Why writing is like cooking

I love a good metaphor And in my new life as café-owning writer, I can’t help but see the metaphorical parallels between writing and cooking As a writer, I’m confident in my ability to turn out (reasonably) good copy, on time, every time My confidence comes from my understanding of my writing processes I know how I work and I have a set of techniques that I can apply to any writing task Because I understand the way I work, I know how to begin, how to work through each stage, and how to...

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Making messages that are understandable and noticeable

I’m fascinated by why it is that some people notice and understand messages and other people miss them Yesterday, a new customer walked into my shop and ordered a coffee and some breakfast After placing his order, he quietly offered me some feedback about our signage: ‘I’ve been working over the road for several weeks, and I’ve been wondering about what you do in here From your sign, I couldn’t work it out I didn’t know that I could just come in here and buy a coffee The sign...

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Text over faces = graffiti

Anyone who works in any aspect of communication knows that words and pictures work well together But working well together is not the same as working well on top of each other Why would the designer of the Brisbane Writers Festival program graffiti over the faces of the presenters The result is unrecognisable faces and illegible copy I'm left with a sense that the people in these images are somehow being silenced by their own words These people are authors who are coming to Brisbane to talk...

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Taking a risk with venue hire

  As an independent consultant, I’ve often found myself in the position of wanting to run a workshop about a topic that interests me, but not being confident of selling enough tickets to cover the cost of venue hire For most consultants, committing to a venue hire and catering package is a big risk You might need to commit to minimum numbers to secure the venue, which could set an almost impossible ticket-sales target Forget trying to earn some money, you might not even cover your...

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When informality breaks convention

We live in informal times when many of the conventions of the written form are breaking away Emails are more likely to start with 'Hi'  than 'Dear' And the sign-off 'Cheers' is now more common than 'Regards' I quite like a chatty, informal email For me, email sits in the space between a formal letter and a phone conversation But what about a printed letter And particularly, what about a printed letter or notification from a bank I received a notification from ANZ last week, attached to...

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Sweat the small stuff by all means, but don’t lose sight of the big picture

  The latest issue of Offpress (the newsletter produced by the Society of Editors (Qld)) includes an article on ‘The false precision of fetish editing’ by John E McIntyre It was originally published in McIntyre’s regular column for The Baltimore Sun McIntyre makes a point that is easy to miss in the detailed work of editing: ‘… there is the problem when copy editors fetishize minor details; the big errors can be overlooked’ It’s an easy trap to fall into: as editors, we...

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Making sense of sentences in election materials

Election materials are starting to appear in our letterboxes, and they feature some ill-conceived sentences Here’s a sentence/caption from the front of a recent ALP brochure: Virginia O’Neill teaching her son, Labor Candidate for Brisbane, Pat O’Neill and his sister to read in 1985 This sentence has two problems – one to do with sets of information, and one to do with Virginia’s relationship to Pat Sets of information: ‘Labor Candidate for Brisbane’ is a subset/description of...

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The trouble with bills: when poor understanding defeats good intention

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulties I was experiencing with billing systems and invoices as I learned to navigate a new industry At the time, I had paid some suppliers twice but missed payments to others Today I’ve encountered something similar – once again linked to invoicing, and once again linked to clear communication I encountered a system that might work well if my full-time job was to process and understand bills But paying bills is a tiny part of my work – and one...

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Apostrophes for mothers’ day

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for possessive apostrophes – much abused and misunderstood as they are And it’s this time of the year that I’m most aware of the little mark … because the day for mothers is upon us Every year I’m bothered by the various ways that marketers write about the day As you choose your card, do you wish your mother: Happy Mothers Day, Happy Mother’s Day, or Happy Mothers’ Day In my household, I insist on Happy Mothers’ Day, even though the...

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