by Barbara McNichol
In my recent post on the blog of Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), an author asked about confusing words this way:
Barbara, I’d love to see you do an article on the difference between “as” and “since” and “because.”
Here’s a summary of what my research told me.
Both “because” and “since” imply cause. They can be interchangeable when “since” means “for the reason that.” e.g., “Since my dog needs exercise, I take him for a walk.” e.g., “I walk every day because my dog needs exercise.”
One source suggests using “because” when the reason is the most important part of the sentence and “since” or “as” when the reason is already well known and is less important. e.g., “The match was cancelled because it was raining.”
I endorse this as an important distinction and use it myself.
Note that “since” also refers to a time frame. But look at this example. “Since we ate lunch, we had lots of energy.” Do you see how this statement is ambiguous? Does it mean “from the time we had lunch” or “for the reason that we had lunch”?
To avoid confusion, I recommend using “because” when your meaning relates to “cause” and “since” when it’s a factor of time. Keep the meanings distinct; it’s a good way to add clarity to your writing and power to your pen.
For clarification of commonly confused words, request a free reference guide at Word Trippers.com
What word pairings trip you up? Share them here.
by Todd Hunt, Business Humorist
In case the Easter punny misses you on Sunday, here are five April Fools puns to fathom:
1) Acupuncture is a jab well done.
2) If a clock is hungry does it go back four seconds?
3) Without geometry, life is pointless.
4) Corduroy pillows are making headlines.
5) I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words. (Barbara’s favorite)
OK – your turn. Write your worst puns in the comments below!
Business humorist Todd Hunt speaks to organizations that want to add fun to their events and send members back to work smiling—with tips to improve communication and success. Visit him at ToddHuntSpeaker.com
Editor’s Note: Todd tackles Word Tripper types of confusing words as I do. His latest video clears up the difference between “podium vs. lectern” (because you’re dying to know). And you can watch his past episodes here. Enjoy!
by Barbara McNichol
Whether it’s an email, a report, or a chapter in a book, are you sometimes challenged to make your writing easier to follow? What are ways to create a smooth flow that guides your readers?
Give these writing tips a try:
1. Use subheads: When you use subheads throughout your piece, readers can skim your content and quickly discern what’s to follow. Even more, subheads indicate a change of subject and allow readers to find it quickly. Your guide: new subject, new subhead.
2. Convey one idea per paragraph: If you pack a paragraph with more than one idea, it creates difficulty following the meaning. In an email about a talk, for example, you’d use three separate paragraphs: one explaining the subject of the talk, one explaining who the presenter is, and the third showing the date, time, and place of the event. You can also add subheads to distinguish each paragraph.
3. Use bullets points and numbered lists: When you list similar things (such as names, steps, benefits, requirements), you help readers recognize similar content quickly. With lists, you can leave out transitional words that paragraphs command. It helps the understanding when you use the same part of speech (e.g., a verb or a noun) at the beginning of each point. Note: In a list, when the order of the points matters, use numbers; otherwise, use bullets.
4. Vary sentence length: Although short, concise sentences are easy to read, a string short sentences can feel disjointed. Add interest by varying the length of your sentences. My rule of thumb is keeping sentences shorter than 21 words so readers can follow the meaning more easily.
5. Vary sentence structure: Building your sentences in the order of subject-verb-object is simple and clear. But if all your sentences are constructed that way, it might come across as monotonous. Along with varying sentence length, break out of the mold of standard sentence structure.
Practice these simple ways to make your writing easy to follow and enjoy better responses from your readers. Note YOUR favorite writing tips below or email me.
By Julie Perrine (used with permission)
Daylight Saving Time began in the U.S. recently. That means for the next eight months, our time zone abbreviations also need to change if we want our meeting invites to be accurate.
What am I talking about? Let me explain.
We are currently operating in Standard Time. In the United States, that means the time zone abbreviations for our meetings have been EST (Eastern Standard Time), CST (Central Standard Time), MST (Mountain Standard Time), and PST (Pacific Standard Time).
When Daylight Saving Time begins, the correct time zone abbreviations will be EDT (Eastern Daylight Time), CDT (Central Daylight Time), MDT (Mountain Daylight Time), and PDT (Pacific Daylight Time). The S changes to D to indicate the change from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time.
Why does this matter? Because not all parts of the world – or even the U.S. – switch to Daylight Saving Time. Hawaii and most of Arizona do not switch. And there are many countries around the globe that do not use Daylight Saving Time either. Even those places that do observe Daylight Saving Time don’t all switch at the same time. This makes time zone abbreviations crucial, especially when you have participants from multiple time zones.
Here are two examples of how this applies:
Example 1: EST is never the same as EDT.
Last summer, while Daylight Saving Time was in effect in the U.S., I was supposed to present an online training event for an international client at 6 p.m. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). I live in the Eastern Time Zone in the United States. If you plug 6 p.m. GMT into any time zone converter app, it will tell you that is 2 p.m. EDT (Eastern Daylight Time). However, the event organizers had advertised the event for 1 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time).
I was on time for the event at 2 p.m. EDT. However, most of the people from my region of the world who normally joined that online training event were not there because they assumed it was happening at 1 p.m. EDT – even though the abbreviation said EST. The event organizers could have avoided a lot of confusion and increased their event attendance significantly if they had published their event with the correct time zone abbreviation.
Here’s another application of this concept for meetings: One of my team members is in Mountain Standard Time. She stays in that time zone all year around because she’s in a part of Arizona that doesn’t switch at all. So if I send a meeting invite for the team call at 1 p.m. MDT (Mountain Daylight Time) and she is actually in Mountain Standard Time, then it occurs at 12 p.m. MST (Mountain Standard Time) because she doesn’t “spring forward” for Daylight Saving Time.
Example 2: Always publish meeting times with the time zone abbreviation for where the meeting is occurring.
Last fall, I was scheduled to present a webinar for an international association. We were still on Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. The country for the association hosting this webinar had already moved back to Standard Time.
I was nervous about being on the webinar at the right time, so I checked it frequently. With this event, I learned how important it is to publish the time of the event for the time zone in which the event is occurring, with the correct time zone abbreviation. That way when anyone plugs it into a time zone converter, they will know what time to join the event in their own time zone. This is especially important when dealing with companies on the other side of the International Date Line because the meeting may actually occur on the next day.
A few key takeaways here:
- Learn the time zone abbreviations and how to use them for the time zones you work with the most. If you aren’t sure, look them up!
- Always set the meeting time on your calendar invites for the time the meeting is scheduled to take place in the originating location, and let the calendar convert it to the respective time zone of each recipient. Then if the organizers update the time, your attendees get the updates, which is also important.
- Include the time of the meeting, with the time zone abbreviation in the originating location, in the subject line of your meeting invite so all invitees and their assistants can see it and do the manual conversion, if needed. It helps tremendously. If you update the meeting time, though, you need to remember to update it on both the invite and in the subject line.
The bottom line is to never assume which abbreviation is accurate if you don’t know for sure. Check it. Download the time zone convertor apps or save the links to your computer so you can check and get it right – every single time!
Julie Perrine is an administrative expert, author, and all-around procedures pro. She is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing innovative products, training, and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. She is the author of Author of The Innovative Admin, The Organized Admin, and Become a Procedures Pro.
Barbara’s Note: This post deviates from writing help to put out a cry from my client, the author of Your Mother Called Mother Earth…You’d better call her back!
DON’T BE A SUCKER–The Last Straw
by Gina Murphy Darling aka Mrs. Green, Mrs. Green’s World
Here’s how not to be a sucker. Hopefully after reading this, you will never want to look at, think about, nor consider using a straw again – not ever. You will become straw phobic like me! To put it bluntly, straws really do suck!
The backstory: Americans consume over 500,000,000 million straws EVERY SINGLE DAY. Stop, take a deep breath, and reflect. That’s enough to fill 127 school buses EVERY SINGLE DAY. Could I make that up? Based on the national average of 1.5 straws per person per day, each person in the US will use approximately 38,000 or more straws between the ages of 5 and 65. Without question, straw production is one of THE most energy intensive processes on the planet.
The carbon footprint:
- Straws are made from petroleum. Oil has to be drilled to make them. Yikes!
- Straws then have to be manufactured, packaged, shipped and distributed. Big carbon footprint.
The harsh realities/impact:
- Straws never biodegrade. The earth simply does not know how to absorb them. Remnants of the first straw ever manufactured are somewhere out there – buried in a landfill or in the belly of a bird or sea mammal – but out there.
- Straws are not recycled but at this point, one might conclude that once a straw is made, most of the damage is already done.
- Some straws are incinerated generating toxic emissions which pollute the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.
- Most straws go to landfills, are buried in the ground and leach harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater. Sick and sad – right?
- Straws are BIG beach and ocean polluters. They are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean ups.
- It is estimated that over a million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals and fish, too numerous to count, are killed by plastic pollution each year and straws are a big part of the reason why. Do you want YOUR straw to be the one that ends up stuck in the nose of a magical sea turtle? I think not.
- Stop using them. Just say no to straws.
- Purchase reusable straws and USE THEM! Mrs. Green’s pick is Glass Dharma because they are glass and you can get some really fun ones or Ukonserve.
- Join the One Less Straw Campaign, started by our friends at One More Generation (OMG), take the pledge and spread the word.
- Encourage restaurants you frequent to stop serving them or, at the very least, request your beverage of choice to be served straw free.
Don’t be a sucker – just say no to straws.
Find out more about how to help Mother Earth at MrsGreensWorld.com
by Mary Walewski (used with permission)
When you’re publishing your first book, it’s easy to overlook getting endorsements. These are the blurbs on the front and back cover of your book. A great book blurb – or endorsement – by an expert in your field, a known author, or even a celebrity can give your book a seal of approval and help sales.
Getting a book blurb or two sounds easier than you think now that the experts you want to contact have websites and are on social media. No more contacting publishers or agents – your prospects may have assistants helping with their online profiles, but at least you can skip a few of the middlemen.
Here are my top 7 tips for getting book endorsements:
- Start your prospect list early – ideally when you’re still writing the book. At least, be working on your list when your book is still in editing. Visit your prospects’ websites and look for a contact page or email. Friend and follow them on social media.
- Your list should consist of people your audience would know and respect. Look for fellow authors in your genre, experts in your field, and celebrities who have a connection to your topic. Don’t count on the big names to respond – but you never know.
- Outline a general query letter for your prospects, then customize it for each person you’re approaching. You have a better chance of snagging an endorsement of your favorite authors if you show you’re a fan of theirs. Also include info on how you’ll be marketing and selling your book – nobody wants to endorse a book that nobody will see. If your book sells, your endorser benefits too!
- In your letter, include sample endorsements for your prospects to edit as they please. Some may choose to write their own, and that’s great.
- After they say yes, ask them whether they’d like a paper copy or an ebook, the entire book, or just an excerpt. You can have ARCs – advance reader copies made through your local POD publisher or even at the local office supply store.
- Ask four times as many prospects as you think you’ll need. You only have room for 1 blurb on the front and maybe two more on the back. If you get more, put them on the inside front page. Whatever you do, don’t NOT use a good blurb. If someone goes to the trouble of reading your work and writing an endorsement, use it.
- Give your endorsers a reasonable deadline and follow up tactfully. Don’t be a pest – remember, they’re doing you a favor! Lastly, after your book comes out, send your endorsers a copy of your book with a nice inscription and a thank you note.
Mary Walewski of Buy The Book Marketing is a book marketing consultant for indie authors and publishers. You can contact her at https://buythebookmarketing.com.
What tips have helped you? Please add to this list below.
by Barbara McNichol
What can editors tell writers and authors about improving their writing? Consider these five common writing mistakes even conscientious writers make:
Mistake #1: Being self-absorbed as a writer. With too much talk about the author’s experience of writing, you risk overlooking the reader’s experience. The fix? Use “you” more than “I” in your sentences and stay close to your core message.
Mistake #2: Addressing readers in plural rather than as a single person whose interest you want to capture. Remember, reading is a solitary pastime. The fix? Keep one person in your target audience in your mind’s eye as you write.
Mistake #3: Using a long noun phrase when an active verb will do. The fix? Whenever possible, get an active verb to do the “work” of the sentence. Instead of “the examination of the report was done by the director,” change the noun phrase to a verb and rewrite the sentence: “The director examined the report.” In this way, passive construction becomes active, reduces the word count, and delivers a more direct message.
Mistake #4: Having no clear order to the paragraphs. The fix? Once you’ve crafted a solid, compelling opening, think through how the organization and flow of your main points will best guide your reader logically to your desired conclusion. If possible, test the result with colleagues or actual readers who will give you honest feedback.
Mistake #5: Writing sentences that ramble (on and on and on and on). The fix? Limit your sentences to 15-21 words maximum. Be sure to vary sentence length to create interest.
Bonus mistake: Flat-out choosing the wrong word. Yes, in English, it’s easy to confuse common words such as “advice” instead of “advise” (among hundreds more). The fix? Use a comprehensive resource such as Word Trippers (print or ebook) to help you select the perfect word when it really matters. Want a free mini-version of Word Trippers (the ebook)? Go to http://www.WordTrippers.com
What common writing mistakes would you add to this list?
Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt from a new book published by Gail Woodard and Dudley Court Press. Titled Write the Book You’re Meant to Write: A Guide for First-Time Authors, it gets to the heart of the issues first-time authors face. I was honored to have been interviewed for this book as well as edit it.
by Gail Woodard
I asked my good friend and editor Barbara McNichol what advice she would give to a first-time author about the process of working with an editor. Here’s some of our exchange:
How can an editor help an author? Smart authors know the value of a good editor to improve the clarity of their ideas and conciseness of the words they use. A good editor makes the author’s prose more readable while preserving the person’s intended voice.
Can you advise authors on how to streamline their writing so the editing process goes more smoothly and costs less money? Sure. Adopting these seven practices will make a huge difference in any manuscript:
- Get rid of extraneous phrases (e.g., the fact of the matter is, there is and there are, is going to, is starting to, is designed to, etc.)
- Find alternatives for wobbly words—vague words that don’t add meaning (e.g., really, much, very, some, that).
- Change long noun phrases into short verbs whenever feasible (e.g., “the examination of” becomes “examine”; “the judgment of” becomes “judge”).
- Limit the length of your sentences to 21 words so readers won’t get bogged down and lose your intended train of thought. (Oh, my. This sentence exceeds 21 words by 2!)
- Pay attention to noun/verb agreements and pronouns, too. You hear people say “me and Michael went to lunch” but “me” is the wrong pronoun in this case. Know what’s right. Apply the right grammar rules; it’s important to your credibility!
- Construct your sentences using active verbs, not passive (e.g., “The stranger created a scene” is active; “A scene was created by a stranger” is passive.) Why is this important? The action you want to convey moves forward more directly when you write in active construction. Look for the word “by,” which clues you in to when passive construction is used.
- For accuracy, know which word to use when. Pay special attention to confusing ones such as “complementary” versus “complimentary.” Hint: the word “gift” and “complimentary” both have an “i” so when you’re being complimentary, think of giving away a gift. I call these “Word Trippers” and offer a word choice guide and subscription program to make it easy to learn the difference. (See www.wordtrippers.com)
Why should someone invest in hiring a professional editor? Editors are trained to be patient and thorough. They go through an author’s manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. That’s rarely the kind of diligence provided by friends or even critique-group members.
In addition to keeping the author’s voice, what else is a primary goal in the editing process? For nonfiction books especially, authors write them to support their business objectives. Their book forms the cornerstone of their company’s message and direction. Keeping that objective in sight during the editing process guides the editor throughout the multiple reviews. Does the book accomplish what it sets out to do for the benefit of the readership and the author, too?
What book editing questions do you have?
- Order Write the Book You’re Meant to Write on Amazon
- Seek advice on writing/publishing your book at www.DudleyCourtPress.com
- Contact Barbara McNichol for your editing needs.