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  • 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. 

    1.

    Sensory language provides vivid detailed imagery.

    2.

    Research shows that the brain processes sensory language faster.

    3.

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

    4.

    It injects personality and animation into your writing.

    5.

    Your writing is stronger and more powerful.

    6.

    Sensory language helps you captivate your audience.

    7.

    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 soft green grass is an example of sensory language

    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

    Sight

    Bright

    Dazzling

    Blushing

    Bright

    Crinkled

    Freckled

    Sprinkled

    Glistening

    Touch

    Abrasive

    Bumpy

    Slippery

    Prickly

    Silky

    Smooth

    Tight

    Warm

    Hearing

    Bang

    Crackling

    Echoing

    Rumble

    Rustle

    Splash

    Thud

    Whisper

    Smell

    Aromic

    Bitter

    Citrus

    Earthy

    Fresh

    Mellow

    Musty

    Spicy

    Taste

    Bitter

    Bland

    Cool

    Peppery

    Sugary

    Tangy

    Tasteless

    Creamy

    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.

    EXAMPLES OF SHOW NOT TELL

    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.

    EXAMPLES OF STRONG VERBS

    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.

    EXAMPLES OF METAPHORS

    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.
    textshop

    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

    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 tone

    When creating a conversational writing style, you should develop your own conversational tone. 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 tone 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 them into metaphors. They 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 passive voice, the subject of the action (the house) is the object of the sentence. 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 tone.

     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 tone 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 conversational 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.
    textshop

    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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  • The difference between paraphrasing and summarising

    Woman holding a laptop with text discussing the difference between paraphrasing and summarising.

    The difference between paraphrasing and summarising

    By Sharon Lapkin

    We’ve all felt it.

    That YES moment when you find the right text to support what you’re trying to say.

    But how can you use another person’s written words while respecting their intellectual property rights?

    What are the rules that govern how to quote, paraphrase or summarise somebody else’s writing?

    To answer these questions, and know the difference between paraphrasing and summarising, we need to look briefly at quoting, copyright and ‘fair use’.

    What does copyright mean?

    Copyright grants legal protection of your work and prohibits other people copying and republishing it as their own.

    It protects the rights of authors, writers, photographers, painters, song writers and others who create intellectual property.

    You don’t need to apply for copyright. It’s automatically granted to you as the creator of literary work (yes, even business writing).

    The copyright symbol © is a good reminder to an audience that what they’re reading is under copyright. However, the symbol is not mandatory. The writing is under copyright even if the © is missing in action.

    It’s important to remember that you can’t copyright ideas, only the way those ideas are expressed.

    Can I copy content under the 'fair dealing' provision?

    In Australia, you can copy up to 10% of publications such as a chapter, an article, a song or a poem.

    In an online publication, you can copy up to 10% of the total word count of an online article, chapter or blog post.

    The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) also allows the fair use provision for:

    –  research or study

    –  criticism or review

    –  parody and satire, and news reporting

    –  judicial proceedings or professional advice.

    A couple of points to remember:

    Fair use requires author attribution. You must provide author details and a link to the publication.

    If you need to reproduce more than 10%, you must seek permission from the copyright holder (usually the author.)

    Don’t be alarmed about seeking permission. It’s often as easy as writing an email. People are usually grateful that you asked!

    Keep a record of your correspondence with the copyright holder, including when they consented to your use of their content.

    Rule #1: Always accredit the writer

    The most important principle you must observe to protect your professional integrity and avoid legal liability is the rule of attribution.

    A person’s creative work is their intellectual property and you should NEVER use it without attributing them as the rightful owner of that content.

    The last thing you want is to be accused of plagiarism or copyright infringement – although fear is not the reason we respect the work of other writers.

    Keep reading because I’ll explain in this blog post how you can utilise someone else’s text and stay on the right side of the Copyright Act.

    Sparkly gold divider

    How to quote correctly

    A quote is a reproduction of a written or oral statement made by others.

    It’s essential that all quotes are exactly the same as the original. That’s right – 100% word-for-word.

    If there’s an error or a typo, leave it and insert [sic] after it, which is Latin for ‘thus’ or ‘so’. 

    The difference between paraphrasing and summarising is worth noting here. You’re more likely to use short or part quotes in paraphrasing than summarising.

    Quotations can be divided into two categories – short quotes and long quotes (also known as block quotes).

    Short quotes

    A short quote consists of fewer than 30 words.

    Short quotes are marked by single or double quotation marks.

    Double quote marks are used for dialogue (people speaking), and single quote marks are used for quoting from secondary sources (such as a newspaper or YouTube). Some writers and editors use single quote marks for emphasis.

    In Australia, full stops, commas, question marks and exclamation marks should be placed within the final quotation if they appear as part of the text.

    Example

    ‘Have you found my book?’ he asked.

    If the punctuation mark is part of the sentence outside the quoted text, it should be placed outside the closing quotation mark.

    Example

    Did your manager instruct you to ‘complete the job’?

    Quotes must always be accompanied by a source citation, also known as a source line.

    If you’re using a quote that’s not the writer’s work, but a quote from another publication, try to find the original work and quote from that publication (the original source). If you can’t find the original source present the quote in a similar way to the following:

    Example

    Joanna Fellows wrote about President Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, when he said ‘Do we participate in the politics of cynicism or do we participate in the politics of hope?’

    Keep these principles in mind as you use short quotes:

    –  The quote is short and is usually integrated within the sentence where it appears.

    –  Check your house style guide for citation policy.

    –  House styles can include citation references in the body of the text while others use EndNote or footnotes.

    – If the content with the quote is being published online, include a link to the original source.

    Sparkly gold divider

    Long (or block) quotes

    Longer quotes that include more than 30 words should appear as indented blocks of text without quote marks.

    Depending on house style, the font size of the block quote can be either the same size as the body text in the rest of the article, or one size smaller.

    Note, a long quote doesn’t have quote marks if it’s indented. But, if you’re indenting a quote, ensure you indent it on both sides.

    Keep these principles in mind as you use long quotes:

    Include some text to introduce the block quote in its proper context.

    –  The sentence immediately before the quote can end in a colon, comma or nothing at all.

    –  Indent the block quote on both sides.

    –  Use single spacing in the body of the block quote.

    –  Often the block quote will appear in font that is one size smaller than the body text of your article.

    –  Don’t use quotation marks.

    –  In academic writing, house styles can include citation references in the body of the text while others use end notes or footnotes.

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    How to paraphrase like an expert

    Think of a paraphrase as a translation or restatement of a piece of writing by another writer.

    When paraphrasing, you’re using your own words to convey the original meaning of another writer.

    This restatement is rendered to clarify or explain another writer’s work, to reproduce another writer’s ideas within your own writing, or to avoid copying another writer’s work (plagiarism).

    A synonym finder is an essential tool when paraphrasing. I use Word hippo and highly recommend it.

    By contrast, a summary is a precise compendium of the facts without fluff or fancy talk.

    A paraphrase and a summary will both be shorter than the source text and must credit the original author.

    Following is an excerpt from one of my blog posts. It’s been on page one of Google for the past two years, both as a featured snippet and in #1 position.

    Compare this to the summary (further down) where I use the same blog post to demonstrate the difference between paraphrasing and summarising.

    Original blog excerpt for paraphrasing

    In the early 1600s, when the Bibliotheca Angelica in Rome opened its doors, books were generally kept under lock and key, or in chained libraries – such as the 15th-century Bibliotheca Malatestianain Cesena and the Hereford Cathedral Library in England.

    It took thousands of hours of painstaking work to make a book – copying text by hand, adding decorative elements, illustrations, page numbers and indexes before binding the pages together and adding a cover. 

    This made books expensive and valuable items. Medieval books sometimes had ‘book curses’ placed at the front, warning people that if they stole or defaced the book they would be cursed.

    But, in a revolutionary step, the Angelica opened its door to all people with no class distinctions or government restrictions.

    All they needed to access this remarkable collection of volumes, rare maps and other material was a curious mind, a yearning to read and a thirst for knowledge.

    It was a momentous decision to grant ordinary people access to scholarly knowledge.

    Looking back we can see that Bibliotheca Angelica and other early public libraries, such as the Milan’s Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, helped bring about the democratisation of education when, rather surprisingly, ordinary people were free to embrace the archives of history and knowledge.

    Even for somebody accustomed to Rome’s ancient piazzas and cobblestone alleyways, it’s easy to get lost searching for the Bibliotheca Angelica.

    The library’s humble street presence belies its pre-eminence as Rome’s oldest public library – and one of the first public libraries in the world. 

    The entrance to the library provides no indication of its historical significance or the treasures within it. 

    Like the adjacent Basilica di Sant’Agostino, which is home to works by Caravaggio, Raphael and Sansovino, its riches are cloaked by a plain unassuming exterior.

    Completed paraphrase of blog excerpt

    The democratisation of knowledge in Europe over the 16th and 17th centuries occurred because the advent of printing press technology allowed books to be mass produced for broad public consumption.

    The establishment of public libraries was one manifestation of this process. Writing for her Textshop website, Sharon Lapkin describes the first of those public libraries, Rome’s Biblioteca Angelica, that opened its doors in 1609.

    She extols the ‘remarkable collection of volumes, rare maps and other material’ concealed behind the library’s unassuming façade in a Roman side street.

    For the first time in human history, the average Roman citizen was able to access independent sources of information rather than rely on the oral narratives spoken by others.

    Keep these principles in mind when paraphrasing:

    –  Make sure your rewritten words accurately express the ideas of the content you’re paraphrasing.

    –  While changing the sentence structure and wording, you should include any specific terms that are relevant to the meaning of the segment. For example, ‘consumer prices’ or ‘inflation’ are difficult to replace with similar words.

    –  Always include a source line and/or link so your readers can access the original writer’s work.

    –  If using three words or more in a row from the original work enclose them in quotation marks.

    Sparkly gold divider

    How to summarise like an expert

    The simplest way to reference the ideas of other writers is through a summary.

    A summary is a roundup of someone else’s written work. By definition, your summary will be shorter than the original work, although there are no hard-and-fast limits on length.

    Your summary will include the main points of the original work, while discarding its unessential details. 

    While you credit the original author of the work, make sure your summary is written in your own words.

    The difference between paraphrasing and summarising is that the former restates the writer’s ideas using synonyms and flair and the latter extracts the facts from the fluff. 

    Following is a summary of the same blog post excerpt that was used to demonstrate paraphrasing.

    This summary should help you see the difference between paraphrasing and summarising.

    Completed summary of blog excerpt

    In a blog post published on her Textshop website, Sharon Lapkin tells us the story of the Biblioteca Angelica, Europe’s first public library.

    Prior to the early 17th century, the expense of hand-copying and illustrating books made them precious commodities that were kept under lock and key.

    The opening of the Biblioteca Angelica to the public was part of the democratisation of knowledge that emerged during this period of history.

    For the first time, average people could access books that previously were restricted to the select few.

    The unassuming façade of the Biblioteca Angelica conceals a milestone in the evolution of human knowledge and education.

    Keep these principles in mind as you write a summary:

    –  Make sure you include the main point(s) while omitting unnecessary details.

    –  Use your own words while crediting the author of the work you are summarising.

    –  Always include a source line and/or link so your readers can access the original writer’s work.

    Sparkly gold divider

    To paraphrase or to summarise?​

    Understanding the difference between paraphrasing and summarising is an essential skill for any writer.

    Always read through the larger piece of writing before deciding whether to summarise or paraphrase.

    Both provide the opportunity to reproduce the ideas, writing and thoughts of experts without the risk of plagiarism.

  • Want to write a great speech?

    Red curtains and microphones waiting for a speech to be delivered

    Want to write a great speech?

    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:

    1.

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

    2.

    Acknowledge and engage your audience.

    3.

    Add current research, data and even personal observations.

    4.

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

    5.

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

    6.

    Practise and deliver a great ‘wow’ moment.

    7.

    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 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

    Textshop

    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.

    Textshop Content sets the standard

    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.
    textshop

    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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  • 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 1000 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.

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