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  • How to write in a conversational tone

    Woman at table working on her writing

    How to write in a conversational tone

    ✼ By Sharon Lapkin

    With so much content flooding the internet, it can be difficult to stand out. The last thing you want is for the lovely blog post you put your heart and soul into to end up on the 1,567th page in a Google search.

    Not only that, but as writers, we want to feel good about creating original and engaging content.

    One of the biggest problems with most business content out there is that it sounds like it was written by a robot.

    Content that looks like it’s been churned out by a machine over and over again is a huge turn off to readers.

    Woman at desk yearning for a conversational tone of writing

    Achieving the human touch

    Do you know what you have as a writer? It’s the human touch, and that’s what people want to read!

    Using a conversational tone in your writing is a great way to have a creative edge over your competitors. It allows you to build an authentic connection with your readers because they feel like they’re reading something you’ve written directly to them.

    Research shows that 31% of advertisements are emotion-based, and Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman found through his research that 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious.

    Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be because this research isn’t new. Scientists have been telling us for years that emotions play an important role in decision-making. Despite this, we continue to write stiff formal business content. White papers, annual reports and blog posts that put readers to sleep.

    People want to read genuine content that engages them on multiple levels. 

    So, if you’re looking to improve your content writing game and take your readers on a journey, it’s time to perfect your conversational tone.

    Let’s go over what tone of voice is and how to use it.

    What is tone of voice?

    To start, we need to understand what tone of voice is when it comes to writing. According to Merriam-Webster, the formal definition for tone of voice is ‘the way a person is speaking to someone’.

    Pretty simple definition, right? Well, not exactly. While this definition is helpful, tone of voice is a different beast when it comes to writing. When it comes to marketing or business writing, it’s the way you express to your audience how you feel about your brand and how they should feel. It’s how you establish a connection and the tone you choose is going to stick with your brand.

    Essentially, tone of voice is the theme you’ve chosen for the content you’re writing. Choosing the appropriate tone for your audience will help you build a strong relationship with them. It will also show them there is a living, breathing human behind the writing, which is what the people want to see!

    Tone of voice examples

    Now that we know what tone of voice is, let’s look at some examples. We’re going to focus on a conversational tone, but before we dive in a crash course on the various types of tone can help you decide which is right for you.

    Infographic of woman considering different tones of voice in writing

    Formal tone

    A formal tone is what you’ll find in a research paper or scholarly article. It’s authoritative, but can come across as complex and dry.

    Think about your textbooks in school. This tone emphasises facts and avoids any contractions, making it very wordy.

    When it comes to marketing, it’s wise to avoid a formal tone as people tend to scroll right past it looking for something more palatable.

    Here are examples of formal tone phrases:

    ●  According to the data, a formal tone is not the best option for writing marketing     content.  

    ●  They will not be attending the concert this evening.

    Informal tone

    As you may have guessed, an informal tone is going to be the exact opposite of a formal tone. When you’re writing in this tone, it should be expressive and sound like you’re talking to a friend. You can use contractions and short sentences, instead of long drawn-out factual paragraphs. It’s short, sweet and to the point. Here are two examples of informal tone:

    ●  Hi! How are you?

    ●  We’ve got A LOT of work to do!

    We’ve been taught throughout our education that this type of writing is a no-no, but in marketing and business writing, it can be your best friend.

    Optimistic tone

    You can combine an optimistic tone with formal or informal writing to convey a positive outlook. In marketing, you are typically looking for positivity. It’s not often you want gloom and doom surrounding your brand! When you’re trying to be optimistic try to use phrases such as:

    ●  We’re hopeful for the future of our business!

    ●  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

    Assertive tone

    Using an assertive tone conveys confidence and authority without being aggressive. It’s best used when you’re trying to persuade your customers to invest in your brand. No funny business here! Some examples of an assertive tone are:

    ●  You don’t want to miss this stellar offer, buy now to save!

    ●  Be the success you were meant to be.

    Conversational tone

    Now, to go over what we all came here for. A conversational tone is an incredible skill in writing. It’s not writing how you speak, but writing in a way that makes your readers feel as if the content is personalised for them.

    Don’t be afraid to have fun with it, and break out of the mould of traditional writing. It’s a relaxed and direct way of writing that will help to build your brand.

    Man at desk writing in a conversational tone

    Before we show you the ropes, here are some examples:

    ●  Hey, how’s it going?

    ●  We have LOTS of new products for you!

    Benefits of using a conversational tone

    When you write in a formal tone, it can sound stuffy and uninviting to your readers.

    Nobody wants to buy products or services from the formally dressed person with the corner office anymore. They want realness and to know they’re supporting a real person.

    It also allows you to be creative and establish your brand. Writing conversationally will make your message stronger and more memorable. It will also:

    ●  help you connect with your audience

    ●  show your personality

    ●  humanise your brand

    ●  give your audience a human character to relate to.

    How many times have you been shopping for something online, and you resonate with a brand because you can put a face and/or name to the product?

    This is exactly what a conversational tone will do for you.

    Customers and clients want to feel like they’re supporting a friend or family member when they engage with content, and that could be you!

    Here are some of the big benefits to using a conversational tone.

    You'll earn their trust

    Did you know there is a psychology behind copywriting? Everything is intentional! The easier something is to read, the more likely they are to believe it. This happens totally subconsciously, so the reader doesn’t realise it’s happening.

    Think about a time you’ve been researching something online and an article was filled with industry-specific jargon or big long words. Did you retain any of the information or continue reading the article? Probably not.

    It's inclusive

    A crucial element of conversational tone is writing in simple language. We don’t mean ‘dumbing it down’, but writing in simple words you’d use while going out for coffee. Nobody wants to be trying to decode a university thesis when they’re just trying to buy a pair of shoes online. When you write in a complex manner, it can make people who don’t understand the words feel alienated.

    A conversational tone helps with SEO

    This is a big one.

    A conversational tone is going to use words and phrases that your audience uses. When it comes to SEO, these are keywords.

    The more your content uses popular keywords among your audience, the more likely it is that your content will show up in search results.

    Tips for writing in conversational tone

    Alright, now we know how important using a conversational tone is, so it’s time to get started! We have some tips for you that should pave the way to you being a conversational tone expert before you know it.

    Conversational tone infographic

    Use active voice

    When you’re writing in a conversational tone, using active voice is key. Active voice is when the subject is performing the action. You should be able to clearly identify the subject in the sentence. Using passive voice can make your content sound vague and confusing when you want to sound confident in your product! Here is a simple example of active vs. passive voice:

    Active voice – The cat is eating its food.

    Passive voice – The food was eaten by the cat.

    Now, this is a very simple example, but you get the idea. When you’re writing, you can take this and make it more complex. If you have a sentence that’s written in passive voice, you can always change it to active voice.

    Understanding the difference will help you identify passive voice and save you time in the long run.

    Use sensory language

    Using sensory language is a crucial part of writing in a conversational tone. Simply put, sensory language uses the five senses to enhance your writing and make it more engaging. Combine this with a conversational tone and you’ve got the perfect recipe for writing that will draw your readers in!

    The types of sensory words you might use to help achieve a conversational tone might include freckled (sight), abrasive (touch), splash (hearing), citrus (smell) or tangy (taste).

    We’re big believers in the use of sensory language to create the right conversational tone for your business. We even wrote a comprehensive blog post about it.

    Check it out here!

    Utilise short and choppy sentences

    A well-thought-out long sentence can be a beautiful thing in writing. But! When we’re writing conversationally, short and simple ones win the race. You don’t want your readers getting bored while you envision yourself as the next great novelist. They’re probably reading your content on their phone trying to get a quick answer, so help them out!

    Contractions and interactions are your BFF

    You were probably taught to avoid contractions, but embrace them in a conversational tone. Try to use contractions such as you’ll, don’t and aren’t. Contractions also spice up your writing. Write Yay! Woohoo, or oh no! and help your readers feel at ease.

    Address your reader

    Hey, you! Yeah, I’m talking to you! Let your reader know you are acknowledging their existence by addressing them directly. Ask them questions and write as if it’s a personal letter. This draws people in and will keep them reading.

    Want to know more about conversational tone? Watch this video.

    Source: Dr Claire Lynch, 20 June 2019. The factors that affect tone of voice. YouTube.

    Final thoughts

    And there you have it. You’re going to be a pro at conversational tone in no time. It’s an invaluable skill to have a as a writer, and your readers are surely going to appreciate it.

    Here’s more if you’d like to keep reading. To find out more about conversational writing, wander over to Our complete guide to conversational writing.

    Want to put some punch into your writing? Check out How to make your writing stronger.

    If you’re after some good hints on writing blog posts, you might enjoy How to write a smashing blog post.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

  • The power of sensory language in business writing

    The power of sensory language in business writing

    ✻ by sharon lapkin

    Is there really a place for sensory language in business writing? The answer is a super-spicy, king-size yes and here are seven reasons you should be using it. 


    Sensory language provides vivid detailed imagery.


    Research shows that the brain processes sensory language faster.


    Readers can touch, feel, taste, hear and smell your words.


    It injects personality and animation into your writing.


    Your writing is stronger and more powerful.


    Sensory language helps you captivate your audience.


    It taps into readers’ emotions and engages them on multiple levels.

    What is sensory language?

    Sensory language uses the five senses – touch, sight, sound, smell and taste – to describe objects and experiences. The information collected by your five senses helps your nervous system interpret what’s happening around you.

    Sensory words are usually descriptive (adjectives) and they’re related to emotions and feelings. 

    When you read sensory words, you feel as if you’re in the scenario being described by the writer. Walking through fresh green grass, for example, might evoke feelings of positivity and emotions such as joy and happiness. Whereas, sitting alone in an empty railway station evokes feelings of negativity and emotions like sadness.

    On the other hand, when you read about ‘walking through the grass’ or ‘sitting in a railway station,’ the bland language doesn’t evoke any feelings or emotions. It’s lifeless.

    Why does fresh language engage you more? How come you feel as if you’ve been transported into the photo on the right when you read about walking through fresh green grass? Let me explain.

    Walking through the grass and thinking of sensory language to describe it.

    What your brain does when you read sensory language

    When you read sensory words and phrases your brain processes them differently to non-sensory words. Your nervous system sends messages to your brain, which creates mental images that engage you on multiple emotional levels.

    Let’s say you read a book that’s so engaging you can’t put it down, or a magazine article that makes you angry. Chances are these stories are sprinkled with sensory language that’s making you respond emotionally.

    What we know for sure is that instead of processing the text for meaning, readers actually experience sensory language on one or more emotional levels.

    Infographic - 4 ways to improve your sensory writing

    How to use sensory language in business writing

    Including sensory language in business writing is a skill that comes with practice. Usually, it’s a combination of conversational or semiformal writing plus sensory writing that engages your readers.

    For example, on a web page where you’re writing about a new process, you might begin the discussion with a semiformal tone, then employ sensory language to describe a specific action. Perhaps you’ll even add in a sensory metaphor for variety and detail. Finally, when you summarise the topic you switch back to a semiformal business tone. Ultimately, you end up with a captivated audience because you brought the writing to life for your readers, instead of just ‘telling’ them about it.

    Narration, which uses commentary to convey a story or a concept, can be enriched by sensory language.

    You can transform a case study, a sequence of events, a descriptive narrative, as well as copywriting. Persuasive and informational writing are also more powerful when sensory words are included in the writing.

    Man up ladder writing sensory language on noticeboard

    Following is a brief list of sensory words to use in your business writing. For a more extensive list check out my Complete guide to conversational writing or click on the button below the list here for a complete PDF copy.

    Examples of sensory words














































    Get your complete list of sensory words here

    Start schmoozing with your clients today.

    The golden rule: show not tell

    ‘Show not tell,’ is a rule in fiction writing that new authors often struggle with. When you ‘tell’ your readers what’s happening, it doesn’t engage them. But when you ‘show’ them, the story comes to life.

    Anton Chekhov was inadvertently describing the show not tell rule when he wrote ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

    But let’s be realistic. While you can’t use the show not tell technique all the time in business writing, it’s great for adding depth and flair. And even better if you can achieve a sassy balance between showing and telling.

    To sum up, sensory language is an essential component of ‘showing’ and it makes your writing realistic, immediate and engaging. But you’ll still need to do some ‘telling’ to communicate key messages, instructional copy and more formal types of business writing.


    Tell: Sally was afraid to apply for the role when she saw the queue of applicants.

    Show: Sally trembled and put her job application back in her sachet when she saw the long queue of well-dressed people.

    Tell: With our new online platform, you can go straight to the page and type your comment.

    Show: We’ve created a bright and colourful online platform and we’d love to see you log in and leave a comment about our updated system.

    Watch this video to learn more about the show not tell technique

    Diane Callahan – Quotidian Writer (2020). How to show, not tell: The complete writing guide.

    Use strong verbs

    Are you wondering what a strong verb is? It’s when we use a stronger, more powerful, version of a basic verb. So instead of writing ‘run’, you’d write charge, race, dash or hurtle.

    Instead of ‘write’ you would record, jot, note, scrawl or take notes. And you’d write scrutinise, examine, peruse or scan instead of ‘read’.

    Once you get into the habit of using strong verbs, it’s easy – or, should I say, straightforward and breezy.

    Use a synonym finder to find powerful replacements for basic verbs. My favourite is WordHippo. It never fails to present me with interesting alternatives.


    Basic: He ran towards the door.

    Strong: He dashed towards the door.

    Basic: I’d wanted to visit the building since I read about it in a magazine.

    Strong: I’d longed to visit the building since I read about it in a magazine.

    Squash those adverbs

    Not all adverbs need to be squashed – only the pesky ones ending in ‘ly’. Okay, that’s most of them. The truth is adverbs such as beautifully, lightly, wearily and firmly weaken your writing.

    For example, look at the sentence ‘He lightly wiped his desk.’ Take the adverb out and your sentence is stronger and clearer.

    Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, detested adverbs. In fact, he used only 80 ly words per 10,000 words in his novels. Look at the masterful sentences below from The Old Man and the Sea.

    ‘Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.’

    EXAMPLES: ADVERBS for the scrapheap

    The CEO angrily described the problem.

    I’m certainly going to get one of those.

    The applicant was waiting anxiously by the door.

    Use metaphors to create vivid images

    Sensory language is perfect for writing metaphors and you may not notice how often you already do it.

    Hands typing on a laptop

    Having a heated debate and the sweet smell of success are both sensory metaphors. 

    Avoid metaphors that are so overused they’ve turned into cliches. The words were music to his ears, is a good example of a copypasta keyword. Instead, put your brain to work and create original metaphors. Your readers will thank you.


    She worked until every sentence felt like silk.

    Let’s write fresh tight copy that’s effortless to read.

    Talk about a super-spicy, sassy blog post!

    Like what you see?

    Let's talk about your content needs

    When not to use sensory language in your writing

    Be careful where you write sensory language in serious, formal content. In these contexts, it can come across as out of tune and inappropriate. 

    Also make sure you use realistic sensory language. Using descriptive phrases that depict aliens or ancient history are probably a bad idea. Keep it familiar and inside your readers’ comfort zones, and analyse their likely reactions to what you’re writing, not your own feelings.

    Use sensory language in business writing when you want your readers to imagine a scene, description, image or action. It’s a sure way to captivate them. Take care to use positive words when you want to create a bright, happy scenario. You might be surprised by the negative emotions triggered by hurried words. 

    For example, nervous can also mean excited. Break can mean both unexpected good luck and taking a rest. Clean, light and clear are ambiguous words that can undo good writing.

    The takeaway? Keep an eye on the words you use and the emotional reactions they can generate.

    What the research says about sensory writing

    In 2019, Leonie Rocek wrote her thesis around the question: Are customers  influenced by sensory descriptions on food menus in restaurants?

    It turned out that customers are influenced in a positive way by sensory descriptions of the food on offer. But it doesn’t stop there. Emotions also play a significant role.

    Man in cafe reading sensory language in menu

    Customers enjoyed the whole restaurant experience more, and they expressed a desire to return in the future. In addition, they perceived the food to be more valuable and of a higher quality.

    What we can garner from this research is that readers trust information more when it engages their senses.

    the brain lights up when processing sensory words

    In another study, researchers found that sensory words are processed faster than non-sensory words. And a year later, more research published in the Brain and Language journal suggested that ‘conceptual processing is grounded in sensory systems.’ That a specific part of the brain lights up when processing sentences that include sensory metaphors.

    *A metaphor likens one thing to another, and describes it in a way that isn’t literally true. For example, ‘drowning in a sea of grief,’ and Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage, and men and women merely players.’ We discuss the power of metaphors  in sensory writing earlier in this post.

    The takeaway

    I hope you’ll include sensory language in your business writing. When it appears on the page at the right moment, it can impact your readers and clients in powerful ways.

    The most important takeaway here is to publish original and authentic writing. Nobody wants to read fluffernutter sentences they’ve read a zillion times before. But they do want to grab a coffee, snuggle up and read inspiring original content. And you’ve got that. Right?

     Publish exceptional content and it will win you new readers and clients all day long.

    One more thing ...

    Did you know that 2.5x more people use search engines than any other platform? 

     Unlike social media, your website is real estate you own. So if you’re ranking high enough in Google, you have tremendous opportunities to get in front of masses of people. 

    I built the Textshop brand with high-ranking blog posts, and you can do it too.

    Gold stars in a pattern

    Take this blog post, for example: Does my business need a blog? It’s ranking #6 – so not quite #1, but way up there on page one for the keyword I used. 

    How to write a smashing blog post is ranking #1. That’s right, the top of Google!

    I even had a featured snippet on this post for several months (prime Google real estate).

    Now for a blog post I loved writing: How to make your writing more powerful. It’s ranking #4 on Google – so I might update this post to give it a better chance of reaching #1. (Yes, you can update blog posts and not be penalised.)

    Clearly, you don’t need to be a big company to rank highly in Google.

    If I could get Textshop there, you can get your brand up there too!

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • A complete guide to conversational writing

    Girl using laptop to do conversational writing.

    A complete guide to conversational writing

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    How many times have you opened a marketing email or started to read a blog post and glazed over?

    Dense, over-complicated writing is a turn-off. And when you have to wade through it for work, what do you do? Yawn? Run? Put it aside for later?

    Dreary, tepid content that reads like it was written by a robot will damage the longevity of your brand. 

    On the other hand, you could deliver bright, warm, on-brand content that makes your readers want to hang around and schmooze.

    Let me show you how!

    What is conversational writing style?

    Conversational writing is a unique style of writing that breaks those grammar rules you learnt at high school. Sentences might commence with ‘And’ or ‘But’ and you’ll collide midway through a paragraph with ‘ouch’ or ‘drat’.

    It’s fun and friendly. It’s also powerful. You can use conversational writing to connect with people on a deeply personal level. 

    Dry or overly complicated content is a one-way ticket to be scrolled past and forgotten forever. But smooth effortless-to-read writing will keep your readers reading.

    Conversational writing is the way of the future for marketing materials such as email, newsletters, websites and blogs. This is the type of content businesses are using to generate leads and create loyal customers.

    Row of people standing with arms in the air

    The point is to make every single person feel like you’re giving them special attention so they keep coming back. You want your readers to feel like you know them – and, if you’ve researched your niche brand, you do know them. 

    Plus, if you’re generating well-researched, informative content, they’re likely to share it with others.

    One of the best parts of conversational writing is that once you get the hang of it, it can be a really easy style to generate original content every time. It is, however, difficult to master at first. You’ve got to shake the thought of your high school teachers drilling into you that you need to write like the next great novelist.

    What isn't conversational writing

    It can be easy to presume a conversational writing style would be as easy as typing how you’d text your friends.

    That is NOT what we’re going for. Developing a conversational tone in your writing means creating simple, easy-to-understand content.

    Couple on laptop and mobile phone doing conversational writing

    If you were to write the way you speak, though, it could be confusing for readers who don’t know you.

    The idea is to create a style of writing that makes the reader feel like you’re addressing them directly. Think of it as getting a virtual cup of coffee with them, not addressing a crowd at a sold-out concert.

    Another thing to note is that a conversational writing style is not a one-size-fits-all.

    There’s a time and a place.

    For example, you wouldn’t put liver puns in an article about fatty liver disease. But you would put puns in a newsletter about cat sweaters. This is why conversational writing is such a valuable skill to have.

    Tips for conversational writing

    If you’re ready to develop your own conversational writing style, follow these tips and experiment and practise until you feel ready to share your work. 

    Infographic on tips for conversational writing

    Use simple words

    Conversational writing should be simple. There’s no need to whip out your thesaurus and find unique words for your content. It’s not that you’re ‘dumbing down’ the writing – you’re making it palatable for every reader.

    If you’re writing about a complex topic, such as software, think about the readers. They are likely not going to be experts on the subject, which is why they’ve come to you for answers.

    Using data to back up your facts is important, but simplify the wording for everyone to be able to understand. Adding graphs, tables and illustrations to support your writing on more complex concepts is always a good idea.

    Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re writing about microgreens and you find this definition:

    Microgreens are vegetable greens harvested just after the cotyledon leaves have developed.

     You could rewrite this conversationally as:

    Microgreens are the young seedlings of vegetables and herbs.

     It may not look like much of a difference, but the reader will likely not know what a cotyledon is. You may go on to explain it later, but this is a good place to start to simplify the wording.

    Sunshine fresh

    Smooth, warm conversational writing

    Keep it concise

    Employ user-friendly words and keep sentences and paragraphs short. Nobody hopped online to read lengthy paragraphs to get to the bottom of why their left foot is itchy. Here are two rules to keep in mind:

    1. Sentences should be a maximum of 28 words long.

    2. Paragraphs should be a maximum of 90 words.

    When you look at the numbers, 51% of low-scoring texts have paragraphs that are way too long. The second that readers see a solid block of text, they’ve likely decided to move on. While you’re writing, you can check your word counts to make sure you’re staying in your lane. If you’re having trouble being too wordy, practise writing sentences and removing unnecessary words. This paragraph is about 75 words long; getting bored yet? They should be shorter.

    As for sentences, chop ‘em up! Forget what you learned about proper sentence structure in high school. Keep. It. Simple!

    Use contractions and interjections

    Another great way to work on your conversational writing style is to use contractions. So write isn’t instead of ‘is not’ and didn’t instead of ‘did not’.

    This makes writing sound more casual as if you’re talking directly to your readers.

    When you start using contractions in your writing, you’ll see how it it relaxes the conversational  tone.

    Man pointing to emphasise doing conversational writing correctly

     Interjections are part of natural speech (oops, yikes, bravo) and they’re used to convey emotion and breathe a sense of humanness into writing. Used well they can elevate writing and add interest, but take care to use them sparingly to avoid overkill.

    Ask your readers questions

    One of the best ways to engage your reader is to ask them questions.

    When you’re reading something and the writer asks you a question, it makes you think doesn’t it?

    A question is a great way to get your readers to engage and remember the information from your content.

    It’s also an excellent way to get engagement on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

    Use the right conversational pitch

    When creating a conversational writing style, you should develop your own conversational pitch. That’s part of the fun! It’s also going to make your content memorable and stand out among competitors. It will, of course, depend on your circumstances, but being able to add in tidbits about your personal experience can create a lively connection with your audience.

    If your business needs to appeal to more than one type of client, you may need to wear multiple hats when it comes to tone. But persevere because working out the conversational pitch that a particular group of clients is most comfortable with is a must-do task.

    While creating your personality in conversational writing, don’t be afraid to add in some pizazz. You can throw in interjections like yay! or ouch! to make your content come alive. Feel free to also get WILD and start sentences with those conjunctions and and but that we discussed earlier. You won’t get an F on your English paper for that here.

    Sprinkle sensory language

    Sensory language uses words related to our five senses to add emotion to writing. While sensory words may not sound like a good fit for business writing, the payoffs can be huge.

    Decades ago, American Nobel Laureate Scientist Herbet Simon observed that “In order to have anything like a complete theory of rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it.” The role of emotion in business decision-making remains a much-discussed topic today.

    The Harvard Business Review, for example, has been publishing articles on emotional intelligence for years. And while there’s no formula yet that determines how human decision-making happens, we can garner enough from the science to know that sensory language will influence the way people feel about your products or services.

    Now that we’ve got the science out of the way, let’s look at the categories of sensory language we can use to influence customers and generate leads.

    We can use visual, tactile and auditory words, as well as words that describe taste and smell. We can also put words that depict motion to good use. Sensory words shouldn’t be over-sprinkled, however. Use them strategically for the greatest impact.


    * Click on the categories below to see examples of sensory words.

    Dazzling, shiny, bright, sparkly, sparkling, tight, gloomy, grin-worthy, glint, glimmer, glow, shine, glossy, vibrant, glitter, knotty, murky, polished, wildly, animated, bulky, delicate, frail, wrinkled, grassy, gloomy, feeble, beefy, crinkled

    Razor-sharp, tight, smouldering, faded,  hollow, knife-like, watery, tangle, briny, damp, oily, squelch, slimy, fluffy, rough, smooth, hairy, sticky, chilled, gritty, velvety, soft, creamy, rounded, lukewarm, spiky, boiling, tender, sizzling, tepid

    Thundering, softly, gently, thumping, crashing, tingling, squeaky, piercing, whoosh, squeal, clump, boom, sploosh, crunchy, ear-splitting, roaring, faint, muted, buzz, whine, unspoken, tinkle, deafening, gurgle, squawk, hum, crackle

    Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, spicy, super-spicy, juicy, cucumber cool, crisp, stinky, bite-sized, piece of cake, garden fresh, freshly baked, overpowering, biting, tangy, lemony, minty, sharp, zesty, gooey, deliciously, wildly, intense, fruity, pungent

    Pungent, bitter, perfumed, scented, aroma, aromatic, sniff, odour, billowy, biting, faint, wispy, rich, misty, fishy, lemony, tangy, tart, citrusy, earthy, smoky, pine, flowery, lilac, mouldy, musty, rancid, stagnant, stench, gaseous, sharp, briny

    Stirring, dart, progress, flow, rapid, gradual, steady, slowly, gradual, slight, sudden, stubbornly, vibrating, mind-boggling, bumpy, stamp out, twirl, swirl, whirl, wriggle, soaring, paralysed, eye-popping, motionless, fleeting, zipping

    Sensory words are power words! 

    They engage your reader on deep levels and create a strong emotional connection. Take this example from chocolate maker Green & Black. Sensory words such as crunchy and soft don’t refer to taste, but to touch and sound. Now that’s powerful!

    A creative way to include sensory language in your writing is to insert it into metaphors. This can be evocative and moving, but must be used sparingly to have real impact.

    Metaphors compare two things that are different to suggest an image, likeness or analogy between them. 

    Simple examples of business metaphors are:

    Taking it to a new level and Growing a business.

    Literary metaphors can have an emotional impact on readers, such as:

    ‘My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.’ – John Green, Fault in our Stars.

    ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ – Pablo Picasso

    If you’re interested in using metaphors in your conversational writing, be original and quirky. They have much greater impact when they haven’t been read before.

    Use active voice

    Try to use active voice in conversational writing whenever you can. So, instead of writing ‘The house was sold by the real estate agent,’ write ‘The real estate agent sold the house.’

    In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action on the action’s target. The passive voice is usually clunky and indirect. Avoid using passive constructions and enliven your sentences with active voice. It’s bright, lively and more direct.

    Active voice also enlightens your conversational pitch.

     Google prefers active voice and, if you’re looking to rank, and it’s more aligned with the way people speak. If you’re new at writing in an active voice, just practise until it feels natural.

    Use informal SEO keywords

    When researching keywords to optimise content for search engines, we analyse ‘reader intent’. So we put ourselves into readers’ shoes and try to predict what they’re going to type into the search engine. 

    This is great news for conversational writers because the best ranking keywords are often informal, casual and even slang. People favour a conversational voice when they type queries into Google.

    As I write this (and remember SEO is constantly evolving) 900 people each month are typing the longtail keyword ‘How to do SEO,’ into Google. But only 10 of them are typing in ‘How to understand SEO.’ It tells us everything, doesn’t it? Conversational language is how readers actually think, themselves.

    Check: Are you telling a good story?

    We use stories to understand and find meaning throughout our lives. If the story isn’t complete, we often ponder the ending in our heads.

    There are tremendous benefits in having a story to tell in business writing. Prospective clients are known to make decisions based on the emotional impact they’re experiencing while listening to, or reading, a story. 

    Cassie Gillette, writing for Semrush’s 2022 Global Report, predicts that storytelling in content marketing will be key in 2022–23. ‘If you’re going to work on one skill this year,’ she wrote, ‘work on being a better storyteller’.

    You can use a storytelling structure for any type of business writing, providing the format works with the three components that make a good story – characters, conflict and resolution.

    Hubspot discusses how to elevate your brand and connect with your audience through storytelling in this free download.

    Dazzling conversational copy

    Finely crafted and delivered to your inbox

    Read it out loud

    Wondering if your writing actually sounds conversational, or  if you’ve got the tone right? 

    Have an open mic for yourself and read it out loud! 

    Try reading your content aloud and recording it. Listen to see if it has a conversational flow to it, and if you enjoy hearing it. Another tip for reading out loud is to see where you pause to take a breath.

    A good rule of thumb is that if there is a pause, you should break it into two sentences. This is going to do wonders if you struggle with being super-wordy when you write.

    Watch this video from Kaleigh Moore on how to write conversationally.

    The bottom line

    To sum up, conversational writing is a necessary skill if you want to break through the tsunami of mediocre content on the internet.

    It’s a powerful tool in marketing that will help you stand out among competitors.

    People want personality to shine through when they’re reading content online. They appreciate shiny original text that hasn’t been seen a zillion times before. Sensory language will also add pizzazz, but don’t overdo it.

    Warm, human words they trust because you know them already, as well as what they’re looking for. Be a creative conversational writer, an original thinker with a warm-hearted tone and aim to both educate and entertain your audience.

    Before you leave

    Want to put some punch in your writing? Check out How to make your writing stronger.

    Looking to improve your content marketing writing? You’ll enjoy How to be a good content writer.

    For tips on writing awesome blog posts, see How to write a smashing blog post.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

  • Slow travel writing tips and examples

    A couple walking on the beach in the Bahamas in their swimsuits for the blog post travel writing tips from a professional editor.

    Slow travel writing tips and examples

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    Slow travel focuses on making genuine connections. On first-hand interactions with local people and learning about their traditions and culture.

    It’s about taking a back seat, finding offbeat treasures and listening to local stories.

    Travel readers love storytellers who reveal their sense of humanity and who aren’t afraid to express their feelings. 

    Readers want deep-dive knowledge about the places they’re visiting. 

    They want a writer who can evaluate the environment and provide authentic advice about questions they haven’t considered yet.

    New York Times contributor and seasoned travel writer Tim Neville explained quality travel writing like this:

    Man with suitcase and laptop walking towards transport.

    ‘You need facts, and lots of really captivating ones, but the best travel writing also includes some subtle statement about who we are as humans, and how to make the most of the precious time we have on this great big earth.’

    The following slow travel writing tips and examples will help you identify your readers’ needs and deliver the information and inspiration they’re looking for.

    Before you write a word ask yourself these questions

    Why is this place worth visiting?

    What happens when you do visit?

    Is something at stake?

    Can I see conflict?

    Is there dialogue with locals I can incorporate?

    Girl writing slow travel writing tips and examples

    Leave a subtle nod to something bigger than travel

    The story doesn’t need to revolve around an earth-shattering event.

    It could be a simple adventure, such as finding a historic library among the cobblestone laneways of Rome. A perfect opportunity to take your readers on a journey.

    As Neville reminds us, ‘By the end, I want to be left with a subtle nod to something bigger than just travel.’

    Slow travel writing should also reflect changes occurring in the travel industry – both from the perspective of the destination and that of the traveller.

    If you haven’t chatted to the locals, there’s little point attempting to write authoritatively about a travel destination.

    And even less point if you haven’t researched the demographic you’re writing for, or identified your niche readership.

    Infographic about slow travel writing tips.

    The following slow travel writing tips and examples should help you write authentic, compelling stories about the places you visit.

    Dig a little deeper

    Mont Saint-Michel, in France, is visited by more than 2.5 million tourists annually. 

    How do you explore this magnificent place without being trampled by other tourists?

    Can you find more meaningful experiences to share in print?

    Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. A perfect place for slow travel writing.
    Stay overnight at the spectacular Mont Saint-Michel.

    The answer is an overnight stay. Book early and you can reserve a room in one of the small hotels or B&Bs. This will give you time to explore the landscape and talk to locals. It’s an unforgettable experience and only a handful of other visitors will be joining you.

    Look to locals for the real stories

    The authorities in Venice have recently started charging day visitors a new tax that’s aimed at reducing the number of day travellers descending on the fragile city.

    But look closer and you’ll find a local group, Venezia Autentica, that’s coaxing tourists away from the crowded piazzas. Instead, they’re offering tours and experiences with local guides and artisans.

    The group offers tourists authentic cultural experiences that support the local community and ‘positively impact the city’.

    Of my slow travel writing tips, this is the most important. Peel away the tourism industry veneer and look for meaningful experiences and hidden treasures to write about.

    Many travellers are yearning for authentic travel experiences, and a lot of locals in tourist destinations want visitors to have genuine interactions with the local community.

    Search for gems in the back streets

    Pont Chiodo is the only bridge left in Venice without a parapet (handrail).

    Once upon a time none of Venice’s bridges had parapets. This little treasure is all that’s left.

    There is one other bridge without a parapet on the island of Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon.

    Pont Chiodo is the only bridge left in Venice without a parapet (handrails).
    The only bridge left in Venice without a parapet is Pont Chiodo, which is privately owned.

    It’s known as Devil’s Bridge or Pont del Diavolo.

    It has a tragic folktale attached to it, which you can check out via the link.

    Don’t overlook these gems in the backstreets and focus on local stories and history in your research and writing.

    Explore local myths and stories

    Another example of locals taking action against mass tourism is in the Cinque Terre. There you’ll find a UNESCO-sponsored youth program that’s helping to restore the decaying terraces and stonewalls. For centuries, these walls supported the vertical farming of lemons, apples and vineyards along the rugged coastline.

    View of Manarola from the sea
    Manarola is part of the fragile Cinque Terre, where tourism has been restricted.

    If you research the Cinque Terre online, you’ll find multiple references to the desperate measures being considered to restrict tourism – again because of overcrowding.

    So what do you do as a slow travel writer? It’s easy. You consider the jewels strewn among the backstreets.

    You search for local stories and for travel experiences that will involve your readers in the culture and history of the place.

    Consider writing about the Jewish Ghetto in Carneggrio in Venice (the first ghetto in Europe), instead of more famous and overcrowded places of interest such as the Rialto Bridge and Doge’s Palace. 

    Find one of Florence's best-kept secrets

    In Florence, write about the Laurentian Library, which was designed by Michelangelo, instead of marvelling at David in the Accademia Gallery after long hours in the queue outside.

    The Architectural Digest describes Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence as ‘a revolutionary and rarely crowded masterpiece’.

    Designed by Michelangelo and constructed in the 1500s, it houses the most important collection of antique books and manuscripts in Italy.

    From the freestanding grey stone staircase to the pew-like rows of reading benches, it’s an astounding achievement.

    The Laurentian Library is less than a kilometre from Michelangelo’s David and yet it’s relatively unknown to tourists.

    The little-known jewels are there to be found

    The word ‘ghetto’ is derived from the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which was instituted in 1516. Known as ‘Campo del Ghetto’ it has an ancient and difficult history marked by tragedy and persecution.

    While the ghetto is of tremendous historical significance, along with its five synagogues and world-class museum, tourists are often completely unaware of the existence of this important place.

    In Milan, instead of sending readers to get trampled in the crowd at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, send them to Bosco Verticale. There they’ll find high-rise residential buildings almost completely covered in trees and plants.

    Or, rather than encouraging readers to join the queue at the Milan Cathedral, inspire them to pop around the corner and climb the 250 steps up the staircase to its roof. It’s almost half the price of the elevator and twice the fun.

    Walking on the cathedral rooftop with more than 3,400 marble spires, statues and gargoyles will blow their socks off.

    Slow travel writing is about honouring the place you’re visiting and writing about it with respect and anthenticity.

    Find a secret garden in central Milan

    Go on a treasure hunt and find the Botanical Garden of Brera hidden away in the centre of Milan. You’ll find it through a small gate at the end of an unassuming street.

    There often isn’t a tourist in sight and you may find yourself walking around with a few friendly locals.

    Botanical Garden of Brera in Milan- an example of slow travel writing tips
    Believed to be one of Mozart's favourite places to walk, the Botanical Garden of Brera is one of Milan's secrets.

    Created by Maria Theresa of Austria in 1774, the garden contains two gingko biloba trees that were planted in 1786. (Ginkos are the world’s oldest living trees dating back 250 million years.)

    The garden was also used by apothecaries and doctors to study botany and, according to legend, Mozart once walked around this secret little garden. Perhaps he was composing the Magic Flute as he walked among the hydrangea.

    Are you enjoying these slow travel writing tips and examples? Keep reading for more tips at the end.

    Like what you see?

    Let's talk about your content needs

    Think and walk outside the square

    Think laterally and dig deeper to avoid the overcrowded main attractions.

    Instead of waiting in line for hours to see the interior of the Milan Cathedral send your readers off on an adventure.

    Show them how to climb the staircase up to the roof. It took 600 years to build the magnificent Duomo di Milano and the workmanship on the roof is worth the climb.

    In an interview with the BBC, the inimitable Paul Theroux spoke about the importance of travelling and writing, and he summed it up with this quintessential quote:

    ‘Travel in an uncertain world … has never seemed to me more essential, of greater importance or more enlightening.’

    The art of slow travel and how to make a living from it

    Backpacker Steve (2017). The art of slow travel – Gareth Leonard (A life of travel, Ep3).

    13 slow travel writing tips to help you shine the light


    Write in first person and past tense.


    Identify your reading audience and pitch specifically to them. When you’ve defined your niche stay with it.


    Plot out your travel story, and have a clear narrative that links the beginning to the end. It should never read like an itinerary, or a series of unconnected facts or thoughts.


    Don’t tarry about getting to where you are in the world and where your story is set. Your reader will want to know if your story is relevant to them before investing too much time reading.


    Avoid travel clichés. Be imaginative and make up your own quirky turns of phrase. Also be open to travel writing tips from other writers.


    Use emotion. How did the trip affect you or change your worldview?


    Detail is crucial. Remember what you leave out is as important as what you include.


    Don’t use words like ‘superb’, ‘stunning’, beautiful’ or ‘breathtaking’. Use a synonym finder and find interesting more imaginative substitutes.


    Show, don’t tell. This rule applies to any type of writing, but more so in travel writing. Don’t tell your readers what to think. A good idea is to imagine you’re describing things to a person living with blindness.


    Practise using all your senses when you’re taking notes at your travel destination – smell, taste, sound, touch and sight. This will help you describe things better in your writing.


    Include meaningful quotes and anecdotes from locals. This will add colour and context to your story. Take care to quote exactly and spell names accurately. Don’t run off without jotting down their contact details.


    Always check your facts. This is very important. Verify things people tell you and follow up your own observations. Only use reputable websites for research and double check on a second reputable site.


    Invest in a good camera and learn some basic photography skills. It’s much easier to pitch a travel story when you have good-quality images to go with it. Remember, if you photograph people ask them to sign model releases; otherwise, the photo won’t be accepted for publication. You can find sample model releases here.

    Slow travel writing tips are my job

    When I write blog posts, I’m grateful for my years of experience as an editor and writer.

    Working in a publishing house taught me how to massage content to fit on a page. 

    Writing and editing to an exact word count is a skill that isn’t easily learnt either. I picked that up as a newspaper subeditor.

    When you’ve worked with words every day for more than 13, 14, 15 years (I’ve lost count), writing is second nature. Creating the perfect blog post is a challenge I love.

    Before you go

    If you’re after ways to improve your blog writing check out How to write a smashing blog post.

    Stop right here if you want to know how to Have a slow travel experience.

    And if you love ancient libraries you might like to read Searching for Rome’s oldest public library and The library Michelangelo designed in Florence.


    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

  • Which is that pronoun

    Overhead view of two cute kittens looking up at camera.

    Which is that pronoun

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    Do you worry about using which and that incorrectly? Have you asked yourself: Which is that pronoun?

    Perhaps you’ve thrown your arms up in the air and decided to use both which and that interchangeably?

    Don’t worry, there are likely a lot of people who have done that. 

    Let’s look at it here with examples.

    Which and that can both function as relative pronouns (please don’t lose interest because I used a grammatical term).

    Stay with me and I’ll show you the difference between these two words.

    But first, let’s break it down and look at what a clause is and what a sentence is.

    There are four types of clauses – but there are two things they all have in common.

    They all contain a subject and a verb.

    A subject is the person, or thing, being described or doing the action.

    The  verb is a ‘doing word’ that expresses the physical action, a state of being or a mental action.

    A sentence is a group of words that has a complete meaning within itself.

    It typically contains a subject and a predicate and it conveys a statement,

    command, exclamation or exclamation.

    The sentence contains a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

    *A predicate is the part of the sentence that contains the verb saying something about the subject.

    Watch this explanation about when to use which and that

    Socratica (2015). English grammar basics: That vs. which.

    Two scenarios to consider

    When you have to ask: ‘Which is that pronoun?’ there are two scenarios to consider.

    You need to work out whether the relative pronoun – which or that – is introducing a non-essential relative clause or an essential clause.

    1. What makes it essential (that)?

    An essential relative clause is one that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    If we take the essential relative clause out the sentence it will be affected.

    In fact, the sentence won’t make sense or be complete without it.

    For example – The passenger boarded the bus that was filled with tourists and suitcases.

    In the sentence above ‘that’ is introducing the essential relative clause.

    It contains essential information about the noun that precedes it.

    So if we remove ‘that was filled with tourists and suitcases’,  the sentence won’t be complete or make sense.

    This is how we know to use ‘that’ and not ‘which’ – the information after ‘that’ is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    ‘That’ is an important indicator of an essential clause because it introduces important details to the sentence.

    The computer that Jack left at the sports shop turned up at his house today.

    What makes it non-essential (which)?

    Let’s ask again: Which is that pronoun?

    We can answer this by looking at non-essential relative clauses and the role of ‘which’.

    Non-essential relative clauses contain added information that can be left out without affecting the meaning of the sentence because it’s considered decorative and non-defining.

    For example – I noticed the garden was full of pastel-coloured roses, which were perfumed and lovely.

    If we leave out ‘which were perfumed and lovely’, the sentence still makes sense. It might not contain as much information, but it still functions as a sentence. 

    Sometimes the non-essential clause is in the middle of a sentence, and not the end of it.

    For example – I went to see A Star is Born, which starred Lady Gaga, and I thought it was great.

    In this sentence ‘which starred Lady Gaga’ is the non-essential relative clause.

    It can easily be left out of the sentence without affecting the completeness or the meaning.

    Sure it leaves out some interesting information – but it still functions as a sentence.

    This is how we know it is a non-essential relative clause and we should use ‘which’ not ‘that’.

    Bad grammar? Don't risk it!

    Take your writing to the next level

    The all-important comma

    There is one vital detail that we should consider when using ‘which’ for non-essential clauses in sentences.

    A comma always precedes ‘which’ unless it is preceded by a preposition (in, to, on, after, for, with, under etc). 

    For example – The church, which was being rebuilt, was not open for visitors.

    Note: it is also okay to use spaced en dashes instead of commas.

    For example – The church – which was being rebuilt – was not open for visitors.

     A sentence with a non-essential clause will have either two commas framing it or one comma and a full stop.

    Today I walked to the market, which was five blocks from my apartment.

    Today I walked to the market, which was five blocks from my apartment, to buy some mangos.

    Which is that pronoun? Some tips to help you decide

    If you’re trying to work out whether to use which or that, try inserting a comma before ‘which’, and if it doesn’t make sense you know to use ‘that’ instead.

    The Prime Minister was in a meeting, which required the attendance of the Minister for Health. (Incorrect)

    Or try this – The Prime Minister was in a meeting that required the attendance of the Minister for Health. (Correct)

    Inserting a comma before ‘which’ shows us that we’re using the wrong word, but if you substitute which for that the sentence doesn’t require the comma and is more meaningful.

    Illustration of man and woman asking 'Which is that pronoun?'

    Remember, if you insert a comma before ‘which’  does the sentence still make sense?

    If it doesn’t, it means you should replace ‘which’ with ‘that’.

    For example – The shop that sells fresh flowers is always preferable to one which sells chocolates. (Incorrect)

    Or this version – The shop that sells fresh flowers is always preferable to one that sells chocolates. (Correct)

    Using which or that incorrectly can change the meaning of a sentence

    The Australian Government Style Manual provides the following examples to demonstrate how using which or that incorrectly can change the intended meaning of a sentence.

    The research findings that were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.

    This sentence makes it clear that the research findings not circulated were the ones likely to cause embarrassment.

    The research findings which were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.

    This sentence is ambiguous – were all the findings withheld or just the embarrassing ones?

    The research findings, which were likely to cause embarrassment, were never circulated.

    It’s obvious that none of the recommendations were circulated.

    In the first example, the use of ‘that’ makes it a defining or essential relative clause – so it provides defining, essential information that defines the subject.

    But the second example is ambiguous and you shouldn’t write sentences like this.

    The third example, with the pair of commas framing the clause, is a non-essential relative clause.

    Note the information inside the commas is decorative and not essential to the main point.

    I hope you no longer need to ask: Which is that pronoun?

    Think of it like the two cups of coffee in this photo. 

    They appear to be the same, but there are subtle differences that could get you into trouble.

    Overhead shot of two cups of coffee used as a model for the grammar question 'Which is that pronoun?'

    If you drink your coffee out of the cup on the right, you might be bargaining for more than you can manage.

    Which is that pronoun?

    Relative pronouns were a bugbear of mine when I was studying to be an editor. It can be one of those language conundrums that are difficult to grasp.

    But once you’ve got it, you never forget it.

    Before you leave

    If you’re interested in good grammar, you might also enjoy reading Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    What to pack a punch with your writing? Check out How to make your writing more powerful.

    And find out what errors to avoid in 9 common errors every writers should know about.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

  • Want to write a great speech?

    Red curtains and microphones waiting for a speech to be delivered

    Want to write a great speech?

    ✣ By Sharon Lapkin

    If you want to write a great speech that has a lasting impact on your audience, you’re going to need more than fancy words.

    You’ll need to:


    Use eye contact, body language, a warm tone of voice and facial expressions.


    Acknowledge and engage your audience.


    Add current research, data and even personal observations.


    Include storytelling and practise it with friends first; people love a good story.


    Create a change of pace every 10 minutes, so people don’t lose interest.


    Practise and deliver a great ‘wow’ moment.


    Start strong and finish on time.

    A speech is not an essay

    It’s not easy to write a great speech if you approach it as if you’re writing an essay.

    Your audience won’t see punctuation marks on a written page. It will be up to you to convey the commas and exclamation marks throughout your delivery. 

     As John Coleman writes ‘when delivering a speech, you are your punctuation’.

    Do your research

    In order to write a great speech, you need to understand your audience’s emotional reactions and physical capabilities. Remember, the speech is for them, not you.



    Infographic with 4 facts that matter if you want to write a great speech

    What we can learn from the greatest speeches

    One of the greatest speeches ever written was delivered by Winston Churchill in 1940. It was so powerful it changed hearts and minds.

    When Churchill took over the reins of power, things were looking very grim for the cause of human freedom.

    The Germans had just triumphed over the Allies in France and the British army only barely slipped away at Dunkirk, abandoning its heavy weapons and equipment.

    In London, a pro-appeasement faction within the British cabinet was arguing for peace negotiations with Hitler.

    But Churchill rejected this defeatist advice and rose to the dispatch box in the House of Commons where he gave a speech that literally changed the course of history.

    We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

    Winston Churchill (1940)
    Sir Winston Churchill on how to write a great speech

    One observer described this event in his diary as: ‘a magnificent oration, which obviously moved the House’.

    Another MP wrote that the prime minister’s words were ‘worth 1000 guns and the speeches of 1000 years’.

    By the time Churchill resumed his seat, the entire landscape of British politics had shifted.

    The push for appeasement evaporated and the nation resolved to fight on against Nazi Germany. We know now that this saved Western civilisation.

    While the challenges faced by corporate communications departments may not be so dramatic these days, the need to convey a coherent message in eloquent form remains important.

    When you write a speech, you’re applying a distinct discipline that requires a particular suite of talents and experience.

    Speechwriting requires a different set of skills than those you’d use to write office communications content.

    A great speech should be almost poetic, imbued with a rhythmic quality that enlivens and inspires.

    When it’s done, the audience should be left thinking and talking about what’s been said and the way it was said.

    For those special events, such as a retirement dinner or annual general meeting, truly memorable words can make a big difference.

    Principles of speechwriting

    Let’s look in detail at how to write a great speech.

    Big bang theory

    It’s been said that you have only one opportunity to make a first impression.

    That means only one chance to pique the interest of your audience, and it’s at the beginning.

    Start with a strong ‘hook’ because if you lose your listeners at the beginning, you’ll never get them back.

    Paint with words

    Use colourful, evocative language to generate powerful images that will resonate with your audience.

    A tremendous example of this can be found in one of Barack Obama’s most famous speeches. He used potent imagery to describe the marches from Selma to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King Jr, in support of voting rights for all African Americans.

    Barack Obama standing with his arms crossed in front of US flag

    The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

    Barack Obama (2015)

    Junk your jargon

    The 1996 French film Ridicule tells a story about the court of Louis XVI at Versailles, where status was dependent on a witty tongue.

    While a well-directed quip might elevate you in Royal favour, any resort to pun brought social death.

    What’s the difference? It’s originality.

    Always try to be creative in your use of language.

    Overused phrases and clichéd expressions will consign your words to mediocrity.

    Stay on message when you write a speech

    Try to confine your speech to a single major theme.

    Subsidiary themes may be woven into the text, but only if they support and illustrate the primary story you’re trying to tell.

    A scattershot approach to writing a speech will make the end product superficial and that, in turn, will make your words eminently forgettable.

    Pass the tissues

    When you write a speech, conclude with a tug at the heart strings.

    It could be an uplifting invocation of your company’s founding principles.

    Or perhaps a heartfelt appeal on behalf of your favourite charity.

    Woman crying holding tissues up to her nose – how to write a great speech

    Perhaps a further display of your authenticity, where you let down your guard a little and share something personal.

    However you end your speech, remember that ending on an emotive note will make your words resonate with the audience long after your speech is over.

    Technique is everything

    The speechwriter has many rhetorical devices that, when used in the right place and at the right time, make words powerful and memorable.

    Use the acronym TARMAC to remember the list below

    Tricolon is the use of words, phrases, examples, or the beginnings or endings of phrases or sentences in threes – as in ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ (Abraham Lincoln), or ‘never in the history of human endeavour has so much been owed by so many to so few’ (Winston Churchill).

    Alliteration is the repeated sound of the first or second letter in a series of words, or the repetition of the same letter sounds in stressed syllables of a phrase, as in the line from Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the ancient mariner’ – ‘for the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky.’

    Rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds (or the same sound) in two or more words.

    This is most often in the final syllables of lines in poems and songs.

    Metaphor is a juxtaposition of two distinct things that asserts they are essentially the same; as in the ancient Greek saying ‘fame is but the perfume of heroic deeds’.

    Antithesis is the technique of contrasting two different ideas in the same sentence or two consecutive sentences; as in ‘speech is silver but silence is golden.’

    Chiasmus is a very effective technique where the words in one phrase or clause are reversed in the next; as in ‘just because you’re born in the slum does not mean the slum is born in you.’

    Simile is comparing two things that use the preposition ‘like’ or ‘as’ to highlight their similarities.

    An example is in the words of poet Robert Burns when he wrote: ‘O my Luve’s like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.’

    Two useful tools

    To measure the number of words you speak in a minute or 10, check the Words to Minutes calculator.

    If you’re after an accurate webpage word count, see the Web Page Word Counter.

    Watch Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

    Motivation Ark (2020). Steve Jobs, One of the greatest speeches ever.

    Remember this:

    When you write a speech it’s more art than science, and it’s an art that requires a particular suite of expertise and experience.

    If you want to write a great speech, take the time to read and watch well-known speeches and analyse those elements that made them unforgettable.

    To read more about writing a speech,  you can go to this page on the Textshop website.

    Also see our blog post on How to make your writing more powerful.

    You can organise a chat with our resident speechwriter by pressing the button below.

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  • How to have a slow travel experience

    Woman in red dress with suitcase walking down a country road into the horizon.

    How to have a slow travel experience

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    A slow travel experience can change you for life. It’s challenging, exhilarating and can squeeze you right out of your comfort zone. 

    Why is it then, that some of us start planning our next trip within weeks of returning from our last one?

    The reason’s not so simple.

    When you travel, you take risks and make decisions on the run. Depending on where you go, there’s likely to be a different culture, different language and different food.

    There’s a good chance you’re escaping a drab winter too. Suddenly, you’re looking at turquoise water instead of grey skies.

    Your brain has to re-think how to go about almost everything – all those things you take for granted. Suddenly, you’re recalculating every assumption you’ve ever made.

    You figure out how to be polite in a different setting, and accept the uncertainty of never knowing if you have been.

    For many of us, these scenarios are both challenging and thrilling. Our natural boundaries start slipping away and we embrace difference without knowing if we can trust our ability to deal with it.

    Train station in Europe with suitcases on the platform ready for a slow travel experience.

    Even if we don’t acknowledge it, it’s exhilarating. Starry-eyed wonder follows you around when you’re travelling in another country.

    When we’re having a slow travel experience, we become hyper-aware of our environment and the need to be more agreeable and tolerant.

    Travel increases your emotional stability

    Travelling must be embraced wholeheartedly if it’s to be experienced in a meaningful way.

    If we don’t, what’s the point? We may as well stay at home.

    For those of us who are givers and carers, the sandal is on the other foot because, as travellers, we’re seeking our own experiences instead of providing them for others.

    An interesting study by Zimmermann and Neyer in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at personality development in university students studying abroad.

    Over the course of an academic year, the researchers found that students had increased levels of three of the five personality dimensions —’Openness’ (to experience), ‘Agreeableness’ (the need to get along), and ‘Neuroticism’ (emotional stability). It all adds up doesn’t it. Travel really can change you in meaningful ways.

    A slow travel experience makes you more creative

    Columbia Business School Professor Adam Galinsky is the author of several studies on the connection between international travel and creativity.

    He found that creativity is greatest when travellers are able to immerse themselves and engage with the local environment.

    Young man focusing a camera thinking about his slow travel experience.

    In Galinsky’s most recent work, he examined 11 years of collections from the world’s top fashion houses. He concluded that ‘the foreign professional experiences of creative directors predicted the creativity ratings for their collections.’

    The foreign professional experiences of leaders can be ‘a critical catalyst for creativity and innovation’ in their workplaces,’ he said.

    Travel helps you know yourself better

    Being alone in a foreign country can be frightening, but a slow travel experience can also be a great opportunity to discover your own resourcefulness.

    This is especially true if you have an itinerary that includes catching trains, planes and buses.

    Obtaining timetable information from somebody who doesn’t speak your language can be a lesson in linguistics and hand gesturing.

    It’s not just the overt information, but the cultural nuances and local knowledge you can miss if you’re not plugged into environmental cues.

    As well as improving your problem-solving skills, a slow travel experience gives you plenty of opportunities to be alone.

    The geographical distance between you and your loved ones provides a chance to think deeply about your relationships.

    Some things are seen more clearly from a distance.

    Being away from home and all its conveniences leaves you free of possessions.

    This provides a unique space in your personal timeline to embrace experiences, rather than things.

    Girl sitting by the side of the road with her bicycle thinking about her slow travel experience.

    Remember that anonymous quote: ‘Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer’? This is true, and it’s how travel can change you.

    Handwashing clothes, shopping for singular pieces of fresh fruit and mapping out daily activities all wind your speedometer back to walking pace.

    In fact, walking until you get lost without fear of being lost is a great way to find yourself.

    Sunshine fresh

    Smooth, warm conversational writing

    Travel shows you the world

    Whether it’s catching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, walking the Path of the Gods in the mountains above Positano, or standing in the glistening light of the Pantheon’s oculus —there is wonder and awe all around us.

    A slow travel experience also colours in experiences and ideas that only existed in black and white.

    It’s the most multi-dimensional learning available.

    There’s no doubt that travel can change you.

    It challenges assumptions and belief systems about your relationship with the world.

    Travel also exposes you to things you never thought about until you encountered diverse cultures.

    Travelling colours in experiences and ideas that only existed in black and white.

    Watch a slow traveller talk about her experiences

    A slower life (2015). 

    Travel makes us better people

    Picture a village bus winding up the very narrow mountain road from Amalfi to Ravello.

    In front of you the driver is holding onto the steering wheel with one hand.

    He takes the hairpin bends with seemingly reckless ease as he smiles and flirts with a gorgeous Italian woman standing near him.

    You’re sure he’s showing off.

    To your right the road melts into cliff tops that fall away into the Tyrrhenian Sea hundreds of metres below.

    You look at the other passengers and they don’t appear concerned at all.

    Meanwhile, your anxiety is through the roof. What do you do?

    You take a deep breath, cross your fingers, say a prayer, meditate or focus on some small detail in front of you.

    Like other travellers who find they’re in uncomfortable situations they can’t change, you practise calmness.

    You tolerate something you’re not accustomed to, even if it makes you squirm.

    You become more adaptable, more adventurous and more confident when you travel.

    Because you’re constantly on the move you learn to embrace the unexpected and to think on your feet.

    To survive you have to develop high levels of patience and tolerance.

    A slow travel experience also turns you into a storyteller.

    The picturesque winding road along the Amalfi Coast in Italy – travel can change you
    The picturesque winding road along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

    Journalling, taking photos and posting on social media are important mementos of unforgettable journeys.

    But the most significant experiences are those that take place internally and change our lives forever.

    Before you go

    After a few travel writing tips? You might enjoy Slow travel writing tips and examples.

    If ancient libraries in foreign lands fascinate you, dive into Searching for Rome’s oldest public library.

    You might be surprised to learn that Michelangelo designed a library in Florence.It’s true! Take a look at The library Michelangelo designed.

    Like what you see?

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  • How to edit an annual report

    One hand on a calculator and the other on a keyboard

    How to edit an annual report

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    Will you edit an annual report this year?

    If the answer is yes, hold on because I’m about to share some guidelines and pointers that will help you do a great job.

    After copyediting and proofreading annual reports for years, I developed a simple checklist process that picks up often-missed errors.

    I can’t wait to tell you about it.

    Annual reports should be easy to read

    If you’ve worked on an annual report, you’ll know that multiple writers are involved in creating content.

    These writers can be subject matter experts, content writers and in-house staff, and each one of them has a distinct writing style and tone of voice.

    As an editor, one of your jobs is to pull all of these different styles and voices into one writing style with a single voice.

    If done well, this uniformity helps increase clarity, consistency and ease of reading.

    It's raining acronyms and abbreviations

    Woman flying through letters of the alphabet trying to work out how to edit an annual report.

    One of the challenges when you edit an annual report is managing acronyms and abbreviations.

    When multiple  writers are working on a report, they can insert the same acronyms and

    abbreviations that have already been added by their colleagues. This creates problems because there’s no one writer managing the long and short versions of the same acronym or abbreviation.

    Readers then stumble upon the short forms (e.g. PHN) and don’t  know what they mean.

    If there’s no glossary, they have to search back through the pages to locate the first time the acronym was expanded. 

    Frustrating right?

    Let me show you how I manage this problem when I edit an annual report.

    I keep a notepad on hand and, as I edit, I list every abbreviation and acronym in the report.

    After I’ve completed the edit, I use the ‘Search’ function in Word (or PDF) to locate and check that every acronym and abbreviation is written out in full in the first instance.

    Then I do the reverse, and search for the written-out forms and convert these to abbreviations and acronyms.

    Remember that the acronym or abbreviation following the written-out form should be enclosed in brackets on the first instance only.

    For example: Sustainable Responsible Investment (SRI). From that point on use the acronym or abbreviation only.

    TIP: When searching for a group of words in the search function bar, place double quotation marks around the entire group of words. For example: “Key Performance Indicators”.

    The all-important question

    How often should I write out the acronym or abbreviation (e.g. Investment Committee (IC)) so readers know what it means?

    There are two ways to approach this question.

    First, if there’s a glossary in the annual report add all the acronyms and abbreviations to it. Then write the acronym or abbreviation out in full the first time only.

    For example: The new Chair of the Investment Committee (IC) was previously a member of the IC. 

    Second, if there’s no glossary – and I strongly advise you to suggest one be included for reading ease – write out the acronym or abbreviation when it first appears in every section. If the sections are short, you can get away with refreshing readers’ memories every couple of sections.

    Invest in a copyeditor and make your annual report shine


    Why a glossary is essential

    Readers can get lost in the text if they’re reading an annual report that doesn’t include a glossary.

    Every time readers forget what an acronym or abbreviation stands for, they have to flick back through the pages and search for the first or last time it was written out.

    Annoying right? 

    Now ask yourself how readers feel after decoding a report full of acronyms and abbreviations. It’s likely they’re frustrated by all the interruptions to their reading.

    A good editor thinks constantly about the reader’s perspective. After all, the purpose of editing and proofreading is to eliminate errors and improve readability.

    This includes asking why and how people read annual reports. We know readers are often looking for specific information and don’t read reports from front to back.

    So, it’s not difficult to see that annual reports benefit from having a glossary.

    If a glossary is out of the question, introduce the written-out form with the acronym or abbreviation in brackets after it (i.e. Investment Committee (IC)). Then ensure it’s written out again when it first appears in a new section.

    Did you know the first modern corporate annual report was published almost 120 years ago?

    In 1903, American company United States Steel Corporation published an annual report that included financial pages certified by Price, Waterhouse & Co.

    If you’d like to take a look at this historic document, you can download it here.

    US Steel Annual Report example of how to proofread an annual report

    How to edit legislation

    Almost every annual report mentions or discusses some form of legislation. 

    There’s a correct way to introduce legislation and here’s what to look out for when you edit an annual report.

    You’ll see phrases such as ‘to the extent permitted under the Corporations Act 2001‘ and ‘as required by the Corporations Act’.

    From an editorial perspective both of these are incorrect if they’re introduced into the report in this way.

    Use the formal name of the Act, including the jurisdiction, when writing legislation for the first time. 

    So it would be ‘to the extent permitted under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)’, and note the jurisdiction (Cth) isn’t italicised.

    After writing the legislation out in full on its first mention, shorten it to ‘Corporations Act’ from that point on, but don’t italicise it unless it’s written in full.

    The Australian Government Style Manual has been revised recently, and if you’re writing or editing a report for a government department you’ll want to check it out.

    You’ll see that it differs from what I’ve recommended here, and that’s because I prefer a more precise editorial convention.

     As the editor, your first preference for editorial style should be the company’s own style guide.

    What about the financials?

    Accountants prepare the section of the annual report known as ‘the financials’.

    Edit this section with a light touch and don’t edit the columns or rows of numbers. If something looks wrong, flag it for the in-house accountant or a subject matter expert to check. 

    Check table, figure and graph headings. Then edit the text in tables, bullet lists and footnotes.

    Lastly, take a wide-angle look at the financials. A correctly formatted financial report will have symmetry.

    Rows and columns will align and footnotes and table notes will run sequentially.

    Don’t be afraid to flag anything for the accountant that looks incorrect or out of place. 

    Capitalisation doesn't need to be a headache

    Will I use upper case or lower case? Believe me you’ll ask this question a hundred times if you don’t have a process in place.

    Most companies have a style guide explaining their capitalisation preferences. You can also refer to the company’s most recent annual report on their website.

    As you work through your proofread, you’ll see that writers use capitalisation differently. For example, one writer might write ‘risk management framework’ and another will write ‘Risk Management Framework’. 

    Making capitalisation consistent is a tricky job when there are dozens of industry-specific words that are both upper case and lower case throughout the report.

    This is where I use my  checklist process again.

    Get out your trusty notepad and write down every capitalised word you see as you proofread. When you spot a lower-case word that looks wrong, write that down too. 

    After you’re done, it’s time to make decisions. Make an informed call on capitalisations using the resources already discussed. 

    Now repeat the process you used for acronyms and abbreviations. Search the entire report in either Word or PDF for the word or term, and ensure each one is consistently lower case or capitalised.

    This type of search function enables you to do a perfect edit on capitalised terms.

    Man with headache when he's going to proofread an annual report

    Capitalisation in director bios

    A common mistake when editing annual reports is the capitalisation of former titles in directors’ biographies.

    Use this rule to ensure you never get it wrong:

    Capitalise current titles and lower case former titles. 


    Read carefully to ensure you’re identifying former and current roles in the bios. Following is an example.

    Jane Smith joined the Board as a Non-executive Director in 2020. Her past roles include director of XYZ, chairperson of the PQR Foundation and partner in X&M.

    Eliminate these words from the report

    Two words are red flags when you edit an annual report. They are ‘above’ and ‘below’.

    Writers will often refer to a table, or a point they’ve made previously, with directives such as ‘see the table below’ or ‘as explained above’.

    You’re probably wondering why this is a problem.

    After the designer lays out the report, these words or the item they’re referring to can end up on another page.  Neither the writer nor the editor knows where the page breaks will fall when they’re writing or proofing the report. 

    The ‘table below’ may not be below any longer – but at the top the next page. 

    So when you eliminate these words you’re avoiding  potential errors.

    You’ve likely seen this yourself in published material. It’s a common error in publications with tight deadlines.

    There’s a simple fix for this. Substitute above and below for words such as ‘following’ and ‘previous’. Even ‘here’ can work.

    For example: ‘See the following table,’ and ‘where mentioned previously’ work because it doesn’t matter whether content has flowed onto the next page.

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    Check out these websites for more information on annual reports

    Read CPA [Chartered Practising Accountants] Australia on Understanding Annual Reports.

    See the Australian Government’s Annual reports for Commonwealth companies for guidelines on writing and publishing annual reports, plus templates to help.

    Check out the design experts at  Twelve Creative for all your annual report needs.

    Want to know more?

    Are you after more information on writing or editing annual reports? Great! Check out my blog post: 6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor.

    If you want to read about blogs for business Does my business need a blog is a great place to start.

    Or, if you’ve been thinking about implementing an SEO strategy, read Is SEO really needed first.

    If your annual report needs work or a thorough edit, I’m here for you! Just press the black button below.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

  • How to unblock writer’s block

    Woman standing on beach at edge of water holding sarong above her head in relaxed carefree mode.

    How to unblock writer’s block

    By Sharon Lapkin

    Most of us are not as lucky as Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner, who said he only wrote when he was inspired – which happened to be at 9 am every morning.

    Working out how to unblock writer’s block can be difficult when you’re stuck in the middle of it. It disrupts your workflow and undermines your self-confidence. It can also lead to more serious health issues when frustration turns into self-doubt, stress and anxiety. 

    So what can you do to unblock writer’s block? 

    Here are seven evidence-based ways to get you moving again.

    1. Do some mindless work

    Have you ever noticed that a great creative idea comes to you when you’re doing something mundane like taking a shower or washing the floor?  

    More than a decade ago researchers Kimberly Elsbach and Andrew Hargadon, from the University of California, proposed that creativity could be enhanced by episodes of mindless work.

    They pointed to studies by Alice Isen that demonstrated there were improved problem-solving and unusual word association among workers with demanding jobs when they incorporated mindless tasks into their daily workflows. These included photocopying, cleaning and unpacking supplies. 

    Man watering garden while trying to work out how to unblock writer's block.

    This evidence suggests that going offline will help get your brain working in innovative ways.

    It helps to do something simple and easy.

    Put space between yourself and the task at hand.

    Pull some weeds out of the garden, prune the hedge, go for a walk, or do a simple cleaning or tidying task. 

    Note, though, that mindless work

    doesn’t include participating in social media, even if you’re only reading other people’s posts. This type of online activity simply substitutes cognitive tasks with visual distractions.

    2. Write to yourself

    In his 50s author Graham Greene encountered writer’s block for the first time.

    He discovered that keeping a dream journal provided an avenue for expression that freed him from conscious anxiety.

    Free writing, stream of consciousness writing and brainstorming are all exercises that enable us to write to ourselves without fear of judgement from others.

    This can free up obstructions and impediments, and clear the way for fearless creativity.

    Self doubt and lack of confidence can drive creativity to ground, so developing ways to protect yourself when you need support can help keep you on task when you don’t want to deal with criticism. And let’s face it we all have times when naysayers can affect our confidence.

    This creative activity is good if you’re working on how to unblock writer’s block.

    3. Get granular

    Forget the big picture for the time being.

    Drill down to the details and focus on one issue at a time. Write a list of all the things you should have done this week, even if they’re not work-related, and work through them crossing off each item as it’s completed.  

    Purchase a personal planner, or organiser, and map out your entire day or week. Buy planner stickers and use them to mark up important events in your planner.


    Get structured and organised. Don’t worry if it’s not your usual style, try it anyway.

    Inserting order into your daily timetable, even if it’s a temporary fix, can help minimise any chaos that might be crippling your creativity. 

    That feeling you get when you complete something that’s been hanging around for ages might be the kickstart you’ve been waiting for. 

    Notepad and pens on a desk for working out how to unblock writer's block.

    4. Ask yourself questions and set a deadline

    Write questions to yourself.

    Who is my audience?

    What do l need to deliver?

    Does my interpretation correlate with what my manager wants?   

    Asking the right questions will help clarify the project and identify any red herrings. Examine your answers and ask more questions if necessary.

    If discrepancies arise between your questions and answers, consider how to resolve them and collaborate with colleagues if necessary. 

    If you don’t have a deadline, set one for yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure though.

    Put realistic pressure on yourself to give ‘you’ a little push. For example, make an appointment for the day following your deadline so there are real-life consequences if you don’t meet it. 

    5. Redesign the task

    Does your thinking start with a conclusion? Indian philosopher J.Krishnamurti said that ‘to think from a conclusion is not to think at all’.

    He explained that it was ‘because the mind starts from a conclusion, from a belief, from experience, from knowledge, that it gets caught in routine, in the net of habit.’

    Does this sound like you? If it does, discard your conclusion and redesign the task.

    Skip the beginning and start at the end. Work backwards. Tip your ideas upside down and dive into the creative process anew.

    Work through your process to arrive at the conclusion – don’t allow your thinking to become routine and habitual. 

    How to unblock your writer’s block is becoming clearer, right?

    6. Take care of your brain

    When the brain’s frontal lobe, or Broca’s area, is damaged, it can result in aphasia. This is an impairment of the mind’s language capacity that hinders speech.

    When writer’s block affects writers, it results in an inability to write down the words they want – to make connections and create stories. 

    For several years, neurologists have produced studies demonstrating that the prefrontal cortex is crucial to creative thinking.

    More recently, a series of clinical observations has emerged that demonstrates the ‘facilitation of artistic production in patients with neurodegenerative diseases affecting the FTD [prefrontal cortex]’, such as frontotemporal dementia.  

    This fascinating paradox is being examined further, but what we can take away from the research is that brain health is complex and essential to cognitive reasoning. 

    Fruit, veges, grains, fish and olive oil that contribute to working out how to unblock writer's block.

    Eat well for brain health

    Good diet is one important way to keep your brain healthy and functioning optimally.   

    Dr Jenny Brockis wrote in Better Brain Health, that while it’s beneficial to eat particular foods for brain health, it’s the combination of different foods, or the diet in general, that matters most.  

    So look at a Mediterranean-style diet, as well as the components of it, such as leafy greens, vegetables, fish, olive oil, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats.

    Put them all together in a consistent way and make eating for brain health a regular part of your life, not a novelty or fad. A healthy diet will provide benefits for many other aspects of your life as well as brain health.

    7. Creativity needs sleep

    Keeping your brain healthy is also dependant on getting enough sleep. A little more sleep could also help you unblock writer’s block. 

    Years ago, a report in Springer’s nature journal concluded that sleep played a major role in the development of insight.

    By consolidating recent memories it is possible, the authors concluded, that the ‘representational structure’ of memories is changed during sleep and this process allows ‘insight’ to develop. 

    We also know from tests over a long period of time that divergent thinking, which is cognitive method used to generate multiple ideas about a topic and explore lots of different solutions, diminishes when people are sleep-deprived.

    Most of us also know, through our own experience, that vivid insights can be experienced when people are sleeping or just waking.

    Woman sleeping and dreaming about how to unblock her writer's block.

    According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep deficiency can have detrimental effects on our bodies, including our brains. It is linked to increased heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.  

    The bad news doesn’t stop there. Not getting enough sleep is also linked to human error and serious accidents.

    This is because sleep helps the brain to function properly, and a lack of it can make it difficult to make decisions, solve problems, control emotions and minimise risk-taking behaviour. 

    How much sleep do you need? Experts say it varies across individuals, but six hours is generally too little and eight hours is usually adequate.

    This is not to say that some people won’t need 10 hours sleep a night to function optimally. 

    Is it more than writer's block?

     Sometimes a prolonged inability to be creative can be a sign that something else is wrong.

    It’s important to differentiate between, for example, depression and writer’s block.

    For some people, trying to work out how to unblock writer’s block is not straightforward. If you think there may be more to your writer’s block than a temporary lapse of focus and motivation, you should seek expert medical advice.

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  • 6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor

    6 common errors in annual reports

    6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor

    By Sharon Lapkin

    A company’s annual report is an important and ongoing component of its corporate financial reporting. It provides information to shareholders and other stakeholders about the company’s financial performance over the past year.

    Following are my six most important annual report writing tips. They include common errors that I’ve seen over the past 14 years as an editor, and my advice on how to avoid them.

    Annual reports are publicly available, so they’re the public face of the company.

    They provide transparency about the activities of the company over the previous 12 months, and are an opportunity to showcase the company’s success, community work and global conscience.

    Prospective investors, creditors, analysts, employees, and any other interested parties, can study and analyse the company’s growth. They can read about its ability to pay its suppliers, whether it makes a profit and what proportion of its earnings is retained to develop the company. 

    Now (after a little quote from Warren Buffet) let’s take a look at my annual report writing tips.

    When I take a look at a company’s annual report,

    if I don’t understand it, they don’t want me to understand it.

    – Warren Buffett

    Smooth out the inconsistencies

    Figure number one above a highrise building showing first tip in annual report writing tips.

    Annual reports are usually multi-authored, and this can create consistency issues.

    Each section writer has a different writing style, and these contributing writers are often not aware of what others are writing.

    Readers suffer the consequences of this disconnect. They grow tired of the inconsistencies and instead of reading on, they flick through the pages to check they’re not missing vital information then close the report.

    The annual report isn’t the place to tell stories – or the place to take three pages to say something you could say in one. It’s a dynamic publication – one that presents information in clear unambiguous terms, without rambling or repetition. 

    A good annual report addresses all stakeholders, and presents precise information in informative and interesting ways.

    Minimise jargon and acronyms

    Figure number 2 above a highrise building showing second tip in annual report writing tips.

    Using industry-specific jargon and acronyms is the easiest way to communicate if you work in-house.

    Your work colleagues all understand this codified way of communicating. But when it comes to the company annual report, please don’t do it. It’s a sure-fire way to alienate and lose readers.

    If you need to use industry-specific terms, acronyms and abbreviations, spell out the short form in the first instance and then use that short form thereafter. See this practice in the following example.

    A new LMS (learning management system) was installed in July this year, and by early August the LMS was fully functional.

    If you haven’t repeated the short form (LMS) for a few pages and are not sure readers will remember its meaning do the following:

    The LMS [learning management system] was an expensive investment.

    The conventional use of square brackets is for editorial comment. In this case you’re reminding the reader what LMS stands for. Don’t do it too often; however, it’s a good save to help your readers.

    Also create a glossary in your annual report that includes explanations and definitions of these terms for your readers. But don’t forget to tell them where it is. Add ‘See Glossary’ in round brackets after terms that need clarifying, and ensure the Glossary is in the report’s Table of Contents with a page number.

    Finding these annual report writing tips useful? Great! Keep reading.

    Be forthright

    Figure number 3 above a highrise building showing third tip in annual report writing tips

    Transparency is your keyword.

    Don’t leave out meaningful analysis in your annual report.

    If your company’s performance has been poor, or there’s been an unfortunate work accident, be upfront and address it.

    A good writer, together with a good editor, is a great support here.

    Work with them and rely on their expertise to communicate this type of information in the most appropriate way. 

    Don't leave it all to the designer

    Figure number 4 above a highrise building

    Don’t hire a graphic designer and think you’ve got the project covered.

    Designers aren’t responsible for grammar or punctuation, or for the factual accuracy of the content you give them. Remember, a designer is an intrinsic part of the team, but you also need an editor.

    A professional editor will work with your writer/s or project manager and they will know when and how to raise queries.

    Good editors know how a designer works. They know how text and graphics should sit on a page, and they work with the designer to fit your content perfectly. Page fitting is a tricky skill and a vital part of an editor’s toolkit.

    The designer and editor work collaboratively to make your annual report a professional publication. Every page is perfectly pitched and error-free, and you can trust that your annual report writing is being treated with respect.

    Leave the numbers to the accountants

    Figure number 5 above a highrise building showing fifth tip in annual report writing tips.

    But what about the numbers?

    An accountant prepares the financial information in an annual report. If it’s a large company, it may be a team of accountants.

    A lawyer may also be involved in preparing the financial and legislative content. A professionally trained editor knows how to work with subject-matter experts, such as lawyers and accountants.

    Editors won’t edit the financials in an annual report. Instead, they’ll leave queries for the accountant and/or lawyer if something doesn’t look correct or appears to be missing.

    This is the most important annual report writing tip because meddling with accountant’s numbers will get you into a world of mess.

    Pulling it all together without errors

    Figure number 6 above a highrise building.

    With so many people contributing to an annual report, it’s possible that a single company employee will struggle to pull it all together at the end of the writing process.

    A company employee can overlook, for example, the text on the spine of their company’s annual report. They might even send it to the printer unchecked. Yes! Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen.

    More than 1,000 copies were printed with the wrong date on the spine because the designer hadn’t updated the template from the previous year.

    Spine errors are one of the commonest mistakes in publishing, and the consequences are always embarrassing and expensive.

    This is why a professional editor is invaluable. Their checklists cover every aspect of the publishing process and they perform an extensive prepress check for you.

    When they sign off your annual report, you’ll be confident it’s error-free and ready to publish. That last-minute check of the spine has been done too!

    Before you go

    I hope you’ve found these annual report writing tips useful.

    For more information on the requirements of an annual report go to the CPA [Chartered Practising Accountants] website.

    If you’d like to read more great tips on editing reports check out How to edit an annual report.

    You might also want to read about the unique method I use when editing reports in How to copyedit like an expert.

    Invest in a copyeditor and make your annual report shine