Tips on Writing Gender Free Content

gender free contentAs a non-fiction writer working mostly with small and growing businesses it is crucial that the content I write reaches out to the highest number of target readers. One way of reaching a larger audience is to write gender free content devoid of gender specific or sexist words.

In most English-speaking countries such as UK, USA, Canada and Australia there is a lot of focus on gender equality in the workplace, and gender biased business communication is viewed as unacceptable.  Here is an interesting 2013 news report on proposed gender neutral language changes in Washington state law ( click to view video).

Undoubtedly, as a freelance writer you need to exercise caution and ensure that your content is gender inclusive. Here are some tips on writing gender free content .

1. Instead of gender biased words such as ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘she’ and ‘he’, use gender free words such as they/ their/ them/. For example –

Gender biased statement: Each student should submit his report by end of the week.

Gender free statement: Students should submit their report by end of the week.

In fact, there are a lot of people who do not identify themselves as either a he or a she. This is why pronouns such as ‘they or their’ work the best.

2. Another way of writing gender-free is to use the phrase ‘he or she’ or ‘his or her’. For example –

Gender biased statement: Every young child should be involved in planning her birthday party.

Gender free statement: Every young child should be involved in planning his or her birthday party.

3. Alternate between using ‘he’ and ‘she’ in your content. So while in some sentences you use the pronoun ‘he’, in others use ‘she’.

4. Avoid using words that exude a gender bias. Examples of words considered ‘sexist’ are actress / mailman/stewardess/ mankind/ policewoman. Substitute these with gender-free words such actor/ mail carrier / flight attendant / people/police officer.

Gender biased statement: We welcome madam chairperson to the 5th annual meeting.

Gender free statement: We welcome our chairperson to the 5th annual meeting.

Here is an interesting video on the use of ‘gender neutral pronouns’ by Tom Scott ( a world speaker about the web and the accelerating pace of change).

Writing gender free content is today applicable to everyone, whether you are a writer, a business owner, or a corporate executive sending out an email to your employees. A small change in the way you write/ speak can increase the appeal of what you have to say. So why not try it?

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What is Purple Prose?

plain englishI was contacted by a regular client last week to re-work a report written by one of his other writers.  As per the client the content was laden with ‘purple prose’.

What is purple prose? Purple prose is used to describe writing that is so flowery, that it distracts the reader from the real meaning.  While there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes purple prose, it indicates the use of too many fancy words and expressions, or the use of words and expressions that have similar meaning.

Here is a perfect example of purple prose borrowed from Urban Dictionary:

Normal writing: She lay on her bed dreaming.

Purple prose:  She lay upon her silken sheets in her ornately embellished robes of satin, her chest ascending and descending easily with every passing second, deep inside the caverns of her subconscious mind.

Purple prose – To be or not to be?

Writing in purple prose suits more creative forms of writing, such as novels, spiritual/ motivational content and plays.  In fact, many readers enjoy reading a more elaborate style of writing. A pro-purple prose reader may describe it as ‘ jam to my toast’.

One of the main drawbacks of purple prose is that it takes too long to read. The writer meander’s about the same point, which can be annoying . Excessive use of descriptive wordings can alienate the reader. When you are writing for the internet, drafting a business communication, or preparing an academic paper, grandiosity in expression serves as a death knell for capturing the reader’s interest.

Avoiding purple prose helps you convey the greatest possible information to your reader, in the fewest possible words.

plain english 2Tips on avoiding purple prose

  • Write as you would speak.
  • Avoid using repetitive adjectives and adverbs.
  • Don’t use several lines to communicate a thought that can be expressed as intelligently in a single sentence.
  • Follow a stringent editing process once you have completed the writing.

Do you enjoy reading purple prose?  Or do you think that flowery language should be avoided? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Happy Writing!

Every Writer Must be a Meticulous Self-Editor

Every writer knows that editing is an essential part of the writing process, whether it’s a novel or a one page article. While some writers have professional editors to do the job, most of us need to rely on our self-editing skills.

photo:freedigitalphotos.net , Stuart Miles

photo: Stuart Miles

As a freelance writer, bulk of my work involves writing content for the internet (e.g. business blogs, ebooks, informative articles).  For me, self-editing is not just about correcting grammar and spotting missing words. As I move from the draft to the final copy, self-editing helps me adhere to the following key aspects –

  • The headline is clear and powerful
  • Article sub-headings are clear
  • Each section flows seamlessly into the next.
  • Each paragraph is coherent.
  • Every information is relevant to the reader.
  • Each thought is expressed with the greatest clarity, in the fewest possible words.
  • That I have fully weighed the possible interpretation / implication of each sentence (this is particularly significant as most of my clients are selling a product, service or, the information itself).

Of course, the cardinal rule of a good edit is to start editing once you have finished writing.  As I write, I do check each paragraph for correctness of grammar and cohesiveness of information presented. But majority of the editing happens at a later stage.

My typical editing process looks something like this: 

imagerymajestic

Are you ready to give your work a good snip?   photo: Imagerymajestic

Write > Minor Corrections > Write > Finish the Article> Step Away from my Desk for a While> Come Back and Read the Completed Article > Begin Editing > Re-read the Article Aloud > Re-edit sections> Read the Article Aloud > Satisfied with Outcome 🙂 > Submit to the client.

Reading the article aloud during the editing stage is a great way to catch missing words, or spot unnecessary words.  When in doubt, I ask someone else to read the final edited version, before sending it to the client.

A typical 1000 word article ( or 2 pages) takes me about 30 minutes for a good edit.  Am I overdoing or under-doing it, I can’t say. But it’s what works for me.

In fact, you don’t have to be a writer to realize the importance of self-editing.  We have all had this recurring experience at work – you send out an office email without reading it carefully, only to realize later on the glaring mistakes in the email.  At the very least a poorly drafted email makes you feel like a fool and you say to yourself, “Hey maybe the other person will also not notice”. But if you are unlucky, a badly worded  email could put you in a spot of bother.

Clearly, all of us need to self-edit to achieve results. Unfortunately, when we do something day in and day out, complacency sets in. I realized I was guilty of slacking up in my editing effort over the last few assignments when I read a post by fellow blogger Amanda Fox- Rouch, titled ‘The editing process: Be unforgiving’. And as was to be the case, I spotted some errors in the last document sent to a client. 😦

Whatever your line of work, ensure that you have re-read what you have typed before you press the ‘send’ button on your computer / smartphone screen. If you are a writer, I would love to hear your editing tips and how long does it take you to self-edit your work.

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3 Rules for Writing Easy to Understand Online Content

It is a commonly accepted fact that the average internet reader scans an article/ blog for a few seconds before deciding to continue reading, or clicking the back-button. Therefore,  minimalist impactful writing is a must-have skill for an online content writer .

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.ne

When writing for the internet, less is more!

Unless otherwise asked by your client, the thumb rule of writing for the internet is to write content that is simple, concise, and has coherent paragraphing.

When writing a 400-500 word online article, you must pack in maximum information in the cleanest manner possible.

Here are three ground rules for ensuring that your content catches the reader’s attention.

Rule : I Get straight to the point: 

Credit: Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

photo : Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

  • Write a headline that clearly indicates information contained in the article.
  • Resist the temptation to write a quirky article headline.
  • Use the first few lines of the article to offer a quick glimpse into the focus of the article.
  • Do not waste time giving a lengthy introduction.
credit: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

photo: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

 

Rule : II Break it down into blocks of information

  • Use article sub-headings to divide your article into neat blocks of information. However, you must also ensure that the each section of the article seamlessly flows into the next.
  • Use bullet points, numbered lists where possible in sharing information with the reader.
  • Write small paragraphs of 2-3 sentences. No paragraph should be more than 4 lines on your MS Word document
  • Write short sentences. If any sentence goes beyond 2 typed lines, cut it down in the editing stage.
  • Write one thought per sentence. 

Rule : III Use everyday words

  • Write words used by your readers in everyday life. Avoid industry jargons and outdated words (e.g. herein, herewith, wherewithal).
  • Writing in active voice will help you express information in as few words, and as directly as possible.
  • Once you have written the article, spend considerable time editing the  ‘fluff’.

The art of writing and the mediums of expression have evolved considerably over the last few centuries.  However, the art of simplicity in writing has remained an essential hallmark of a successful writer. William Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Sir Winston Churchill remarked, “This report by its very length defends itself against the risk of being read”. 

Do you agree that simplicity in expression is the way to go? Or, do you feel that the internet is diluting the English vocabulary?

Share your comments in the box below.

Use the Right ‘Point of View’ for Writing Web Content

Do you remember learning about the first person, second person, and third person narrative points of view (POV) in school? In this age of terse email and mobile text communication, this differentiation in writing style is often lost. However, for a digital content writer, the use of the right POV is incredibly important for ensuring that the content is attention grabbing, plausible, and engaging. types-of-narrators-english-tutorvista-com Understanding the different narrative point of views

Here is a quick look at the various writing narratives and choosing the best POV as per the type of web content.

1. First person point of view: The first person POV is from the narrator’s or the writer’s point of view. The pronouns ‘I, my, we, our and me’ express the first-person point of view.

There are several advantages of writing web content in the first person point of view.

  • It humanizes your content, often helping you connect with your readers on an emotional level.
  • It allows for an openness that is unachievable while writing in second person or third person POVs.
  • First person POV instills authority. Individuals who are a voice of authority in their industries extensively use the first person of view to share their knowledge.
  • It  makes the content sound honest.

2. Second Person Point of View Second person point of view is when you are speaking directly to the reader. You address them as ‘you, your, and yours’. Use of second person narrative is common in web content, and in particular in writing attention grabbing article headlines. The second person point of view also comes in handy when you are writing instructional manuals or product reviews.

With second person it is easier to persuade the reader to take action, and appeal to their emotions . This is especially significant when you pitch a product, service or social cause. However, when writing in the second person narrative be careful that the content does not sound patronizing or like a ‘hard-sell’ pitch.

3. The Third Person Point of View The third person point of view is less popular in web content writing. It is when you do not directly refer to the reader, and instead use  ‘he, she and it’ in reference people and things. The third person point of view commands a formality that is not present in first and second points of view. However, you risk alienating your readers with the third-person narrative .

Example of the same sentence, different narrative

First person – As a first-time user, I found the manual helpful.

Second person – If you are a first-time user, you will find the manual helpful.

Third person: Most first-time users will find the manual helpful.

WritingStyleChoosing the Correct Narrative for Internet Based Business Writing

As an internet freelance writer myself, writing in the second person narrative has become the most natural way to write and appeal to the audience. However, a second person POV is not always the best fit.

Blogs: The aim of a business blog is to share information with the reader and start a conversation. The most effective way to do this is to ‘speak’ to them directly, which is through second person narrative.

Website and marketing communications: For any business campaign to be a success, the content has to connect with the target audience. This means appealing to their emotions and own experiences, and you can do that in second person POV.

Press releases (PR): A press release is an unbiased reporting of an event or business development. The third-person POV renders the objectivity needed for a PR. A second person narrative would not be apt for a PR.

Also read –  Ditch the Passive and Write in an ‘Active Voice’ for Engaging Online Content