What’s not to like? Our evolving language

We dragonflies are busy tech-editing  engineering reports at the moment. We often come across words that have been made up, but are completely entrenched in engineering-speak. 

Then there are those made-up or misused words that make us smile – like incentivizing something, or disabling as in ‘disabling the operator from opening it’ (which sounds a lot like a safety moment to me!).

So where do we draw the line when it comes to inventing words?

Think about YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking tools. These have evolved from nouns into verbs, as in:

  • why don’t I youtube it
  • let’s google her
  • I’ll skype you
  • you can facebook me

Then there are phrases like ‘make it a priority’ that has become prioritize, or ‘taking action’ that, with a prefix slipped in, has become proactive and means anticipating and taking charge of expected situations.

Of course, there are those who take the linguistic high ground, and say ‘it’s just not cricket’. But where did language come from?

If we’d stuck hard and fast to the past, we’d still be grunting on about the latest antelope kill, or waxing lyrical in the flowery prose of our English ancestors.

Language evolves. For example, new words and acronyms are constantly being added to the Oxford English Dictionary — like this year’s selection, which includes hashtag, unfriend, carbon offsetting, TTYL (talk to you later) and LBD (little black dress), among others. Meanwhile, old words take on new meaning, like tweet – or cougar.

So where do we draw the line in creating language? When the words defeat their purpose – communication. 

If you don’t want to be understood, speak ‘in fine print’ – that is, laced with a good dose of jargon and deliberately designed to obscure meaning.

Language, after all, is about being understood. Using the language your audience is familiar with will create connections and understanding.

All I can say is… what’s not to like? TTYL.

What does your communication style say about you?

I was working with a new client the other day, and I have to say, it was a delight. This client had a very strong sense of who he was and what his business was about. And he wanted his written communication to reflect that.

He had the vital ingredient when it comes to communication style: authenticity.

So instead of creating a hazy document, muddied with corporate-speak, we were able to put together a clear, simple document that said what he wanted to say and in a way he would say it himself.

He was willing to take a risk, be a little different – be real. I call it a WYSIWYG approach. What You See Is What You Get.

The term is used to describe computing systems that display the text as it will appear in the final output, rather than in code (e.g. HTML).

I use it to describe a piece of writing that clearly conveys the ‘personality’ or ‘voice’ of the person or organisation it is about – no secret codes, no BS. You know what you’re getting.

That’s authentic – and it’s good for business. Your clients and customers can feel comfortable knowing that you mean what you say – and the language and style you use is consistent with who you are. It inspires confidence.

Does the style or ‘voice’ of your content – in websites, reports, and marketing material – reflect who you and your organisation really are? Is your communication authentic?

This is the second in our series of posts about branding. You might also like to read: Is the ‘face’ of your business sending the right message?

Is the ‘face’ of your business looking good?


The other day, I dropped into a local cupcake shop on the way to a concept development meeting (because eating cupcakes while getting creative is pretty nice really).

One of my dragonflies was with me, and we approached the counter and greeted the sales girl.

Blank stare. ‘Yes?’

We did a double-take but proceeded to choose our cupcakes – which took all of 30 seconds (okay, maybe 40) – while she stood there with her eyes rolled to the ceiling… Clearly we were taking up her valuable time.

When we made our choices, she put them in the box, dumped it on the counter, snapped out the amount, and took my money. She handed back the change, again without a word, and we both stood there gobsmacked. I  wanted to say, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want the cupcakes anymore’. But I didn’t.

Instead, we both walked out of that cupcake shop with a bad taste in our mouths. I wonder if the business owner realises how much custom the ‘face of his business’ is turning away? 

I’m sure you’ve got your own stories to tell, including great experiences you could talk about.

Talk and tell are the key words here. Because that’s what we do – about the good, the bad, the ugly customer service. 

And that brings me to branding. Businesses will pay a lot of money to build brand recognition, while the human ‘face’ of their business may be undoing all that good work.

Why? Because customers talk, and word of mouth is the best, most cost-effective, and most powerful marketing tool you have at your disposal.

What does the face of your business look like? Are your people’s attitudes consistent with your branding efforts? Do customers get the experience they expect from you – every time?

Customer service expectations need to be clearly communicated. It’s not enough to expect your employees to know how to act, or to know that the way they behave is an important factor in your business’s success (and therefore their jobs…). 

It’s vital to regularly evaluate performance too, and to recognise and reward good performance.

Think about cupcakes. No matter how great those cupcakes are, we won’t be going there again. Which is good for our waistline – but not good for their bottom line.

Is it time to look at the face of your business?

Shorter working hours: good for us, good for business

Think about your average day at work. How productive are you…really? How much fully-focused project work do you get done daily? How much overtime do you clock up in a week, a month, a year?

According to an article in the Courier Mail last weekend (Price to pay for overwork, Careers, p5), Australians clock up some of the longest working hours in the developed world. And it’s affecting our stress levels and our productivity!

If you’ve ever had the joy of working undisturbed for any length of time, you’ll know that 5-6 hours productive working time is as good as it gets. Sure, we can put in 10 hour days, but are we really producing our best work or great outcomes? Apparently not – and we’re not doing ourselves (or our bosses) any favours either.

Should Australians adopt shorter working hours? Would we get more done? Would we be more productive? I’m sure we would. After all, we’d have more time to spend with friends and family, more time to exercise, and more time to chill out and regroup. Surely we’d come back the next day more refreshed – and ready to get stuck into our jobs again? 

It may also improve our mindpower

Sounds to me like shorter working hours are good for us… and good for business.



More jazz… outsourcing design

images[27]You’ve found a great copywriter and it’s time to call in a graphic designer – but you feel like you’re about to land in a foreign country (without a map). In our last blog we talked about outsourcing writing and editing. Now here’s some useful design-land travel tips…

‘We need some marketing material. Maybe a brochure?’ you squeak out in your best approximation of graphic design speak. But then come all the questions full of words you just don’t comprehend…

DL? A3 folded to D5? Gateflaps? Will it be available online? And images…JPEG? GIF? PNG? (Isn’t that one of our Pacific neighbours?) There are different images for a website? Four-colour or spot? Do you want it to bleed off? Got a bromide? What about bmps, eps and wmfs? STOP!

It’s time to read our (Hitch Hiker’s) guide to graphic design, and most of all – don’t panic.

First of all, remember that your role is to communicate what you want from the final product, not provide the technical know-how to get there.

Knowing the language designers speak can be helpful, but the right graphic designer will provide a better design than you ever imagined. They’ll also let you know exactly what they need from you.

“What we want them to come to us with is an open mind,” says Adrienne Williams, graphic designer and owner of See Saw Illustration and Design. “They can come with a degree of detail about what they want, but during that first meeting they might discover the product they wanted might not be the right one.”

So before you meet with your graphic designer, think about designs you’ve seen and liked. Collect samples. Are there any colours you prefer? Do you want the colours to be warm, bold or neutral? Are there corporate identity requirements for colour, logo, or wording? Simple but effective descriptions can help a graphic designer choose, or create, the right colour and ultimately the right look for you.

Adrienne also suggests clients bring examples of what they don’t like, especially with logos. “It really gives us an idea of where their tastes lie and how they want to be portrayed.”

Entering design-land can have plenty of oo-ah moments. We hope this helps you enjoy the trip.


Lou & Sandra

Dragonfly team

All that jazz…outsourcing writing jobs with confidence

buzz-saxSome time ago, I was asked to jazz up an existing short profile for a client’s upcoming television appearance.

Imagine my surprise when a pile of clippings, notes and pages as thick as a best seller arrived in the post. What my client wanted wasn’t editing, it was content creation.

Yes, I delivered the va-voom, but it highlights how important it is that we are all, um, reading from the same page (did I really say that?). So what’s the difference?

Proofreading is really a quality control exercise. We make sure all amendments have been included, the document is complete (lines or words haven’t ‘dropped off’ the page, etc), links work, there are no spelling or punctuation errors, the document conforms with the client’s style guide, the index is correct, and page, line and word breaks are suitable.

Copy editing focuses on style and consistency. We make sure the meaning is clear and correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are used. We check for consistency, such as capitalisation and numbering.

For online work, we check links, pop-ups, and metadata, and make sure files download or open properly, with ‘user-friendly’ speed.

Full editing, referred to as substantative editing, involves all of the above, with the added task of reviewing structure, language, style and clarity or usability. A full edit focuses on making a document easy to read and consistent.

Content creation is a term our Dragonfly team uses to describe developing content from information we’ve gathered or our client has supplied.

Content creation can involve all or a mixture of writing styles including storytelling (narrative), information or explanation (expository), and influencing behaviour or opinion (persuasive).

Content creation involves, in varying degrees, the following process:

  • Briefing, including establishing audience, message, and method of delivery
  • Gathering and reviewing information, often including conducting interviews
  • Brainstorming ideas and developing concepts or themes
  • Developing text through various draft/approval phases
  • Delivering final edited content, often including design suggestions

So next time you’re thinking about outsourcing your writing or editing work, you can relax because you’ll know what you’re asking for – and what to expect. I could say something here about us all singing from the same… but, no. I think it’s home-time.


the dragonfly

Women at work. Now, and then…

j0438566[1]Here’s an insight into just how tough that glass ceiling used to be for us girls. It’s a Minute Paper from 1963 about whether or not to have women as trade commissioners in Australia.

I’m particularly fond of reason (viii): “A spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows.”

There’s not a lot of beating around the bush there.

It’s good to know how very far we have come. But perhaps not far or fast enough…

Improve your mind power…leave work on time!

computer_and_personYou’ve probably had days where you forget stuff, times when your brain seems to turn to sludge and you can’t remember your own name, let alone anyone else’s. Imagine every day being like that.

We take our mind power for granted, especially when we’re working and apparently exercising it. Crosswords and brain exercises are for oldies, right?

Think again. Trying to impress your boss or co-workers by starting early and finishing late just might backfire on you.

If you’re working more than 55 hours a week, your cognitive function – memory, attention, and reasoning – may be affected.

In January 2009, the American Journal of Epidemiology published the*Whitehall II Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function study. It found that middle-aged people working 55 hours a week didn’t perform as well as those working 40 hours a week.

In fact, when it comes to memory, attention and reasoning, the decline from overworking is on a similar scale to smoking, a known risk factor in dementia.

Even if you haven’t hit middle-age, you’ll be forming work habits that you’ll find hard to break later.

So whatever stage of life you’re at, aim for balance (and I’m not talking bank balance). Your mind-power may depend on it.

*Stephen Pincock talks about this and other intelligence research in his book Get Smart! 100 Lifestyle Choices That Affect Your Brain (published by Hardie Grant Books).

Demystifying SEO-speak

The language of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is enough to make your head spin. But it’s not rocket science. Here are some quick definitions to get you started:

  • SEO: the process of improving your website/blog ranking in search engine results
  • Keyword density – No, it’s not repeating yourself, repeating yourself, ad nauseum. It’s the number of times your keywords appear on your page (without sounding ridiculous!)
  • Title text – Look at the very top blue line of your browser page. It should be different for every page, used like a magazine article title, and include keywords…
  • Meta-description – This appears in search results. It’s those approx 160 characters that can make people click through to your site – or not
  • Header text – This is HTML coding that indicates the relative importance of that block of text, like main heading and sub headings. Tip: Use keywords in header text (as long as it doesn’t sound stupid) 
  • Link titles – This is the text that appears when you scroll over a link. Check your site. Are you linking from ‘click here’ or ‘more’? Make that text meaningful
  • Image titles – Ditto. Make these meaningful. ‘Spiders’ love pictures and video, so don’t waste your opportunity to get ‘picked up’
  • On-page factors – These are the things mentioned above, the things you can do on your own site
  • Off-page factors – Google and other search engines like quality inbound links from other sites to yours.

No more spinning heads? Excellent!


Lou (aka The Dragonfly)  

Increase your productivity – at work and in life

Dean Jackson’s 50-minute focus finder is priceless. Have you got 50-minutes to watch his presentation?

With a healthy level of skepticism, I sat down to do Dean’s focus finder exercise (one of several he talks about). It’s really a brain dump, which you do for 50 minutes – listing every single thing that comes into your head.

After about 10 minutes, you move from the reactive zone (phonecalls, meetings, people to see, things to fix, emails to respond to) to the proactive zone (new ideas and approaches, new markets to explore, etc).

To my surprise, it worked. And I’ve already put some changes in place… others are on the list. So I’m a convert. It’s a pretty worthwhile way to spend 50 minutes…