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Why you should be reading to your kids

Why you should read to your kids

This week (20-20 August 2016) is Book Week.

Each year, across Australia, The Children’s Book Council of Australia brings children and books together celebrating Children’s Book Week. During this time schools, libraries, booksellers, authors, illustrators and children celebrate Australian Children’s Literature.

Although don’t feel that you only have to read Australian stories. Book Week is a great opportunity to read anything, particularly with your child.

Literacy rates are lower than you think

You may think that here in Australia, we don’t have a problem with illiteracy (the inability to read or write). However, it may surprise you to know that around 46 per cent of Australian adults don’t have the literacy skills needed to cope with everyday life.

That’s almost half of us!

Furthermore, 51 per cent of Australian adults — that’s more than half! — don’t realise that reading and sharing stories with children from birth gives them the best start in life.

Sadly, Aussie kids spend around twice the amount of time watching TV as they do reading.

 

Benefits of reading

Reading has so many benefits. As a book-lover and a writer, I could go on for hours about how great reading is. But let’s just stick to a few. Did you know that:

  • Reading helps children build a solid language and literacy foundation before they go to school
  • Children who are read to have better cognitive skills later in life. And they aren’t just limited to spelling and language skills. Numeracy skills are also impacted in a positive way.
  • Reading sparks imagination, creativity and an enquiring mind
  • Reading relieves boredom
  • Reading provides opportunities for you to bond with your child
  • Children who read, tend to become readers for life.

 

Memories can be made with books

The other great thing about books is they can help build special memories of your children.

My son (who is almost 14) has always been surrounded by books. I read to him the first day he came home from hospital as a baby. I read to him in the morning and in the afternoon. It became a routine which he loved. Snuggled up on the couch, touching pages, repeating words — it was a very special time together.

In the early days of motherhood, when most things would bamboozle me, and I was feeling like a terrible failure, I would take solace in the bookshop. My son would sit or lie in his pram and soak up the atmosphere. We both became calmer versions of ourselves in a place where there were other worlds to discover, new people to meet, new adventures to be had.

By the time we’d bought a book (or a few books), and had a coffee, the world would be a happy place again.

I did the same when my daughter was born. Although the trip to the bookshop wasn’t always as calm, as I had a 2 ½ year old boy who kept excitedly bringing me book after book, asking if we could buy it.

As my kids grew older, I would ask them to choose several stories to read. They would both excitedly run into their rooms, search through their books and pull out five or six stories. Some of them would feature every day. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” was a particular favourite. But sometimes we would be treated to something different, like the story about “The Little Yellow Digger”, or “Lettice: The Flower Girl”.

Classics like “Guess How Much I Love You”, “Possum Magic” and a variety of “Hairy Maclary” were read over and over. As were books on dinosaurs, dogs, rabbits and birds.

 

Books bring you closer together

Both my children outgrew their picture books a while ago, and I no longer have the pleasure of seeing them run down the hallway and emerge triumphantly with a pile of books almost as big as themselves. But I do have the pleasure of seeing them enjoy more grown up stories. And I do have the pleasure of introducing them to stories that I love — stories I grew up with and loved like “The Faraway Tree” books, “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables; and more recent stories like “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games”.

Regardless of how old they get, and the likelihood that they will forget just how much reading we did in those early days, I will never forget. I’ll never forget how a cappuccino (or bottle in my son’s case) and a new book made the world a better place. And I will never forget the warm snuggles and soft pyjamas as we would settle in for several stories each night.

So this week — just because it’s Book Week — read to your kids. If they are too old to be read to (are they ever??), then talk to them about the books they are reading. Talk to them about what you’re reading.

You know you’ll be helping them improve their literacy and learning. And you may just enjoy it too.

Cheers
Nerissa

If you struggle writing a good sentence and would like me to help you out, just flick me an email. I promise I’ll answer it – as soon as I’m finished reading!

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Health writers or hacks? 5 ways to sort fact from fiction

Health writer or hack? How to discern fact from fiction

There’s no doubt the health and wellness industry is booming right now.

An ageing population, coupled with greater awareness of the importance of staying healthy for life has contributed to an explosion in the number of healthcare, wellbeing and fitness business popping up all across the country.

Part of this this movement towards greater health and wellbeing is a plethora of ‘wellness warriors’, ‘health bloggers’, and other individuals writing articles and providing advice relating to health and medical matters.

But are these credible sources for information on health? And are those who write these types of articles qualified to provide such advice?

 

The problem with wellness warriors and bloggers

Firstly, let me state, there is nothing wrong with having an interest in health, wellbeing and alternative therapies. There is nothing wrong with using alternative therapies, and there is also nothing wrong with reading health information on the internet.

However, what you may not realise is a lot of information relating to health and wellness (and even medical conditions) found on the internet is inaccurate, unfounded, unproven, untrue, and downright dangerous.

Sometimes articles contain claims based on anecdotal evidence. Sometimes information presented is old and outdated. Sometimes it is based on pseudoscience, or ‘popular opinion’. At its worst, the health and wellbeing arena is riddled with claims and scaremongering tactics aimed at playing on people’s vulnerabilities and designed to lighten consumers’ wallets.

A recent case of ‘wellness warrior’ turned sour is that of Belle Gibson. A self-proclaimed health guru who claimed to have ‘cured’ her terminal brain cancer through healthy eating and natural therapies, finally admitted last year (2015) that all her claims were untrue.

Ms Gibson had a thriving business based on these false claims. She developed an app and companion cookbook, and wrote a blog on the subject. She also made a lot of money based on her lies. But until her story finally unravelled, thousands of people had put their trust in her.

 

How to determine if an article is credible

Ms Gibson is not the only person to make fake or incorrect claims regarding health and medical information. There are thousands of wellness bloggers, or website owners doing the same thing. Heck, even journalists get information incorrect from time to time.

And while innocent mistakes can be expected occasionally, health information is too important to get wrong the majority of the time.

Here are the top five ways you can determine if the information you are reading is likely to be credible.

  1. Is the writer sticking to facts or voicing an opinion?

A credible health writer will stick to the facts rather than voice their opinion. They will also write in a way to present the facts and empower the reader to make a positive health change if necessary. They will not use scaremongering tactics, nor pressure you to purchase a product or a service.

 As soon as there is a ‘sales pitch’, then it’s a safe bet that the information is biased towards getting you to make a purchase.

  1. Does the article use accredited sources of information?

Any health writer worth their salt will always defer to a credible source for health information. Even better, they will attribute, facts and figures to that source. For example, it’s easy to write :

“one in six Australians are affected by cardiovascular disease”.

But how do you know this is accurate?

A credible health article will refer to the source of the information in the body of the article:

“According to the Heart Foundation, one in six Australians are affected by cardiovascular disease”.

Credible sources of information can include peak health bodies and organisations, federal government websites, well-known medical schools and universities.

Other ‘wellness’ websites and blogs, newspaper reports and anecdotal evidence are NOT credible.

 

  1. Does the article link in with current information?

Great health articles make use of current research statistics. What is deemed as ‘current’? Anything published within the last three years. Medical information changes so quickly these days. With new research being published and statistics updated almost annually, there is no excuse to use old, outdated information.

However, some information and reports are only updated every few years, particularly if they are drawn from surveys that are conducted every few years (i.e. The Australian Census). If this is the case, always state which year your statistics are coming from.

 

  1. Does the article refer to current research?

Just like using current information, a good health writer will back up claims with current research. When citing research studies, the body of the article should mention what year the study was published and which organisation published it. The link to the original source of the study (not a news report or media release) should be included in references at the bottom of the article.

  1. Does the writer include a list of references?

A great health writer will attribute all sources of their information. The reasons for doing this are three-fold — firstly, to add credibility and weight to their story; secondly, to allow readers to search for further information if they need it; and thirdly, to cover themselves in case any of the information is incorrect or no longer current by the time the article is published.

 

A final word…

It’s important to remember not to believe everything you read online. Just because it’s published does not make it true. Even the best health and medical writers may make simple errors.

Health information found online should only ever be used as a guide (and only when you deem it to be credible). Your doctor is the best person to advise you about your personal health concerns and no amount of online ‘research’ should replace your own doctor’s medical opinion.

If you find information that contradicts your doctor’s advice, then speak to them about it. Don’t simply take the word of a ‘health blogger’, or ‘wellness warrior’, no matter how long they have been blogging or how many followers they have.

If you want to engage an experienced health and medical writer for your project, contact me. I’d love to help you out and ensure your content is factual and up-to-date.

Cheers

Nerissa

 

 

Writing with numbers

Writing with numbers

Did you know there are rules and conventions surrounding the use of numbers when you write?

Many people don’t.

While rules surrounding the use of numbers and numerals in writing aren’t as strict as those that apply to spelling and grammar, proper use of them, or sticking to an agreed Style Guide can make your writing much easier to read.

Here are some basic rules to make your use of numbers more consistent.

Know when to spell them out
Generally speaking, numbers from one to nine, should be spelled and numbers 10 and above can be written using numerals.

Money talks
When discussing the subject of money, stick to numerals. It is much easier to read. When talking about cents, either write it in full (e.g. “sixty cents” or “60 cents”). Avoid “$0.60”.

Decimals
To avoid any confusion, use numerals when writing out decimals. (e.g. “1.5 per cent”, NOT “one point five per cent”).

Use a comma
Commas should be used in numbers of four or more digits to separate hundreds, thousands and millions, etc. (e.g. 1,500; 100,000, etc.)

Start sentences with words, not numbers
Avoid beginning sentences with numbers. Where possible, re-write the sentence. Where it’s not possible, then spell out the word. (e.g. “Twenty thousand people” instead of 20,000 people). In the case of spelling out compound numbers, use a dash (e.g. “forty-five people”, rather than “forty five people”).

Speeds
When writing speeds, it’s preferable to use numerals, simply because that’s what most people read when they drive. So, the speed limit is “60km per hour”, not “sixty km per hour”.

Years, decades and centuries
You should write the year using numerals (e.g. 2016). However, when it comes to decades or centuries, a spelled out version is preferable (e.g. “the nineties” or “seventeenth century”).

Time
When referring to time, keep it simple and use numerals when referring to time (e.g. “5.15am”, instead of “five-fifteen in the morning”).

Percentages can be tricky
Ultimately, it will come down to the style guide of the organisation you are writing for. If you work for a scientific or medical industry, it may be preferable to express percentage with the symbol ‘%’. However, in more formal writing it is preferable to use ‘percentage’ or ‘per cent’ instead.

Fractions
Fractions should be expressed in a format that is easy to read. That means the top figure in superscript, followed by a slash and the second number in subscript (e.g. “1/8”). Do not use the form “one eighth”.

Temperatures
When writing about degrees, always use numerals. For example, 9 degrees, NOT nine degrees. You may also wish to use the symbol “°”. However, remember that there should be no space between the numeral and the symbol. (e.g. 35°C).

What about recipes?
Recipes are less formal and need to be easy to read and understand. For this reason, express measurements in numeral form. (e.g. “2 tablespoons”, “1 ½ cups”, etc.).

Large numbers
Sometimes large numbers are best rounded up or down, and expressed as a combination of written word and numerals. For example, “200 million” is easier to read than “200,000,000”. However, if you need to write an exact number, use the numeral format (e.g. “200, 186, 348”).

Numbers close together
Every now and then, you will come across two different numbers written next to each other. For example, “we surveyed 12 45-year-olds”. In this case, spell out one of the numbers (usually the lowest number), so it looks like this “we surveyed twelve 45-year-olds”.

Depending upon the genre of your writing and who your audience is, you may find you need to bend some of the above rules a little bit. That’s fine. Just make sure that however you write, you are consistent across the board.

The best way to do this is to develop your own in-house Style Guide.

If you would like help developing a Style Guide for your business, or need help with your writing needs, please contact us. We would love to work with you.

Cheers

Nerissa

7 top tips for proofreading

 

7 top tips for proofreading

Have you ever sent an email only to realise you have made a spelling error? Or worse, spent thousands on marketing material only to realise there is a glaring error AFTER it has been printed?

If you have, you’re not alone.

Proofreading may seem like a simple task, but it’s probably one of the most important. After all, misspelled words can make you look ignorant — particularly if they are common words.

Why proofreading is important

Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process. It’s the part that comes AFTER you have finished writing, editing and re-structuring your work. And it should only be done after you have finished ALL of your editing revisions.

Contrary to popular belief, proofreading isn’t just about picking up spelling and grammatical errors, although this is an important aspect. Proofreading ensures:

  • your message is clear, concise and easy to read
  • your message is consistent with your brand
  • your message is consistent with your style guide
  • you have included key phrases or terms
  • your message is unlikely to offend anyone
  • what you are saying is accurate and true
  • you look professional.

Tips for proofreading

Most people only spend a few minutes on proofreading, hoping to catch glaring errors. However, after spending so much time crafting your message, you don’t want it all ruined by a careless, slap-dash approach to checking your work.

Here are some tips for proofreading:

  1. Don’t rely on spell-checkers — While they are useful, spell-checkers are far from foolproof. Some of them won’t recognise particular words and they won’t catch the wrong use of words (e.g. ‘your’ VS ‘you’re’).
  2. Don’t rely on grammar-checkers — These too can be useful, but grammar-checkers can also be problematic as they work with a limited number of rules.
  3. Proofread for one type of error at a time —Check for punctuation errors in one reading, and spelling errors in another. Trying to check for too many variables increases the risk of something being missed.
  4. Read your work slowly and carefully — It can be tempting to rush proofreading when you are very familiar with your content, but look at every word.
  5. Read your work out loud — This will help you identify content that sounds clunky and awkward.
  6. Read sentences separately — Focus on one sentence at a time, instead of rushing to the next one.
  7. Read your work backwards — This is a tip I learnt when studying journalism. It may seem awkward, but that’s the point. When you read it backwards, the punctuation, grammar and content won’t make much sense, forcing you to focus on spelling errors.

7 top tips for proofreading

When you should hire a proofreader

Proofreading becomes easier over time. The more you do it, the better you become. However, there are some instances when you really should hire someone to do it for you. Consider hiring a proofreader if:

  • You struggle with correct grammar, punctuation and spelling
  • You don’t have time to thoroughly proofread your work
  • Your professionalism rides on the accuracy of your written content, and you simply can’t afford any mistakes
  • You are too attached to the writing and need a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ to look at it.

It’s far better to pay someone to check for mistakes before you publish, than realise you’ve made them when it’s too late!

If you’re in need of a great proofreader at reasonable rates, we’d love to help you out. Contact us today.

Cheers

Nerissa

 

Are you a copywriter’s dream client?

Are you the ideal copywriting client

When it comes to engaging a copywriter, most people want to know how to engage a good one.

If you’ve ever contemplated hiring a copywriter, your main concern was probably quality and cost: ‘How can I find a brilliant copywriter who won’t cost the earth’. Am I right? Be honest!

As well as wanting someone to deliver high-quality copy at a reasonable rate, you are also looking for someone who will deliver it fast, be flexible to your needs, and provide excellent service along the way. You may even interview a few different people before you find what you are looking for.

Well, what you may not realise, is that good copywriters screen potential clients in the same way that you screen your copywriters.

Yep, that’s right. We screen our clients.

The question is, would you pass the screening test?

 

What copywriters really want

Many people assume that freelance writers are continually on the hunt for work. While that’s true in some cases, or at certain times of the year, it’s often not the case at all — which is why we can be fussy when it comes to entering a partnership with a client.

The ideal client can mean different things to different copywriters, particularly as many of us specialise in different areas. However, there are a few key things we look for, when taking on a new client:

  1. You are pleasant to deal with. If we are going to have an ongoing, or even short-term relationship (and of course I mean business relationship), then you need to be friendly and pleasant — both via email and phone. First impressions really count in this instance.
  2. You know what you want and why you want it. It may sound obvious but many clients don’t really know what they want. You need to be specific and be able to provide us with as much detail as possible. Some copywriters will provide you with a questionnaire/briefing document to garner information. Please take the time to fill it in. ‘Copy that pops’ or ‘Information for my webpage’ is not sufficient detail.
  3. You do not, I repeat, DO NOT haggle with a quote. Our quote is based on many things, including the complexity of the job, the hours we anticipate it will take, and the level of expertise we bring to our craft. We are professionals. Clients who haggle with a quote usually screen themselves out. If you wouldn’t haggle with fees set down by a doctor’s surgery or a legal practice, then please don’t do it with us.
  4. You happily sign a contract of agreement. Don’t worry, this isn’t a document promising your first-born. It’s simply a contract outlining the scope of the project, the agreed deadlines and fee structure — all of which has been discussed. By signing this, you are simply agreeing to engage us for the work required.
  5. You think of us as professionals. Copywriters might be a strange bunch to you, but at the end of the day, we are professionals. We have chosen to write for a living, which means we are probably pretty good at it, and have invested time and money in developing our skills. If you recognise and understand that, you already have one foot in the door!
  6. You meet all deadlines. That’s right — you have deadlines too! In order for us to meet your deadlines, you need to be able to provide us with information and feedback in a timely manner. Very rarely is your project the only one we are working on, so in order for us to meet your deadline, please help us by responding to us when we contact you.
  7. You don’t hover. You know those parents labelled ‘helicopter parents’? Well, there are such things as ‘helicopter clients’. These are the people who email their copywriter several times a day to ‘see how the job is going’ or to ‘remind you we need the work by next week’. We’ve got it! It’s all in the brief! And no, you don’t need to leave a message to make sure that we received your email!
  8. You pay your invoice, including any deposit required, by the due date. I’m sure most copywriters have been burned by clients who haven’t paid their bills. I know I have. That’s why one of the screening tools we use is an upfront deposit before any work begins. If you pay that, we know you are serious about us working with you. We also know you are likely to pay the full amount at the end, and we won’t have to waste precious time chasing money. If you balk at paying a deposit, then don’t be surprised if we balk at working with you.
  9. You provide referrals and testimonials. When you are happy with the quality of work and the service we provide, you happily refer us to other clients. You may not know anyone who needs our services immediately, but our ideal client will recommend us to other people for future jobs. Similarly, if asked, you will provide us with a testimonial that we can use for our own marketing purposes.

 

What if a copywriter says ‘no’ to you?

Sometimes we may elect not to take on your job. It can be for a variety of reasons — we can’t complete it within your time-frame, we don’t have the expertise that you require, or you simply haven’t passed one of our screening tools.

If we don’t take on your job, know it has nothing to do with you personally. It’s simply a business decision that we have made. However, where possible, we will refer you to someone else who may be able to help you.

So you if you are ready to work with a brilliant copywriter (who charges reasonable rates), contact me today….but only if you pass the screening test above!

Cheers

Nerissa

 

 

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