything but tackling an opaque garbage can full of prose?

Active Versus Passive Tense

Many writers are told to prefer active to passive tense when writing. Zinsser explains why, on Page 67,

“Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style – in clarity and vigor – is the difference between life and death for a writer.”

A little over the top, maybe, but it does get the point across.

Don’t dance around your subject. Be bold. Be clear. Be terse.

Review: 5/5 stars.

Book Review: The Yahoo! Style Guide

Book Review: The Yahoo! Style Guide

The Yahoo! Style Guide. For my social media writing class at Quinnipiac University, we were required to purchase this book and use it as a reference.

However, instead of just referencing the guide as needed, I read it from cover to cover. And it is a fantastic guide.

Writing Online

So for most people, the act of writing online seems to mainly consist of ejecting words and hoping that they will somehow collide in a manner that is coherent or at least semi-understandable. The Yahoo! Style Guide, instead, serves to provide some well-needed guidance.

Book Review: The Yahoo! Style Guide
Cover of The Yahoo! Style Guide via Amazon

Rather than displaying seemingly antiquated grammar rules, the guide provides logical explanations. Hence as the guide says on Page 50,

“Scan an article reading only the headlines. If you can understand the flow and substance of the story, your content passed the test. If something seems confusing, you may need to rewrite the headings or even reorder some paragraphs.”

So to my mind, this makes infinite sense. Consider how quickly we all skim articles and newspapers these days, whether online or in dead tree format. Headlines and graphics grab our attention. Perhaps they are more fraught with meaning than they should be, but those are the current rules of the game. Therefore, writers on the Internet need to understand that headings, image captions and the like are important to the human reader.

In addition, and unsurprisingly, these elements are also important to machine readers, e. g. search engine bots.

Worth the Price of Admission

And then on Page 4, the guide talks about eye tracking. Yahoo! has surveyed users, and they have come up with an understanding of a general pattern as  to how people browse websites. Here’s what they said:

  • “People scan the main sections of a page to determine what it’s about and whether they want to stay longer
  • They make decisions about the page in as little as three seconds
  • If they decide to stay, they pay the most attention to the content in the upper top part of the screen”

So you’d better get your pages and posts in gear, and pay particularly close attention to headings and the content that sits above the fold. Because the guide shows you the way.

Review: 5/5 stars.

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Michael Fleischner’s SEO Made Simple, a Book Review

Michael Fleischner’s SEO Made Simple

Michael Fleischner‘s SEO Made Simple is a terrific book about search engine optimization.

Michael Fleischner's SEO Made Simple

First of all, written in a straightforward and engaging style, Mr. Fleischner makes his point: in order to dominate search engine listings, you need to make yourself known. Furthermore, you need to get your keywords into your website (but not stuffed there!) in a logical and natural manner.

Yahoo and MSN

Mr. Fleischner’s sole focus is Google but he does talk a bit about Yahoo and MSN. Furthermore, the reason to zero in on Google is made immediately apparent by the fifteenth page: Google is dominant. Here’s how the percentages of search stack up (he got his numbers from comScore for SearchEngineWatch.com)

  • Google: 43.7%
  • Yahoo: 28.8%
  • MSN: 12.8%
  • AOL: 5.9%
  • Ask: 5.4%
  • Others: 3.4%

Hence Google matters – but so do Yahoo and MSN, particularly when you consider that, combined, their share is nearly identical to Google’s. Yet don’t worry: many of the techniques Mr. Fleischner advocates will help with your placement on those search engines, too.

White Hat

White hat techniques abound, everything from adding unique keywords on each page to making sure that your page’s overall design doesn’t keep the spiders and crawlers from doing their thing. And that’s just on-site optimization. In addition, he also covers off-site optimization, e. g. writing and distributing articles, or generating press releases.

Furthermore, interestingly enough, there is little to no information on working the social media angle, e. g. Tweeting the existence of new blog posts or announcing page updates, adding similar information to one’s LinkedIn or Facebook statuses, or creating a fan page for your work (or, better yet, getting someone else to do that). However, that is, in part, a function of this being a book and not an e-book – there’s a time lag between going to press and the actual production of a paper book. Hence information is sometimes not as fresh as desired.

Instincts

However, there’s still plenty in here, for the serious web entrepreneur and the hobbyist. In addition, for someone like me, one great piece of it was some validation that I’ve got pretty good instincts when it comes to my own social media website. Oh, and if you’re paying attention – you’ll see that I just practiced two of his techniques in this very paragraph.

Dominate Google and get noticed. It’s that simple.

Rating

4/5

… And Facebook for All

… And Facebook for All

At least, that’s what Mark Zuckerberg would want us all to think, wish and feel. I can understand that, a desire to make a website about as universal as possible. Once the site stopped being exclusive to collegians, the inevitable business model was to universalize it. And Facebook, today (although that will probably change), has about the best chance to become a truly universal web experience as any site.

Universality

Facebook for All
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, are you on Facebook? About 1.6 billion users are, as of this writing. But, wait, not so fast. Is that number truly accurate? Absolutely not. After all (and for different reasons), my husband and I each have more than one account. Do you? Even if you don’t, I bet you’ve got at least one friend who does, and probably lots more.

And that is perfectly all right, and is absolutely permitted by Facebook (although they’d like to change that).

Why Facebook?

Facebook’s main purpose (in case you’re just coming into the light after a few years on a desert island), is to sell advertising. Its offshoot purpose is to connect people, of all stripes, for free. But it’s those connections that sell the advertising.

There’s a lot else to it, at least on a general basis. But it’s still a valuable business tool for any Social Media Marketing Campaign.

The Best Parts of Facebook for Social Media Marketing

Facebook’s main virtues, when it comes to your business, can currently be divided into three basic areas:

  • Personal pages and peripheral connections to same
  • Company pages and groups and peripheral connections thereto, and,
  • Offsite connections back to Facebook

By “peripherals”, I mean all the extra stuff that goes along with Facebook, and not computer hardware peripherals.

Next: Your Facebook Profile Page

Facebook for All

The Conquest of LinkedIn – Your Resume

The Conquest of LinkedIn – Your Resume

LinkedIn is almost a corporate version of Facebook, a serious social networking site amidst all the chatter. If you are looking for a job, you need to be on LinkedIn. In case you might be looking for work again some time in your lifetime, you need to be on LinkedIn. If you might ever be called upon to professionally recommend someone, or professionally network together people from disparate times of your life (such as a college classmate and a person you know from your last job), you need to be on LinkedIn. And if you ever need to showcase your credentials to a mass audience, for any reason whatsoever, you need to be on LinkedIn. And the cornerstone of it all is your resume.

Who Should Be on LinkedIn?

Your Resume
This UML diagram describes the domain of LinkedIn social networking system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And if there’s anyone else over the age of eighteen left in the United States, or potentially on the planet, chances are pretty good that they need to be on LinkedIn as well.

Why?

All of the aforementioned are perfectly good reasons to be on LinkedIn, but there’s one more. It puts together all of your professional data into one safe, trusted and uniform online package. Hence LinkedIn, like your resume itself, gives Hiring Managers a well-presented collection of information about you as a worker.

But that is if you take the time to make a complete, compelling and well thought out profile. If not, well, then LinkedIn can become a fast ticket to oblivion.

Hence, you need to put together a cogent profile, and the first place to start is with your resume. It will be similar, but not identical, to the resume you provide directly to Hiring Managers.

Improving Your LinkedIn Resume

So here are some tips for making your LinkedIn resume as good as it can be:

  • List all of your major jobs, no matter how long ago you did them, so long as the company (or a successor) is still in business. This is counter to what is normally put into a regular resume. On LinkedIn, you don’t really have a length issue. Plus, you want to list as many companies as possible in order to make linking easier with a greater number of people
  • Place key words and phrases in your job descriptions. People hunting through LinkedIn are most likely to be using the search feature, so you need to have words and phrases listed that people will be using to search for someone like you. E. g. if you’re looking for work as a Business Analyst, don’t just include the title – also include the fact that you did (assuming this is accurate) requirements gathering, which is a main Business Analyst task across multiple disciplines

More Tips

  • List the different types of software you’ve used, with versions. This is, again, to make your profile come up in searches. E. g. if you used Excel 2003 and Excel 2007, make sure they are listed that way.
  • Just like with a standard resume, use action words and well-defined metrics to show what you did in your career. “Worked on the Smith project” is nowhere near as impressive as “Performed quantitative analysis; these recommendations saved the company 20% of the estimated costs on the Smith project”. Numbers are impressive. Use them.
  • Make sure your company listings jibe with what’s already on LinkedIn. That is, let the software give you choices (if any) for the company name. If you worked for a very large company (say, Fidelity Investments), the company name is already on LinkedIn. Don’t type it in yourself. This will automatically make it easier for you to link to everyone else who has listed Fidelity Investments as a current or past employer, and
  • Feel free to add more than one current employer, including any volunteer work you may be doing. Again, this will add to the ease with which you can link to others.

Next, we’ll look at why all of this linking is so important.

Your Resume

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results

Tips to Quickly Boost Results. Rebekah Radice of Canva offers some great ideas for how to improve your engagement on Google+, a social platform that even a lot of experienced social media managers can find rather confusing and daunting, and hard to break into.

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results
Google Plus (Photo credit: ivanpw)

Images

It should come as no great shock that images are key. But that is true for pretty much all social media platforms these days. Posts without images are just contributing to the enormous tidal wave of text that we are all dealing with, all the time.

The 800 x 1200 size is optimal for Google+.

Share Fun, Inspirational and Educational Content

Well, sure, that makes sense. For most social media platforms, the mix should be of fun and smart content, with a smattering of inspirational. If your business is angel flights for children, you’ve got no shortage of inspirational content. If it’s The Daily Show, you’ll never have to hunt around for fun content. And if you’ve got Harvard to promote, you can get educational content.

Then there’s the rest of us.

But Radice has some great ideas for engagement, printed here in their entirety –

  • “Share your thoughts, expertise, mission, vision and values.
  • Give a nice shout out to your favorite blogs and websites.
  • Share inspirational thoughts, funny quotes and timely news stories.
  • Share other peoples content with context around it.
  • Don’t post and run away. Interact, connect and engage!
  • Be grateful. Thank people that share your content.
  • Be personable and share details about your business in a fun and interactive way.
  • Follow people within your industry and niche and create a conversation. Get to know them, share their content and spread the good word about their business. This creates reciprocity and more meaningful interactions.
  • Repurpose your content. Just because it’s old to you, doesn’t mean it’s not new to someone else.”

Optimize Your Profile

This includes adding details about what you do, links to your other online content, and sprucing up your profile/logo image and cover image.   The 2120 x 1192 size is optimal for Google+ cover images.

Return to Your Buyer Personae

Why are people on Google+? And how can you align your strategy, and what you provide, to what they want, need, and crave?

Don’t forget about Google Plus.

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Andy Harris’s HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies, a Book Review

Andy Harris’s HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies

I don’t mind reviewing a book with the word “Dummies” in the title. It helped me – I’ll even admit that.

Andy Harris’s HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies is an interesting first book on website creation and design. As a bonus, it includes a CD with examples and code.

Andy Harris's HTML, XHTML, and CSS All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies

Code

The book wastes no time and, by the tenth page, you’re already writing a little code. Mr. Harris’s style is to learn by doing. You read, you type, you copy what he’s written, you try it out. I found myself almost immediately altering his work to see what would happen. When the code didn’t break, or if it could be fairly readily fixed, it was a victory.

All concepts are explained, even those which may at the time seem like overkill, such as the practical differences among the .jpg, .gif and .bmp image formats. One of the earlier concepts explained is why CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are the way to go. By the time you get to Chapter Two of the first book (the book is divided into eight mini-books), Mr. Harris is already talking about online validation. And that’s a good thing, as that by itself can help a novice web developer to fix recalcitrant code.

No Design and No SEO

There is very little about design and virtually nothing on SEO. Whether that is a pitch to bundle Sue Jenkins’s Web Design All-in-One for Dummies book with this one, I don’t know. The ploy works, though, and Amazon reports that the two books are often purchased together. I was able to jump in and create my own social media website while I was in the process of reading this book. I also must add — Mr. Harris is jazzed about what he does. And that help you to become excited about what you can do with HTML code, CSS and XML, and even JavaScript and PHP/MySQL.

Basics

Between the two of them, read this one first and learn the basics for creating your website. Then read the design book in order to give it some beauty. But lay the foundation first.

Rating

3/5

Why use a screen name?

Why use a screen name?

Screen name – good idea, or no?

I was inspired by this post in Angela Connor‘s blog. If you don’t know Angela Connor, I urge you to check her out; her blog is extremely insightful and is one of my favorites.

Her ideas make a great deal of sense, and I think some of this is why the Blizzard forum experiment in real names for users was such an immediate and egregious flop.

Masks

The ‘net, like it or not, is for many people a place of masks. You pretend to be younger and thinner than you are. Or you pretend to be unmarried. You pretend to be a Klingon. Or you’re a teenager and pretend to be an adult. Or you pretend to be another gender or richer or lovelier or more conservative or whatever.

And the masks can be freeing to many. Perhaps they were freeing when the ancient Greeks donned them while performing “Oedipus Rex” for the first time. I think there is more of a place for them than perhaps we’d all care to admit. Because there seems to be a value to being able to spread war paint (or lamp black) on one’s face, or wear a Halloween costume.

Unreality

screen name
Halloween Costume Close-up (Photo credit: trustella)

And this is not the same as our reality. It is related but not identical. Maybe the librarian who goes out for Halloween dressed as a dance hall girl wants to be known as someone who takes risks (and maybe foolish ones, at that). But when the morning after rolls around, she’s back in the library helping others do research.

Anonymous Commenting

This kind of anonymous commenting allows for something like this. Because the sympathetic guy who’s really seething inside gets to call people out. He gets to be a bully and be an all-around racist jerk (I have worse names, but don’t wish to besmirch my blog). But then he surfs to a different site where he can chat up the ladies with his sensitive New Age guy demeanor. And then when the time to log off comes, he goes home and kisses his wife and plays with his children. And this is all one guy.

Facebook

To comment openly through a full, correct name (usually) medium like Facebook would be to cut off the dance hall girl. And it would stifle the racist jerk, the ladies’ man, and any number of other secret selves in favor of a drab and ordinary world. Even on a news site, which is pretty much the definition of drab unless there’s some sort of a hot story, the jerk, the dancer and the Romeo all want to be free.

Who’s Real?

But we shouldn’t take their opinions as seriously as the real people. Because, even though those personae live in real people’s skins, it’s the real people who vote, marry, pay taxes, work, make the news and are members of our real society.

The trouble is telling them apart and knowing which one is real.

Can you always tell? I bet you can’t. Not always.

screen name

Supercharging Your On-Line Presence

Supercharging Your On-Line Presence

Supercharging? Yes! This post is a riff on the February 2011 edition of Law Practice Today

About a thousand (er, twenty) years ago, I used to practice law. And,

supercharging
LinkedIn pen (Photo credit: TheSeafarer)

of course, things were far different then as opposed to now. But I have retained some of my old interests and connections, and would get the paper version of the ABA Journal for years after I had hung up my shingle.

Once a lot of that started to go online, I renewed my interest in any number of facets of law practice, in particular how it collides and dovetails with the Internet and, these days, Social Media.

Viral Marketing Gone Wrong

And I have seen enough tone-deaf Social Media campaigns (Able2know is rife with laughably bad viral marketing attempts, for example) to see the need for a publication like Law Practice Today to try to clear up some misconceptions and get lawyers going in a good — or at least non-harmful — online direction. What is great about this article is that it doesn’t just apply to attorneys.

Get Your Own Domain Name

The first point made in the article is: You need your own internet domain name. Well, yes. And it continues to surprise me when companies and individuals who are attempting to make a splash (or at least not appear to be totally out of it) online don’t do this. C’mon, people, domain names are cheap! Go to GoDaddy and buy one! You can direct WordPress to be posting through a domain name that has naught to do with WordPress. This is not too tough (hell, that’s what I’m doing with my blog), or you can hire someone to do this. It’s a lot, to me, like buying business cards with your actual name on them versus cards that just say “Lawyer”.

Rejuvenate Your Website

The next point is: Rejuvenate Your Website. No argument here. Stale websites are as appealing as stale bread. I am not saying that you need to update every minute or every day or even every week but I see an awful lot of abandoned blogs and websites out there — or at least they appear to be, as their most recent changes occurred in 2010. That means it’s been at least nearly two months since anyone changed them. Surely there is news, or at least even cosmetic changes would give one’s readership/potential clients a feeling that someone was minding the store.

Use a Good Profile Picture

Point number three is: Your picture is worth a thousand words. A good picture is, well, good. You might not be able to afford to hire a professional as the article suggests. That’s okay if you at least get a decent photographer friend to take a lot of pictures. How many? How’s one hundred? Lighting varies. You might not smile perfectly the first time. Your tie might be crooked. Your hair might be flying in your face. You might not be looking directly at the camera. There are any number of reasons why a photo can go wrong. And get your pal to snap photos of you in various places, doing various things, so long as they are germane to the site. For a lawyer, that could be in the office, or in front of a courthouse or in front of the office building or with colleagues or alone. After all, with a good hundred photos, you might end up with several usable ones. If there are choices in different locations, you can use them to make different points on your site.

Fill Out All About Me and Profile Pages

Point number four is: It’s All About Me. That is, create an “About Me” page. There’s a place to put a photograph or two, eh? It doesn’t have to be long, but give it a little personality. Be sensible, of course. This is probably not the place (assuming you’re a lawyer) to tout your ninja skills. But if you play tennis or have two kids or are from Omaha, by all means, those things are perfectly fine here. Otherwise, you’re just nameless, faceless Joe or Jane Lawyer — and I, as your prospective client, can find a million of them.

Give Visitors Take Aways

The next point is: Give visitors something to “take away” from your blog. Me, I write articles and I allow the reprint rights. So if my experiences can help you, then by all means reprint my articles, and I wish you well, so long as you respect my rights in the matter.

Work on SEO

The next point is: Build a (Free) Google Profile. Here’s mine. Meh, I’m not so sure it helps me so much, but that’s probably also because I’ve made SEO efforts elsewhere. Still, for an SEO beginner, or someone with a limited budget, this is easy and free and it takes nearly no time.

Here’s another point: Make Sure You Advertise on Google Local. I felt no need to do this, but I’m not trying to push ecommerce directly through my site and blog. Your mileage will, undoubtedly, vary.

LinkedIn

Next point: Be LinkedIn. Hell yeah. Here’s my LinkedIn profile. Yes, I will link to you – just send me a request. Also, I have found that LinkedIn is an excellent way to get to know people attending an event with you. If you can get a hold of the guest list in advance (and with Eventbrite, evite and others, you can), look those people up on LinkedIn. Hey, you might have something in common with them, their photo might be up so that you can recognize them and they might be someone you’d like to know, either personally or professionally.

Gather Business Intelligence

Then there’s the penultimate point: Use Social Networks To Gather Business Intelligence. People share all sorts of stuff these days. Want to know if someone is moving? Going on vacation? Selling their business? Changing jobs? A lot of that information is out there, free for the taking. And other things are out there, if you know how to dig. I’m not suggesting that you turn yourself into a creepy stalker but if a possible client is tweeting about buying land, and you’ve got a real estate practice, well, do I really have to connect the dots for you?

Tell People the News (About You or Anything Else of Interest)

Here’s the last point: Be the Evening News. The idea is, broadcast youtube-type stuff, either your own or pass along others’. Agreed, but I wouldn’t overdo this, particularly not at the expense of other types of content, which are generally easier for Google to index (and for you to get an SEO bounce from). But by all means, if it adds value (there’s a big if right there. I adore the Old Spice Guy but he does not help me on my site), add it.

The bottom line, I think is: don’t be afraid. Yes, the Internet can bite you. But it can also be quite a good friend to you

supercharging