Head it up

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Don’t be afraid to use headings and subheadings to break up your writing.

When you’re writing something that’s over a page long or that has several different sections to it, it makes sense to use headings to help your reader find their way through.

Headings and subheadings divide the text up into more manageable chunks and let the reader know what each section is going to be about.

Headings

You can use the title, headline or main heading of your writing to get the reader’s attention. For example, if you were writing an article for a local news blog, you’d probably want a title that highlights the drama of the story…:

Still Going for Gold: Wafflington Pensioner Prepares for New York Marathon

…rather than one that just states the facts:

Local Man Enters Race

This technique isn’t just for journalists. If you’re designing your marketing resources, writing an important paper or even just sending an email you really want your colleagues to read, make the most of the heading. A bold, dramatic or intriguing title can go a long way, so don’t be shy.

Subheadings

Once you get into the main body of the text, subheadings can help your reader find the information they’re looking for.

Let’s say you’re writing a letter to your customers to let them know about your new shop premises. In the letter, you’re going to explain where the new shop is, where they can park and the new range of products you have in stock. Adding a few subheadings will help the reader navigate the information and find the details they need.

Dear customer,

Thank you for supporting Woofflington Groomers, Wafflington’s award-winning pet grooming service.

Our new shop

We’re delighted to announce that we have now moved into new premises at 14 Wafflington High Street, WZ99 112 (next to Swish Cut Hairdressers). Our new shop is now open and we are accepting bookings. Please do pop in and say hello. 

How to find us

The new shop is on the number 5 bus route or the nearest car park is St James’s Street carpark, next to the Town Hall. You can find full directions on our website: wooflingtongroomerswafflington.co.uk

New in stock

From March 2019, we will be stocking the highly-requested ‘Furry Friend’ ferret combs and the all new ‘Beak It’ duck moisturiser. Please ask in store for more details. If you require a specific product, please do ask and we will be happy to order it in for you.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new shop soon.

Katherine and the Wooflington Groomers team

A good heading or subheading can make all the difference in your writing. Be bold, be clear and help your reader find their way.

My number #1 writing tip

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Happy New Year! This is the first post of 2019 and it’s something a little bit special.

To start off the year in style, I’d like to share the best piece of writing advice I have ever been given. It’s a tip I was given as a teenager and it has stuck with me ever since.

So, without further ado, here’s my number one writing tip:

Work out what you want to say first, and then just say that.

It sounds obvious, I know, but stay with me.

As writers, we often launch straight into the ‘words on the page’ part of writing, before we’ve got our message clear in our heads.

This is the cause of so many common writing problems. When you come across writing that’s confusing or far too wordy, it’s likely that the writer wasn’t sure what they were trying to say.

Writing is all about communication, so you need to know the message you’re trying to communicate. If the writer isn’t exactly sure what they’re saying, the reader isn’t going to be sure either.

Using this tip

So, next time you’re stuck with your writing, ask yourself, ‘What do I want to say?’

This will force you to stop and work out exactly what you’re trying to communicate to your reader. This is the hard part. Be specific. Reduce it down to the simplest words.

Once you’ve worked out what you want to say, just say that.  You don’t need to add in any extra words to make it sound fancier. You don’t need to cloak it in a complicated sentence structure. Just write down what’s in your head.

It could be, ‘We aren’t sure when we’ll be able to open the shop again’, or ‘You need to go to the post office to collect a new form.’ Whatever it is, just write it down.

It might need a few little tweaks, but it’s likely to be much clearer than what you had before. Try it yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

The beauty of this tip is that it’s so easy. Once you get in the habit of using this tip, you’ll start doing it automatically and it’ll make such a difference.

So there you have it. My number one piece of writing advice. Work out what you want to say, and then just say that.

Following this advice has improved my writing no end. I hope it helps you too.

 

Thank you for reading and for kicking off 2019 with me here on Write for Real People. Come back for new writing tips every Monday morning- I can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Christmas

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Can you believe it’s Christmas Eve?!

If, like me, you’re still in the office, I hope you’ve got a mince pie on your desk and Michael Bublé on the radio.

There’s no writing tip today. I’d just like to wish you a very happy Christmas. I hope you have a wonderful day celebrating with the people you love.

To get you in an extra festive mood, here’s one of my favourite Christmas clips:

Happy Christmas!

Workshop: Using the passive voice

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The passive voice is finally having its moment. It may not be as dynamic or direct as the active voice, but as we’re about to find out, it does have its special uses.

Let’s take a look at this letter:

Using the passive 1It’s clear, concise and to the point, but perhaps it’s a little on the harsh side. It sounds almost as though poor Mrs Witherby has done something wrong.

The writer has used the active voice throughout the letter. In most scenarios, the active would be the best choice, but there’s a rather accusing tone to it here.

Using the passive 2

This is one of those rare occasions when it’s better to be indirect. The passive voice is great for taking the edge off an accusation and that’s exactly what we need here.

Using the passive 3

By using the passive voice, we’ve softened the tone and let Mrs Witherby off the hook. It’s a much less confrontational letter as a result.

 

The active voice or the passive voice. Which one do you naturally gravitate towards? Let us know in the comments below:

Using the passive voice

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In the last couple of blogs, we’ve been singing the praises of the active voice. So clear. So direct. So full of energy.

But this week, it’s the passive voice’s time to shine.

As much as we’ve been slating the passive voice for its ambiguity, sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Here are three situations when the passive voice can save the day:

 

  1. The Whodunnit

Sometimes, you just don’t know who did it. The passive voice is the ideal option when there’s no clear ‘doing’ person.

For example:

My car was stolen on Wednesday.

The house was built in 1876.

 

  1. The Sensitive Subject

If you’re writing about a difficult topic, the passive voice can be a gentle way to avoid awkwardness. Perhaps it’s an uncomfortable topic for the reader. Maybe you are reprimanding the reader but don’t want to sound confrontational.

In these situations, the active voice can sound a little harsh:

The dentist will make an incision in your gum and pull the tooth out using plyers.

You have not paid your electric bill, so we will be cutting off your electricity.

The passive voice softens the tone:

An incision will be made in the gum and the tooth will be removed using plyers.

As the electricity bill has not been paid, the electricity supply will be cut off.

Beware of using the passive too much when you’re cautioning or criticising the reader. It can all too easily sound passive aggressive.

 

  1. The Dodge

When you or your organisation have messed up, the passive voice is one way of dodging the full force of the blame.

The active voice forces you to identify the culprit, even if it’s you:

We have lost your application and did not keep a copy on file.

The passive voice allows you to skulk in the shadows a bit:

Unfortunately, your application has been lost and a copy was not kept on file.

It’s a good trick to know for emergencies, but use with caution. As tempting as it may be to keep pulling the passive out, it’s often overused. Readers tend to appreciate a direct confession rather than a vague dodge.

 

So, there you have it. The active voice is usually the way to go, but the passive voice does have its uses.

Come back on Thursday to see the passive voice taking centre stage in our Write for Real People Workshop.