Over 1000 Web Articles, #amwriting and Still #Learning

Still #learning by Pexels CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay
Are you still #learn­ing? I am. It is a delight to look at each day and the learn­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. Trig­gered by a ques­tion asked about how blog­ging was dif­fer­ent to oth­er forms of writ­ing and how we need to con­stant­ly learn and adapt.

Personal Journey

Footsteps by Unsplash CC0 Public DomainI have scrib­bled and played with words since boy­hood in the 1960s. My moth­er lent me a type­writer when I was about 13, which I had to rebuild to make it work prop­er­ly. I had typ­ing lessons when 17, so can type with all fingers.
Land­ing my first job at the ten­der age of 19, led to a life­time of writ­ing to earn my liv­ing. I have writ­ten ever since in one way or anoth­er. For many years I wrote com­put­er pro­grams, and mine were always the best doc­u­ment­ed. After that, I start­ed writ­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions, project reports and jus­ti­fi­ca­tions. My great­est skill was writ­ing those busi­ness reports. It is an under appre­ci­at­ed skill or art form. My uni­ver­si­ty days were dur­ing my late 30s and ear­ly 40s, once I had some life skills behind me.
Pub­lish­ing a blog was some­thing I first did in 2003 or 2004. Pity, I for­get the name but also have lit­tle desire to redis­cov­er it, but I am sure it is still untouched on Blog­ger some­where, if only I could remem­ber the email address and pass­word used.

Still #Learning

To date, I have penned more than 1,000 arti­cles on a vari­ety of sites and gar­nered more than a mil­lion views. That is some­thing I am proud of. But, at the same time, I am still learn­ing. Lessons are some­times hard. Often you take years to learn them, instead of days.
When face to face with a per­son, I have always under­stood that puz­zled frown some­one gives when read­ing some­thing I wroteIt usu­al­ly means I have not ade­quate­ly explained some­thing. When you are work­ing with oth­er peo­ple it is easy to get feed­back, they will usu­al­ly tell you what they like or dis­like. One aspect of busi­ness based writ­ing is that there is always feed­back, often too much espe­cial­ly the unhelp­ful vari­ety. Some of the feed­back is best ignored, but oth­er cor­rec­tions need inclu­sion, despite the loom­ing dead­line. Often the boss­es words are the loud­est and demand a response.
The per­son who one day told me, “loved the use of the dan­gling par­tici­ple.” That made me very curi­ous. I knew what a dan­gling par­tici­ple was — a word intend­ed to mod­i­fy a noun that is not actu­al­ly used with­in the text. But, I could not find where I had made this mis­take. Clear­ly I had out­smart­ed myself. But this is the type of feed­back you rarely get with on-line pub­li­ca­tions. I am still #learn­ing.

On-line Writing — A Different Skill?

Skill by Congerdesign CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay
Writ­ing on-line is an alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent skill. Even with the social web it is not pos­si­ble to see facial expres­sions and dis­cuss things with peo­ple as I used to, face-to-face, in business.
First­ly, with blogs, you may or may not get com­ments. The fact that you don’t receive any com­ments, isn’t a sign that your work was not well received. I have often received com­ments on Face­book say­ing how they loved what I said, but no com­ments on the orig­i­nal post. This week, I had a very detailed com­ment on Face­book stat­ing how they enjoyed what I had writ­ten and how help­ful it was to the read­er, as they shared my Face­book post. A pity Face­book com­ments are not record­ed on your Word­Press post.
Sec­ond­ly, you may or may not get views. There seems lit­tle cor­re­la­tion between writ­ing qual­i­ty and the num­ber of views a piece gains. One piece I wrote on a gen­er­al writ­ing site had thou­sands view­ing it, yet when I looked back at the arti­cle I used to kick myself for the errors that I had made. I lat­er cleaned it up and pub­lished it on anoth­er site (after remov­ing the orig­i­nal) where the num­ber of read­ers was much less, although it has read­ers every week, even 4 years later.
Third­ly, as a writer your most impor­tant allies on-line are your Social Media bud­dies. One of the rea­sons why I use tools like Buffer and Recur­post. They post mate­r­i­al at a vari­ety of times dur­ing the day. This allows a wider reach, con­nect to peo­ple on the oth­er side of the globe and have them access my mate­r­i­al as well. Social Media bud­dies will pub­li­cise your work to their friends once you have con­nect­ed and are the great­est ally in get­ting the word out. These bud­dies rarely com­ment and some don’t read your blog post, but they are great at get­ting the word out to others.

Looking to Improve

One char­ac­ter­is­tic of a good writer is that they should always be look­ing to improve. One ele­ment of improv­ing is mak­ing your words more readable.
My first research in this area led me to a com­put­er pro­gram writ­ten in 1988 called Read­abil­i­ty. I still have the man­u­al for this pro­gram in a hard­back ver­sion (although I sus­pect the flop­py disk has dis­ap­peared long ago). This, based on the scores pro­vid­ed from Flesch – Kin­caid and Gun­ning-Fog for­mu­las, would analyse the text that you pro­vid­ed the pro­gram. Today there are many web­sites that offer read­abil­i­ty analy­sis for your work.
These read­abil­i­ty for­mu­las are help­ful  but they are not per­fect how­ev­er. For exam­ple, there is an assump­tion that all long words (more than 6 let­ters) are hard to under­stand.  The scores assume aver­age read­ing abil­i­ty for your audi­ence. Much depends upon your audi­ence, they may all have doc­tor­ate degrees and there­fore the lan­guage for a 16-year-old is inap­pro­pri­ate. The tech­ni­cal words of your pro­fes­sion can be tough for a lay per­son to com­pre­hend. If your mate­r­i­al focus­es on the needs of your pro­fes­sion then those tech­ni­cal words are an essen­tial part of your writ­ing and need includ­ing. The words must be appro­pri­ate to your audi­ence at all times. A case of still #learn­ing.

Readability is not the Only Requirement

Cer­tain­ly under­stand­ing read­abil­i­ty for­mu­las can help you fine-tune your work. But, it depends on hav­ing the text gram­mat­i­cal­ly and syn­tac­ti­cal­ly cor­rect and free of spelling errors before­hand. It doesn’t detect that dan­gling par­tici­ple, for example.
You may have seen the descrip­tion “pas­sive voice” if you are a user of Microsoft Word. For many years I under­stood what it was, but not how to resolve it with­in my writing.
It is true that cre­ation of long sen­tences can bring with it pas­sive voice usage. How­ev­er not all long sen­tences use pas­sive voice and often short ones are equal­ly pas­sive. Gen­er­al­ly writ­ers use pas­sive voice when they describe things that hap­pen to peo­ple rather than actors doing things. Yet if you use phras­es like “was read” or “can be” they are also pas­sive. It s not pos­si­ble to avoid every instance of pas­sive voice, par­tic­u­lar­ly in fiction.
The trick, at least for busi­ness writ­ing, is to find active alter­na­tives. Keep the num­ber of sen­tences con­tain­ing pas­sive voice to below 10 per­cent of what you write.

Drop the Clichés

A Cliché is either a stereo­type or a phrase that is overused and betrays a lack of orig­i­nal thought. Most peo­ple use them, do you? They include “fit as a fid­dle”, “time will tell”, and “oppo­sites attract”. There is truth in the sen­ti­ments, but we should avoid the words.
Per­haps, ask a ques­tion — will time tell? Maybe a chal­lenge needs set­ting — be fit­ter than the fiddle!

I Love Sentences

CommaI know we break sen­tences down into their com­po­nent parts, the words, the phras­es, the propo­si­tions, each help build sen­tences. The key skill for a writer is build­ing sen­tences. My father was proud of build­ing hous­es and I am proud of build­ing sen­tences. As writ­ers we must use sen­tences to aid a reader’s understanding.
Sen­tences come in a vari­ety of lengths. Some are short. Oth­ers are long, expand­ing on the con­cepts used, pro­vid­ing the detail nec­es­sary to aid under­stand­ing. Please adopt no hard and fast rule. Some purists believe in sen­tences of less than 20 words. I love longer sen­tences, they enable the writer to dive into details, break down propo­si­tions into their parts, explain those, when­ev­er nec­es­sary, and at the same time offer some bal­ance, a way to counter-pose ideas, yet keep them in close prox­im­i­ty to the orig­i­nal state­ment. Iron­i­cal­ly, there are times when keep­ing sen­tences short adds words to the whole piece.
There is a flow to phras­es, sen­tences, para­graphs and even sec­tions. No writ­ing for­mu­la demands a fixed sen­tence length. They ebb and flow accord­ing to the words used to explain the ideas being por­trayed. They give facts, tug on the heart-strings, and may even be poet­ic or humor­ous to make the intend­ed point.
When read­abil­i­ty soft­ware warns you about the num­ber of long sen­tences it is sim­ply that, a warn­ing. In gen­er­al there is noth­ing wrong with long sen­tences. They are not always com­plex to read, espe­cial­ly if they use com­mon words. If less than one in ten of your sen­tences are long then you should have no prob­lem being under­stood. A mix of sen­tences and a mix of para­graphs is best in my view. The long sen­tence sur­round­ed by short ones can add vari­ety. The writer’s art is one of cre­at­ing delib­er­ate sen­tences, struc­tured to cre­ate a spe­cif­ic response in the read­er.

Explain or Explore More

Gloss­ing over a com­plex idea is unwise. Peo­ple turn to blogs to learn some­thing. If com­plex sub­jects are not explained, read­ers feel they have wast­ed their time. As a writer you must ques­tion who is read­ing your words? Ensure the lev­el of expla­na­tion is appro­pri­ate, this is espe­cial­ly true of Busi­ness Blogs. It is bet­ter to add a sec­tion that some peo­ple skip over than gloss over the sub­ject, miss­ing the expla­na­tion altogether.
Cur­rent­ly experts believe that the length of a blog post is bet­ter being 2,000 to 2,500 words rather than 500 to 600 words. There should always be ample room to add more detail. Peo­ple read longer posts because they wish to learn some­thing, it is a part of their pro­fes­sion­al or per­son­al devel­op­ment. Most of my posts are 1,250 to 1,750 words in length and I do try to add learn­ing points.

Related Posts by Peter Giblett

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Buy Peter B. Giblett a cof­fee as thanks for his thoughts about still #learn­ing. What are you learn­ing? The images includ­ed here are from roy­al­ty free pub­lic domain image col­lec­tions, pho­tographs from Pixabay.

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  1. […] them. “I read your blog posts and found them inter­est­ing and inspir­ing espe­cial­ly ‘your jour­ney of becom­ing a blog­ger‘” the writer start­ed and added “I have recent­ly start­ed a blog that caters to […]

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