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  • 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.

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    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.

  • How to copyedit like an expert

    Hands typing on laptop keyboard.

    How to copyedit like an expert

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    Let me show you how to copyedit like an expert in 2022. 

    How to get your project ready to go in one efficient process.

    I’m going to share a process with you that I developed after working for 14 years as a professional editor.

    With this process, you’ll find and correct typos, grammar and punctuation errors, and you’ll identify inconsistencies and anything else that’s not right.

    The secret formula: combining two tasks

     To show you how to copyedit like an expert we’re going to combine editing and proofreading into one process.

    Editing is often called copyediting, and it’s done after the writer has finished the writing. It requires a deep and meaningful look at the content, and includes checking sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. Depending on the type of edit, it may also include a copyright check, a fact-check and marking up any design errors.

    Man on a computer learning how to edit like an expert

    Proofreading is completed after the edit. It’s the last stage of the editorial process and requires a comprehensive reading of the edited content. No small details should be left out. Proofing also includes checking any headings, page numbers, URLs, captions and, most importantly, signing off the project.

    Getting started – the essential checklist

    The checklist is our most important tool and it’s best to create it manually – especially if you’re editing onscreen.

    All you’ll need is a notepad and pen. 

    You’re going to write a list of words and terms as you edit onscreen. At the same time, you’ll add things you’ll come back and resolve after the edit.

    The reason you’re writing things up in the checklist to resolve later is that sometimes an issue you spot during the first read resolves itself later in the text.

    Divide the task in two

    Next step is to divide the process in two. 

    The first stage is the edit (the first read), and the second is working through the checklist (the second read).

    There’s one important thing to remember. 

    Girl at desk on laptop next to lamp.

    You can’t do a good job in the second read, unless you create a very good checklist during your edit (first read).

    So take time in your edit to note down anything that isn’t consistent or that lacks clarity.

    The tools you need

    Other tools are needed if you’re going to conduct a quality edit.

    Have your dictionary on a short cut on your desktop, and make sure it’s one that uses local spellings.

    In Australia we use UK spellings and the reference used by publishing professionals is the Macquarie Dictionary.

    Synonym finders such as Related Words  and can also be found online and it’s a good idea to have a short cut to one of those as well. 

    When a word is overused, copy it into a good synonym finder, locate a word that means the same thing and substitute it to avoid repetition.

    Find the editorial house style guide

    Find out if there’s an editorial style guide that applies to what you’re editing.

    A style guide can range from a few pages to 25 or more pages in length.

    If you’re writing for a company, ask them if they have a style guide.

    It will contain the preferred spellings and expressions they use. This is especially important for things like lists and capitalisation.

    I always read a client’s style guide before commencing an edit and then refer back to it throughout the process. Every company has its editorial idiosyncrasies and it’s best to know these upfront.

    Often the client will ask you to use a commercial style guide such as the Chicago Manual of Style or, if you’re in Australia, the Government Style Manual. This gives you a reference point for your edit.

    Looking for an experienced copyeditor?


    It’s a good idea to keep your level of interference in check when you’re editing somebody else’s writing.

    Take care not to change the meaning of anything the writer has written and, if in doubt, add a comment or question for the writer rather than arbitrarily change something.

    Work through the edit systematically and add any issues, such as those mentioned below, to your checklist.

    Two hands holding a magnifying glass over a piece of paper observing how to edit like an expert

    It’s better to include more items in your checklist, than have a query in your second read of the document that wasn’t noted in your checklist during your first read.

    As you work through the document write all the abbreviations and acronyms used by the writer in your checklist.

    EXAMPLE – Notice of Meeting (NOM), Annual General Meeting (AGM), Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Australian Taxation Office (ATO)

    Write down any words that are used in unique or unusual ways.

    EXAMPLE – World Health Organization (WHO) – note I’m adding this because we’re retaining the US spelling. (Usually we’d change it to ‘organisation’.) Other examples might be unusual names such as Browne (Brown) and Marc (Mark), and any expressions used that differ from house style.

    Capitalisation is not always straightforward.

    Organisations may differ in their preferences for what is upper case and what is lower case.

    EXAMPLE – Universities often upper case ‘U’ when writing ‘University’ and medical colleges generally upper case ‘C’ in College.

    Write idiosyncrasies like this in your checklist as you edit.

    If you come across anything troubling that you can’t resolve without further research note it in your checklist, but also highlight it on your screen or draw a circle around it in pencil in the document.

    Remember, the answer to your query may reveal itself as you work through your edit. If not, you have it noted to come back to in your second read.

    How are you going? Keep reading and I’ll show you how to copyedit like an expert.

    In any edit, you’re looking for more than typos.

    You’re reading for idea or word repetition, lack of clarity, poorly structured sentences, and grammar and punctuation errors.

    Here are some of the things you need to check for and correct as you edit.

    US spelling in Australian writing

    Girl sitting in chair reading how to edit like an expert

    EXAMPLE – organization, color, licence and journaling.

    Change these to organisation, colour, license (verb, or licence – noun) and journalling.

    Using the same words over and over

    Spot the problem here:

    We couldn’t wait to visit the markets in Tuscany, where we hoped to find fresh ripe tomatoes and fresh ripe peaches.

    Let’s fix it by consulting our synonym finder.

    We couldn’t wait to visit the markets in Tuscany, where we hoped to find fresh ripe tomatoes and juicy peaches.

    Inconsistency of terms

    For abbreviations and acronyms we spell them out in the first instance and then use the shortened form from that point on.

    EXAMPLE – the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is busy doing tax returns this time of year, so when I phoned the ATO they placed me in a queue.

    In longer documents this practice can get messy and that’s why we note it in our checklist.

    Acronyms and abbreviations

    For abbreviations and acronyms we spell them out in the first instance and then use the shortened form from that point on.

    EXAMPLE – the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is busy doing tax returns this time of year, so when I phoned the ATO they placed me in a queue.

    In longer documents this practice can get messy and that’s why we note it in our checklist.

    Don't forget the punctuation

    As you copyedit, check for misplaced commas, semi-colons and sentences that are too long.

    Check more than words


    Check the spaces between paragraphs are even.

    Do tables, photos and illustrations have captions?

    Are all the links working?

    Do you know how to copyedit like an expert yet?

    The second read

    After you’ve edited the document, you should have a comprehensive checklist of items to take into your second read.

    To complete the process, you’re going to work through the content again, but this time with your checklist.

    For an optimal result your edited text should be in Word or PDF format.

    In the second read you must do the checklist work manually.

    NEVER use 'Change all'

    Seriously, no matter how short on time you are, don’t use the function on your keyboard that supposedly corrects every example of the error.

    It will quite possibly insert multiple errors into your document because it will misinterpret closely aligned words.

    To check abbreviations and acronyms, work through the items one at a time using the ‘Search’ function on your computer. It should be in the top right-hand corner of your screen.

    Let’s say you’re checking that the Australian Taxation Office is spelled out in the first instance and the acronym (ATO) is used in every instance after that.

    You’ll search throughout the document for ‘Australian Taxation Office’ and change all the long form usages to ‘ATO’ – except for the first instance, of course.

    If you want to ensure ‘Browne’ is spelled correctly, you’ll search for the incorrect spelling – Brown.

    Man writing notes on how to edit like an expert

    To standardise capitalisation throughout the document, you should check every instance manually, unless you have a search function that will isolate upper case and lower case searches.

    For example, if you’re checking that ‘University’ is upper case all the way through, type in ‘university’ and check every instance.

    This might sound tedious, but you pick up speed and get through it quickly.

    Use the search function to check for double spaces by hitting your space bar twice in the search bar.

    Check commas are correctly spaced by hitting your space bar once followed by a comma. 

    Do the same to check for spaces before full stops.

    You’ll find a vast array of things you can check using the search function, and the more you use it, the faster and more efficient you’ll be.

    Copyedit like an expert – you've done it!

    After checking and resolving every item on the checklist you should now have a well-edited document.

    My checklist method enables the copyeditor to see the document with fresh eyes and to focus on the small, important details.

    When a proofreader works through a document simply by reading it from beginning to end, they can miss errors in lengthy, dense or complex text. This process is the best way I know to conduct a comprehensive edit that picks up all the errors and inconsistencies.

    It really is how to copyedit like an expert!

    You probably thought you couldn't afford a copyeditor

    Take a minute to email me now

    Before you go

    Still want to learn how copyedit like an expert? You might also enjoy How to become a copyeditor.

    Check you’re not making common mistakes in your writing in 9 common errors every writer should know about.

    If you want to improve your blog writing take a look at 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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    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.


    ‘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.


    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:


    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

  • 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?

    Let's talk about your content needs
  • 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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  • Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly

    Hands on laptop typing Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly

    ✼ By Sharon Lapkin

    Have you noticed that online news sites and mainstream media regularly hyphenate adverbs ending in ly? 

    Even our national broadcaster, the ABC, is inserting hyphens where they don’t belong. 

    From ‘newly-minted’ to ‘hotly-anticipated’ and ‘locally-acquired’, our useful little line (-) is being overplayed and overworked. Can you see the problem here? 

    If our news outlets hyphenate adverbs ending in ly, then it becomes commonplace. Students, teachers, writers and others start copying the trend and, before you know it, a lot of people think it’s correct.

    We rely on our media to get it right, and when they slip up it’s not just a betrayal of correct grammar and punctuation, but of every reader who incorporates that error into their own writing because they think ‘If the ABC does it, I should too.’

    Brown gingham strip of fabric
    Middle-aged man looking at his mobile to see if he needs a hyphen in the adverb ending in ly.

    But I like my hyphen

    Some grammarians call it a hypercorrection. The Australian Government Style Manual simply says don’t do it.

    What they’re referring to is the practice of inserting a hyphen between an adverb ending in ly and the participle that follows it – ending in ‘ed’ or ‘ing’.

    The Chicago Manual of Style applies this rule to both adverbs and participles:

    ‘Compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun.’

    But why can't I write that my cat is 'visually-impaired'?

    The purpose of hyphenation is to increase clarity. Inserting a hyphen where it’s not needed is like adding an exclamation mark when there’s no interjection or exclamation. It’s not an oversight, it’s an error.

    Following are examples of adverbs ending in ly that don’t require hyphens. Notice the words following the adverbs are either participles or adjectives.

    – the rapidly declining number

    – a badly worded sentence

    – a fully loaded syringe

    – the terrifyingly large dog

    – most heavily populated city

    – a closely watched procedure

    – it was about locally acquired Covid-19

    – a newly minted necklace

    – the dimly lit library

    – the highly regarded professor

    – John’s barely worn suit

    – a rarely used car

    What about 'ly' words that aren't adverbs?

    Not all words ending in ly are adverbs and for these words the no-hyphen rule doesn’t apply.

    For example:

    – a family-oriented workplace

    – their only-begotten child

    – supply-side economics.

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    What is a hyphen and what does it do?

    Hyphens connect parts of words (such as pre, non, re and co) or whole words to form new words or compound words.

    So you might use a hyphen to connect ‘co’ to ‘conspirator’ and create ‘co-conspirator’.

    However, words evolve over time and hyphens sometimes become redundant as the prefix and word merge into one.

    For example: co-ordinate eventually became ‘coordinate’.

    To check if you need to insert a hyphen, consult a good online dictionary for current usage.

    Hyphens are also used to connect the words that form compound nouns, verbs and adjectives.

    For example: 

    – I took Apollo to the pet-friendly cafe.

    – The well-known actor was in a built-for-purpose boat.

    – The six-year-old boy was eating a lentil burger.

    Remember that some compounds revert to singular words if the sentence is restructured, and there’s no need for hyphens.

    For example:

    – The cafe was pet friendly.

    – The boy, who was six years old, was eating a lentil burger.

    A hyphen and two types of dashes

    A hyphen is only used to connect parts of words or whole words.

    When it comes to connecting groups of words, such as phrases, sentences and paragraphs, we use either en dashes or em dashes.

    An en dash is half the width of the font height and an em dash is the same width as the font height.

    En dashes are also used to connect words of equal value.

    For example:

    South–East Asia,  Guillain–Barre syndrome, the Melbourne–Sydney flight

    To connect groups of words the current editorial style is spaced en dashes.

    Use un-spaced en dashes in number spans such as 2019–2021 and 11–19 years of age.

    Em dashes are rarely used, but can be utilised for some of the same purposes as en dashes.

    A popular use of the en dash is to replace commas around non-essential information within sentences.

    For example: 

    The annual general meeting  – originally planned for Tuesday – went ahead on Friday, but arrangements were made for it to be run online.

    Brown gingham strip of fabric

    Tips about adverbs ending in ly

    If you don’t have time to check grammar and punctuation rules every time you write, then follow these simple rules:

    Don’t insert a hyphen after a word ending in ly unless you’re positive it’s not an adverb.


    Two hands holding a magnifying glass over a piece of paper observing how to edit like an expert

    Remember we don’t hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    Only use hyphens inside individual words or compounds.

    You can read more about hyphens in 9 common errors every writer should know about.

    A note from me

    At Textshop, we’re obsessed about good grammar and punctuation. Understanding grammar is an essential skill if you want quality online content.

    You can seriously damage your brand by publishing content with errors. And there’s no need for you to take that risk when you have an editor available to copyedit or proofread your content before you share it with others.

    Click the button below to schedule a chat with Sharon.

    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.

  • How to make your writing more powerful

    Superman opening his cape to show how to make your writing more powerful.

    How to make your writing more powerful

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    When readers spend an average of 54 seconds on a web page (Yes, it’s true!), you’ve really got to work to get your content read.

    Quality original writing will help keep readers on your page. But unless you have years of experience and insight, it can be difficult to engage them on a deeper level. 

    Here are three ways your writing can go wrong with examples and tips to help you build strong content.

    Let’s make your writing more powerful, starting now! 

    1. What are filler words in writing?

    Filler words are words that add no value.

    They’re words you need to eradicate from your writing before your readers give up on you.

    Do you receive emails that commence with ‘I just wanted to write …’?

    And this. Do you know that when you use just in a sentence, you undermine your credibility and minimise your authority?

    This is because just is an apology word.

    ‘I’m just checking in,’ and ‘I just called …’ and I’ll just let him know.’

    Now look at how much stronger your writing could be without it.

    I’m checking in, I called and I’ll let him know.

    More wavering weasel words

    Other meaningless words are so and such.

    ‘It’s so healthy and such a great healthy snack.’

    Remove them and you have a strong sentence that communicates authority.

    ‘It’s healthy and a great snack.’

    Very and really also dilute and weaken your writing.

    They’re timid words that reduce the strength of sentences.

    ‘The book was really good’ – or the stronger version: ‘The book was good.’

    Really, very and quite are sometimes called intensifiers, but they weaken writing rather than enhance it.

    Jars of pencils and an eraser on a notepad demonstrating the importance of making your writing more powerful.

    Mark Twain disliked the word very, and offered the following advice:

    “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write very;

    your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

    Instead of think, feel and believe, use research to make your writing more powerful

    A writer doesn’t  need to tell their readers what they think, feel or believe about the topics they’re writing on. 

    Using these words makes it appear writers are trying too hard to impress their readers.

    For example – I believe content marketing is the most successful marketing strategy at the moment.

    A better version – According to a HubSpot survey, almost 80% of companies have a content marketing strategy. 

    Using proven examples, statistics and research makes writing stronger.

    To win readers’ trust and to build credibility always use research to support the ideas you’re writing about.

    Instead of ‘I think the federal budget will show a huge deficit,’ insert authority into your writing.

    ‘Economist Ken Henry said the federal budget will show a big deficit.’

    Jerry Weissman, in the Harvard Business Review, demonstrates some clever ways to Replace meaningless words with meaningful ones.

    Fabric forget-me-not divider

    2. Keep your focus sharp by eliminating redundant words

    Redundancy is when two or more words are used together that mean the same thing.

    Using redundant words is a sure way to weaken your writing.

    For example: Let’s briefly summarise the story.

    Did you pick the redundant word?

    ‘Let’s summarise the story’ avoids repetition, and makes your writing more powerful.

    Examples of redundant words

    End result – A result occurs at the end, so ‘end’ is unnecessary. 

    Close proximity – ‘Proximity’ is already close to something.

    Circle around – Circle and around mean the same thing.

    Difficult dilemma – Dilemma means ‘difficult’ so ‘a dilemma’ works fine.

    Complete circle – A circle is always complete.

    Very unique – ‘Unique’ is an absolute’ so it can’t be modified by ‘very’.

    New beginning – A beginning is always ‘new’.

    Free gift – If it’s not free, then it’s not a gift

    Absolutely certain – ‘Unique’ is an absolute’ so it can’t be modified by ‘very’.

    First began – If you begin it, then it’s the first time.

    Drawing of woman standing with sign that reads 'Why use two words when one will do?' How to make your writing more powerful.

    What's a redundant sentence?

    It should be easier now to identify words or phrases that say the same thing twice.

    For example – ‘Many homeless men, who had nowhere to live, were at the soup kitchen.’

    But don’t fall into the trap of repeating a concept or idea expressed in one sentence in another sentence.

    Powerful writing is concise in both words and ideas.

    The following two sentences say the same thing using different words.

    The survey was composed of questions with multiple-choice options.

    Survey recipients selected one of a series of answer options.

    If a single sentence lacks essential detail go back and insert more information, rather than adding a second sentence that duplicates part of the first sentence.

    The survey recipients selected one of the multiple-choice options.

    Powerful writing is learned through reading the work of strong writers and practising it yourself.

    In his book, The Elements of Style, Cornell University English Professor William Strunk Jr. wrote:

    “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

    A good writer, he added, should “make every word tell”.

    Sunshine fresh

    Smooth, warm conversational writing

    3. Avoid adverbs ending in 'ly'

    Author Stephen King said “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the hilltops.”

    Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. 

    Often adverbs end in ‘ly’.

    For example – happily, thoughtfully, slowly, easily and patiently are adverbs.

    These adverbs are usually formed by adding ‘ly’ to the end of an adjective.

    So, we’ve just formed adverbs from the adjectives – happy, thoughtful, slow, easy and patient.

    But technically, not all ‘ly’ words are adverbs.

    For example, in the sentence: ‘The lonely boy was sitting by himself,’ lonely is an adjective that modifies the noun ‘boy’, so it is not an adverb.

    Now that we know what an adverb ending in ‘ly’ is, let’s look at how we know these words weaken writing.

    Photograph of Ernest Hemingway sitting at a table writing while at his campsite in Kenya. How to make your writing more powerful.

    Hemingway used few adverbs

    Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway’s novels and short stories serve as a good model for business writing.

    After high school, Hemingway went on to train as a journalist and he applied those skills to his fiction writing.


    In research for his book Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal about the Classics, author Ben Blatt used statistical tools to analyse text from 1500 books.

    Blatt found that books considered ‘great’ had fewer than 50 adverbs in every 10,000 words.

    Hemingway used only 80 ‘ly’ adverbs per 10,000 words. His writing includes both short and long sentences – but they are always simple, unadorned, direct and clear.

    “A writer’s style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.”

    – Ernest Hemingway

    Abolishing adverbs from your writing is easy when you know how.

    ‘She smiled happily, for example, is redundant because a smile is an expression of happiness.

    Jane was unhappy, she said angrily.

    Removing the adverb angrily makes your writing stronger.

    Strike out other adverbs from your writing such as definitely, truly, really and extremely and see how to make your writing more powerful.

    Occasionally, you’ll use an adverb in your writing that works tremendously (yes, that was an adverb).

    By all accounts keep it, if it’s the perfect word.

    But remember to use adverbs wisely and review your writing to check whether they can be removed. 

    Fabric forget-me-not divider

    More tips to make your writing more powerful

     You might also be interested in reading How to be a good content writer, which shows how authentic storytelling is the best way to successfully promote your goods or services.

    For more writing tips read 9 common errors every writer should know about.

    Also, take a look at my Complete guide to conversational writing to see how to make our business writing more human and engaging.

    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.