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Wireless keyboard: traveling writer’s lightweight tool

“Wow, that is so cool!”

I’m not an adopter of bleeding-edge technology, so I was startled by the reactions of other conference attendees to my smartphone accessory. The accessory wasn’t particularly high tech. It was a wireless keyboard that I use to take notes with my smartphone when I attend conferences.

If you need to take notes when you’re away from your office, you can benefit from my experience to refine your checklist for what to seek in a wireless keyboard that will improve your ability to take notes on the move.

Typed notes beat handwritten notes

I prefer taking notes electronically to writing longhand. That’s because I can read typed notes more easily. I can even copy-paste them into the drafts of articles that I write about conference sessions.

However, I don’t enjoy the bulk and size of my laptop, to say nothing of the hassle of getting it through airport security. My iPad is lighter and smaller, but it’s so old that it’s more of a paperweight than a functioning device. That’s why I leaped at my husband’s suggestion to buy a wireless keyboard for my smartphone. My phone is even lighter and smaller than a tablet, plus I already carry it with me everywhere.

I’m currently on my third wireless keyboard. I used my first exclusively with my iPad until the keyboard died, and discovered a serious drawback in my second wireless keyboard, which I used with my phone. Along the way, I developed some opinions about what I need in a wireless keyboard.

Desirable wireless keyboard characteristics

Something to hold your phone upright—I’m not an accurate touch typist, so I need to see the words appear on my phone’s screen to ensure that I’m accurate. My current keyboard’s “cradle” is an indentation that holds my phone upright. Many wireless keyboards lack this feature, which I consider essential. The cradle is much more flexible, in terms of the devices that it’ll hold in place, than the four clips on my previous keyboard that were meant to hold only tablets of a certain size.

A name-brand manufacturer (or a track record)—A bad experience with my previous keyboard convinced me to favor a name-brand manufacturer. That keyboard had excellent Amazon reviews, but it was from a no-name manufacturer. This keyboard functioned normally about 75% of the time. The rest of the time the cursor often jumped from where I was typing to another line of my document, often causing me to lose some of what I’d typed. When contacted, the vendor said something along the lines of “Yes, we know that happens. It’s OK.”

The right kind of battery—You have a choice of rechargeable or non-rechargeable batteries. With regular batteries, my current keyboard has functioned for more than six months. Of course, it doesn’t get much use when I’m not at conferences.

A case, if that’s important to you—Some wireless keyboards, like my previous one, come built into cases that will also protect your mobile device. Someone I know bought a keyboard that folds in half to protect itself and to take less space. I use my keyboard infrequently enough that I jam it in a Fedex envelope inside my tote bag to protect it.

Other wireless keyboard characteristics to consider

  • Noise—My current keyboard sounds loud to me. I always feel as if I should apologize to the people sitting around me when I type at conferences.
  • Size—The keyboard’s size makes a difference for how well it suits your hands and fits in your bag (or whatever you use to carry it).

My wireless keyboard model

If you want to copy me, I have a Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480. The first of my three wireless keyboards was also a Logitech, so I’m a Logitech fan. However, check to see if there’s a newer or better model to meet your needs.

Want more ideas for specific models? Check out “Best Bluetooth keyboards you can currently buy” and ask your friends what they’re using.

Happy keyboarding!

 

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to products in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

 

Image courtesy of Daddazio at Wikimedia Commons

 

Word and phrase substitutions for economical writers

Shakespeare lesson for bloggers

Shakespeare said, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I read this in The Happiness Hypothesis, which cites it to emphasize the importance of your mental filters.

The quote made me think about how what seems bad can ultimately turn out to be good for your blog.

1. You’re a lousy writer—and an even worse proofreader

If you recognize that writing and proofreader aren’t your strong suits, you can work around those weaknesses.

The obvious solution is to hire a writer or proofreader who can make up for your weaknesses.

A less obvious solution is to communicate in formats other than written blog posts. Play to your strengths. Consider sharing videos or starting a podcast.

If you’re not a good communicator in any format, perhaps blogging isn’t for you. If you’re in a multi-person firm, turning the blog over to other members of your firm could energize your firm’s blog. If you go this route, check out my post on “How to manage a group blog.”

2. You lack ideas

Your lack of ideas could spur you to aggressively research what members of your target audience want to read about. You could do this by asking them in your meetings, keeping a running list of the questions they ask, and doing research online and elsewhere. You could even have someone survey your clients.

If you lack direct access to your firm’s clients, try these techniques to learn about their interests.

Asking questions of your readers is also a great way to generate content.

Another approach is to blog about the mistakes your clients make.

The research you do to make up for your lack of ideas could result in blog posts that speak more powerfully to your the hopes, fears, and dreams of your ideal clients.

3. You’re a financial professional who has made financial mistakes

Financial mistakes don’t disqualify you from blogging. In fact, sharing your personal story can boost the impact of what you write.

Carl Richards’ article, “How a Financial Pro Lost His House” sticks in my mind more than seven years after it appeared in The New York Times.

4. Your blog doesn’t get responses

It’s hard to find a silver lining in this one. However, if your blog isn’t generating responses, then perhaps there’s a bigger problem in your approach to your business. For example, perhaps you’re targeting too narrow a niche, or the wrong niche, for you.

Another problem might be that you’re not spreading the word about your blog aggressively enough.

Look at the statistics generated by your blog. If they’re bad, then let that spur you to examine what you could do better.

5. Your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects

It’s disappointing—and potentially time-consuming—if your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects.

You may be able to fix this by:

  • Changing the topics you address (or how you address them) on your blog
  • Making it easier for readers to identify whether they are one of your ideal clients
  • Creating a better process for screening clients who contact you (and having referrals or products for those who don’t qualify to work with you)

Other negatives that can be positives?

I’ve  discussed several negatives that can become positives. Can you add others to this list?

Why I’m lucky clients didn’t flock to me “describes how something I initially saw as negative helped to push me in a positive direction.

Bloggers, start with what interests you the most

In the first of her The Writing Coach podcasts, Rebecca Weber mentioned that she often starts an article by writing the part that interests her the most. Then, she says, it’s easy for her to fill in the other parts, especially if she already has an outline. That’s a great way to overcome writer’s block, in my opinion. It may also be a great way to find a new focus for your blog post.

Benefit from your passion

Blog posts benefit from passion. For starters, you’re more likely to enjoy writing them. That cuts your tendency to procrastinate.

Also, when you write about what interests you, you’re likely to convey your enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm will give your readers a better sense of who you are. If they care about the same things—or if they like your positive energy—you will captivate your readers.

Perhaps there’s more that you can say about that topic to develop it into a complete blog post. Not sure how to expand your topic? Try mind mapping or freewriting, both of which are discussed in my financial blogging book. See where those techniques take you.

Avoid turning off readers

If parts of your outline touch upon topics that don’t excite you, that may deaden the tone of your writing. Your readers may pick up on your lack of enthusiasm. That’s a turn-off.

Of course, there are times when you can’t avoid writing about dull stuff. After all, some of it is essential.

Do your best to write in a reader-friendly manner. Focus on the benefits to the reader, and you may still achieve good results.

Another take on refining your focus

I’ve written about the usefulness of pursuing your interests from a different angle in “Writing tip: Pop the balloon or make it your focus.”

5 things my English teachers failed to teach me

I was a B student in my high school English classes. But even if I’d been a star, I doubt I would have emerged from high school as a strong writer. Looking back, I see five things my English teachers failed to teach me about writing.

1. It’s OK to give away your main points in your introduction

My English teachers taught me about the importance of building an argument. They got that right.

However, they put so much emphasis on the argument that they overlooked the importance of a strong introduction.

I’m a big believer in giving away your conclusion in your introduction. When you tell your readers your main points in the beginning, you prepare your readers to seek and absorb the supporting evidence. I believe that you make them more receptive to your argument.

2. Wordiness is not a virtue

My high school English teachers failed to curb my long-winded sentences. I wish they had. It has taken me years to make my writing more concise.

People’s attention spans are short. In fact, they’re even shorter now that people do much of their reading on tiny phone screens, instead of printed materials like when I was in high school.

Shorter is better in terms of overall length, as well as the length of paragraphs, sentences, and even words.

3. “Which” and “that” are different

When I opened my Ph.D. dissertation to a random page, I found the following sentence misusing “which.”

Perhaps it was this accomplishment which led Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo to say of Goto, during the summer of 1932, “he smells of the Minseito, but as an agriculture minister he is splendid, serious, and able to accomplish his work.”

The “which” in that sentence should be “that.” For an explanation, see “Which vs. that: Which is right?

And, yikes, the example also illustrates how I was unaware of lesson #2.

4. Don’t use “pride capitals”

True confession: my Ph.D. thesis advisor put a lot of effort into breaking me of the habit of “pride capitals,” a lesson I failed to learn in high school or college.

While I correctly used capitals in my example above referring to Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo, I probably referred elsewhere to Takahashi, the Finance Minister. That’s wrong.

5. Don’t leave two spaces after periods

To be fair, two spaces after periods was the standard back in my high school days. But times have changed. Today, one space after a period is standard, although somewhat controversial.

What did YOUR English teachers fail to teach you?

I’m curious. What do you wish your English teachers had taught you?

Let’s be fair to my English teachers

I think my high school English teachers did a decent job, given the curriculum and expectations of their time. I don’t think my English teachers failed overall.

They taught me well enough that I wrote reports that earned As in Advanced Placement Social Studies. My writing got me into college, where I took no more English classes. So, I must credit my high school English teachers with giving me writing skills good enough to get me into graduate school at Harvard.

Financial blog post test–do YOU pass?

Do your posts pass the financial blog post test? If they do, you raise your odds of attracting clients and prospects. Aim to put “yes” in the check-boxes below.

TOPIC

___ Does your post solve a problem for the reader? Most people who search online are looking for a solution to a problem.

___ Is your topic narrow enough? The people who are searching for solutions want answers specific to their circumstances. If you tackle budgeting tips for everybody, you’ll satisfy nobody. Instead, target people who share characteristics such as age, income, and other characteristics that are important to the challenges they face.

___ Are you addressing a topic that your target audience cares about? Of course, you have to identify your target audience before you can answer this question. Here’s an example of what not to do. Don’t write a blog post about Social Security claiming strategies for an audience of twenty-something teachers who work in a state where teachers aren’t covered by Social Security. It’s wrong in two ways because of your audience’s age and lack of Social Security coverage.

TITLE

___ Does your title attract readers by appealing to their WIIFM (or by intriguing them in some other way)?

WRITING

___ After reading your first paragraph, will the reader know the main point that you’re making?

___ Is your post well organized? For example, does it pass the first-sentence-check test?

___ Have you avoided jargon? When you’re writing for professionals, a little jargon may help. If you’re not targeting institutional investors, check my list in “Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks.”

___ Have you avoided common grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors? Mistakes undermine your credibility. Style guidelines can help you avoid some mistakes, as I explain in “Style guidelines for financial services firms.

___ Is your writing reader-friendly? Your writing should be compelling, clear, and concise. You’ll find tips for achieving this in my financial blogging class.

FORMATTING

___ Does your post use headings? Headings help to break up your post into manageable chunks. Another way to break up your text and introduce more white space is to keep your paragraphs short. White space makes your posts easier to read, especially for people using mobile devices.

___ Does your post use images, as appropriate? Especially when you share your posts via social media, images help to attract more views.

PROMOTION

___ Do you have a plan for promoting your blog post? If you write a great blog post that nobody sees, it does you no good. Plan to promote your blog posts via email, social media, and more.

 

If your writing passes this financial blog post test, you’re in good shape. Congratulations!

If you think you could improve your financial blogging skills, check out my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, and my financial blogging class, available on-demand.

Break it up!

William Zinsser, a noted writer on writing, said, as quoted in Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers:

Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas one long chunk of type can discourage the reader from even starting to read.

I’m a big fan of short paragraphs, as you know if you’ve read about the rule of 42-14-2 in “Does your article pass these writing tests?

Breaking up long blocks of text is almost always a good idea. It’s especially important when you write something for people to read online. People’s attention spans are shorter online than when they are reading printed materials. Also, people who are reading online tend to be scanning for specific information. Shorter paragraphs make it easier for readers to find the information they seek.

When in doubt, break up your long paragraphs into shorter blocks.

Does your article pass these writing tests?

Are you thinking of writing an article or blog post, but feel insecure about your skill as a writer? I’ve developed some tests that can help you attract readers by communicating in a way that’s easy to read. Give your article the tests that I describe below. These writing tests can also help your other communications aimed at clients, prospects, and referral sources.

WIIFM test

How can you cut through the clutter of the gazillion articles competing for your readers’ attention?

When your article appeals to your readers’ WIIFM, you command their attention. WIIFM is short for “What’s In It For Me?” You need to describe how readers will benefit from the content in your article. Ideally, you’ll help them to solve a problem.

It’s best if you introduce your readers’ problem – and your solution – in words that they would use. Drop the jargon unless it’s part of your readers’ daily vocabulary. To help you achieve this, fill in the blanks in the following sentence: “I’m worried about … and you can help me by …”

You pass the WIIFM test when your readers see that you can fill in the blanks in my sentence.

First-sentence check

When your articles are easy to skim, your message will reach more readers than if your articles require careful attention.

To perform the first-sentence check, read your headings and the first sentence of every paragraph in your article. In combination, do they give the reader a good idea of your main points? If so, you’ve written something that’s easy to skim. It’s also more likely to draw in readers interested in your topic.

This first-sentence check works because strong business writing typically starts each paragraph with a topic sentence that summarizes the paragraph’s main point or topic. When I’ve done writing workshops, participants tell me this is one of the biggest ideas they’ve picked up.

When an article fails the first-sentence check, it’s time to rearrange your paragraphs, rewrite your topic sentences, or rethink how you approach your topic. For more on this approach, read “Quick check for writers, with an economic commentary example.”

Rule of 42-14-2

Wordy writing is difficult to read. Direct marketers’ research suggest that your readership starts to drop once your articles average more than 42 words per paragraph, 14 words per sentence, or two syllables per word. This is according to research cited in workshops by Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications.

Microsoft Word’s readability statistics will give you an idea of how your writing fares in terms of these statistics. The analytical tool at HemingwayApp.com (discussed in “Free help for wordy writers!“) can also help you identify text that’s too long-winded and give you ideas about how to simplify.

You don’t necessarily have to pare your averages down to 42, 14, and two. But becoming more aware of wordiness, and shortening your sentences and paragraphs, will make your writing more effective.

Too busy to test your writing?

If you’re too busy to test your writing, ask for outside editorial help. Perhaps you have a colleague or a client who can give you feedback. You can also hire an editor.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Em dash versus en dash, oh my!

I love my em dashes. In fact, one of my most exciting discoveries in WordPress was the symbols menu that lets me insert proper em dashes instead of double hyphens into my blog posts. Also, my assistant can tell you that I’m a real nag about inserting the proper coding for em dashes into my Constant Contact newsletters.

However, not everyone agrees with me that em-dashes are the right punctuation symbol for setting off text in a sentence. Some people prefer en-dashes (–) to em-dashes (—). If you wonder why I care about this, stop reading now. This post will put you to sleep.

Social Media – Untitled DesignBeautiful em dashes

If you feel excited about this topic, you won’t be surprised that I took notice when Emmy J. Favilla said in A World Without “Whom, “What’s more beautiful than a strategically placed em dash?”

However, I was appalled to learn that her bosses asked her to put spaces around her em-dashes. No! That seems like sacrilege to me. But BuzzFeed is an online publication so, as Favilla said, “Space isn’t at a premium on the internet.” She has come to believe that “spaces on either side of an em dash allow a sentence to breather.”

What is an em dash, anyhow?

An em dash “is used to mark an interruption in the structure of a sentence,” said Bryan Garner in Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Garner believes “The em-dash is perhaps the most underused punctuation mark in American writing. Whatever the type of writing, dashes can often clarify a sentence that is clogged up with commas—or even one that’s otherwise lusterless.” Way to go!

In contrast to Garner, Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook suggests that em dashes may be overused. “The dash is best reserved for special effects: to prepare readers for a punchline or a U-turn.”

En dashes aren’t the same as em dashes

Some publications use en dashes instead of em dashes to set off text. In fact, I’m the editor of a monthly magazine that used to do that. It drove me nuts! I eventually implemented a style change, and converted en dashes to em dashes to my backlog of articles.

I wondered why some publications abused en dashes by using them in place of em dashes. The practice appears to have come from the United Kingdom. I can’t find the page where Favilla said that British publications use en dashes instead of em dashes, but I found some evidence online.

According to a University of Sussex web page, “In British usage, we use only a single hyphen to represent a dash – like this. American usage, in contrast, uses two consecutive hyphens –.”

Similarly, according to Grammar and Style in British English, “The single dash is normally a feature of informal English and is used, especially in narrative, to create suspense or to indicate that what follows is an afterthought or something to be emphasised.”

American usage for the en dash is quite different. “It joins pairs or groups of word to show a range, and also indicates movement or tension (rather than cooperation or unity,” according to Garner.

I confess that until recently, I had no clue that there are times when I should use an en dash instead of a plain old hyphen. In fact, it looks strange to me to write a date range as “August 7–8” instead of “August 7-8.” As Favilla said in her book, “Sometimes an em dash-esque…en dash can look awkwardly long in a modifying phrase, leading en dash noobs to wonder what the hell that hyphen just ate for breakfast.” And, in fact, a colleague questioned my use of the en-dash in this situation. However, my AP StyleGuard software told me that was correct.

Still, some of the en dash rules seem obscure to me. I will probably continue to write “Russo-Japanese War” instead of “Russo–Japanese War,” but it’s kind of cool to understand why the en dash is considered more appropriate.

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Does the end come before the beginning?

getting-things-as-right-as-you-canI was intrigued by the following tip in Draft No. 4, a book written by John McPhee, a staff writer for The New Yorker.

I settled on an ending before going back to the beginning.

It’s always good to have the ending in mind before you start a draft. That will take you to your destination more efficiently. However, McPhee does some work before he settles on his ending.

What to do when you’re “wallowing” in notes

Earlier in his chapter on “Structure,” he wrote about a time when he was “wallowing” in notes. Rather than plunge into writing, he organized his notes into piles. But he started that process only after generating a lead sentence. On one occasion,

I spent half the night slowly sorting, making little stacks of thematically or chronologically associated notes, and arranging them in an order that seemed to hang well from that lead sentence: “The citizen had certain misgivings.”

That process sounds familiar to me. That’s how I organized my notes from my Ph.D. dissertation. I wrote about that in “Index-card approach to writing.” I wish I could say that I, like McPhee, had my ending in mind before I spread my index cards on my floor. However, aside from chronological order, I didn’t have a good idea of where I was going.

Today I’d use mind mapping, which I discuss in Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients to organize my thoughts. When I wrote my financial blogging book, I started with posts written for my blog. I also did a bit of mind mapping to decide on the order of my chapters, though I also tweaked the order based on feedback from my writing group.

Knowing the end makes it easier to edit

When writing something short, like a blog post, it’s much easier to start with the end in mind like McPhee, knowing your destination makes it easier to decide what information to keep. You can prune anything that doesn’t lead to your destination.

The next time you write something, try to figure out its ending before you start writing.

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.