It was the third round of editing on a piece I was writing about the autumn harvest. It was all about kale, collards, squash, and Brussels sprouts. The problem was, I had it all wrong.
Instead of Brussels sprouts, I was writing brussel sprouts. No capital B at the beginning, no s on the end of Brussels.
I'd cooked and eaten lots of Brussels sprouts, but clearly I'd never written about them.
Lesson #1: Proper names have proper spellings.
When a red line appeared below the misspelled "brussel," I was surprised. So I checked the dictionary.
I found the correct spelling: A capital B? A bit more digging revealed the name comes from the city of Brussels, in Belgium.
Unless you're certain about the correct spelling of a product, a city, a town, someone's name, title, or product, look it up.
That was last year. This year, I have another editing tip courtesy of the Brussels sprout.
Last week I was watching a cooking show when the chef introduced a new segment by saying, "Today we're making Brussels sprouts."
Lesson #2: Ask yourself, "Is that what's really going on?"
Of course the chef wouldn't be "making" Brussels sprouts, as in constructing or creating them. He would be cooking them. Or, maybe he'd be roasting them.
In the context of the show, it didn't matter much. It was a live taping and viewers could watch and listen.
But his word choice caught my ear. I've been writing a lot and that means I'm rewriting and editing a lot.
I wanted to edit the script, to rewind the tape and have the chef say, "Today we're roasting Brussels sprouts."
Roasting is a more descriptive word. Making is vague and in this example, inaccurate.
Every word has a purpose.
Lesson #3: Just because you're familiar with something doesn't mean you know all you need to know.
It turns out eating Brussels sprouts didn't make me an expert. From misspellings to context and relevance, it's important to know what you're writing about. Do some research. Dig around. What you find may not only surprise you, it could add a new dimension to your project.
Get Your Cabbage On
Are you a fan? Brussels sprouts with a capital B offer a boost of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. And they're good for gut health, too.
The only question is, how will you cook them?
Feeling the heat?
If you don't like to write, are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes to read through what you written, let me know. I can help with:
Notes on illustrations:
The title illustration with the Brussels sprouts images was created for this post. The letter is hand-drawn using Ledge, a lettering style I developed for my Riddle Me Mail project. If you're interested, here's a how-to lettering guide for Ledge.
The autumn collage was also created for Riddle Me Mail. You can learn more about my collage process here.
Call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation.
Love It or Hate It
Whether or not you like to write, it seems most of us have to do some sort of writing at some point.
Email is ever-present, websites are all about content, content, content, and blogs can challenge the best of us.
When I'm struggling to begin a new writing project, big or small, I remind myself that getting something down on paper is a good first step. It can be an outline, a summary, or a list. Something, anything to get me started.
When Things Get Fuzzy
After two, three, or four rounds of writing, editing, and rewriting, things can get fuzzy. Overwhelm sets in and I'm burdened by the order of things. I worry about what it is I'm trying say, how much to say, and how to say it.
That's when I revisit one of these books:
• Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
• Writing Well, William Zinsser
• Words Fail Me, Patricia T. O'Conner
Revisiting them reminds me what it takes to write well.
• In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, reminds me that I just need to start. Forget about word choice and form. Just write.
• On Writing Well by William Zinsser reminds me that good writing is all about rewriting and clearing the clutter.
• Words Fail Me is funny. Patricia T. O'Conner reminds me that each sentence has a job to do, that clarity is paramount, and it's OK to lighten up a bit.
I've read each one of these books cover to cover, many times. But it's hard to remember it all. When my writing gets the best of me, I grab one, read a chapter or two, take a deep breath, and get back to writing.
Writing Is Hard
If you don't like to write, are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes to read through what you've written, I can help:
• content development
If I can help, call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation.
And stay tuned. I've got a new book in the works. Here's a hint:
I don't know about you, but I always thought The Dog Days of Summer were those days when it's so hot, all the dogs are panting.
Well, the heat does make them, and most of us, pant. But that's not where the name comes from.
No, the term comes from ancient forecasters and astrologers who noticed the seasonal alignment of the Sun and Sirius (the Dog Star constellation). They believed the combination generated more heat and called the stretch between July 3 and August 11, The Dog Days of Summer.
My curiosity about The Dog Days of Summer started with the August edition of my Riddle Me Mail project. I was searching for a theme and decided to go with what I thought I knew about The Dog Days of Summer.
Connecting the Dots
So why do The Dog Days of Summer matter? They're a good example of how often we think we know something, but don't know the whole story.
How one thought leads to another, and how unexpected connections can generate new interest in a familiar topic.
Share What You Know
When it came time to design the stationery for Riddle Me Mail, I settled on postcards and decided to share what I'd learned, adding information about Canis Major, the constellation that features the Dog Star, Sirius.
I also learned that Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, not the North Star. Did you know that?
What About Your Business?
What information could you share or clarify? Is there a backstory about your business or products people would find interesting?
Are there ways you might simplify your message?
Could you present it in a new format or context that would generate new interest?
If I can help, let me know.
We design and edit websites, books, and presentations.
There’s a reason you see so many lists online.
They’re easy to share and easy to skim, and that makes great content for your website or blog.
The KEY to a good list though, is making it interesting and helpful. It doesn’t do any good if your list repeats common knowledge, or leaves people wondering how to do what you suggest.
With our 3-Course Cook-Off And Other Things to Do On A Rainy Day, we illustrate just how you can build an interesting and helpful list. Click here or on the image above read the three things to do on a rainy day.
At Composition 1206, we are information architects. If you have information to share and want to be sure it reads well and makes you proud we can help. Let’s talk!
We design and edit:
websites • books • presentations
Five Ways to Build a Better Website
You've got a website and it's been up for a while, but is it as good as it could be?
1. A fresh approach
If your website is more than a couple of years old, it may be time for an update.
Take a critical look at your site. Does it inspire confidence? Is your information up to date? Is your logo big enough? Too big? Do the fonts and colors on your site reflect your logo and branding?
Do you have large blocks of text that read more like a novel than a website?
Writing for the web is different than other forms of writing. Keep your audience engaged with:
This article is a good example. People like to skim headlines, subheads, and lists and then go deeper. Make it easy for them to skim.
Does your site feature a dark background? Though it can be striking to have a dark background, it makes reading difficult. And that means people will stop reading before they finish learning more about how you can help them.
2. Is it all about you? It shouldn't be
Do you welcome visitors with a line that's all about them ... or is it all about you?
Sure, your website is about you, but when people visit they're thinking about themselves and how you can help them. Your landing page should start with sentences like:
We help YOU make better decisions when you have to _________ , or
Become the best ________, or even,
Discover how to ________.
Open with sentences that make people feel welcome and let them know right away what you can do for them.
Sentences like, "WE have 25 years of experience ...," or "WE'RE members of ..." belong on your about page.
Who you are, your background, your years of service, it's all important information. But it's information people want only after they know how you can help them.
3. Share your expertise
When someone comes to your site they’re looking for information, hoping to be inspired. Make it interesting. Aside from the usual menu items (home/about/contact), what else can you offer? Maybe you could consider a blog or special features:
Blogs are great if you commit to posting regularly, but clearly not for everyone or every business. If you have a blog and the last post is from over a year ago (or, gasp, three or four years ago), you might consider taking it down or breathing new life into it.
Special Features. Consider features like how-to articles, a behind-the-scenes segment, staff profiles, infographics, and updated photographs.
Regular updates can also help with search engine results. Turns out a stale website is, well, stale. New information garners attention and boosts your ranking.
4. Offer downloads and products
If you have how-to information, a special edition poster, infographic, a report, an ebook or print edition, promote it on your website.
You can also consider sharing what you know for a fee or by subscription. You have information people want and need. Position yourself as an expert and distribute and sell what you know.
5. Stay In Touch
Email remains one of the best ways to connect with customers and associates. Consider a monthly newsletter delivered by email.
You can build your email list by offering something in exchange for contact information. Something like an ebook, a top five list of something relevant, or a discount for services or products.
As you build your email list, you can help others by sharing what you know. And it will help establish you as an expert in your field.
Is it time to refresh your website?
Call or write today to learn more about making your website the best it can be.
book editing and design + website upgrades
Write today to start looking like the professional you are.
Look like the professional you are
The demand for online content continues to grow. Done right, it can elevate a business and bolster credibility.
Done poorly, it does the opposite.
Make it easy for people
When people visit your website or read an email or book you've produced, they want to know if the information you're giving them is the information they need.
They want to know they're in the right place.
Good design provides a positive user experience where visitors find what they need and are encouraged to take the next step ... to download your book or get in touch with you.
Bad design is distracting and confusing, and it can hurt your business. If visitors to your site can't find the information they need, you'll lose them. If what you present is hard to navigate or poorly written, they'll wonder how good you are at what you do.
It's all about them
When a customer or client visits your website or reads your book, they're looking for information that can help them.
They don't need to know how long you've been in business, or how good you are at what you do. It's important information and they'll want to know all of that, but first they need to know they are in the right place to get the help they need.
The opening line on your website or the title of your book should make it clear.
Let's give them what they need
It can be a challenge to figure out what to say and how to organize it in an easy-to-navigate format.
Need help? We've got the ideas and experience to make it happen.
Call or write today and we'll help you look good ... online and on paper.
When you post or distribute new information, you're competing with a slew others doing the same.
How can you stand out?
With good writing and well-designed materials that demand attention.
Below is a side by side case study using information about the crocus. There are, of course, lots of ways it could be done. This is one way.
People Need More Than Just the Facts
Good design, like a road map, helps your audience navigate the information you present, drawing their attention to what you want them to see, read, and understand about you, your business, and your product.
My job is help you look good in print ... online and on paper.
Call today: 207-252-9757 or write today to talk about your latest project.
Websites • Books • Reports • Catalogs • and More!
I'm the first to admit to a little DIY plumbing. I've changed a washer on the bathroom faucet and replaced the hoses on the washing machine. But, when it comes to replacing the seal on the toilet or installing a new garbage disposal, I call the professionals.
DIY publishing and graphic design is easier than ever, and chances are, you publish a lot of your own content.
A critical element in content design, and one that's often misunderstood, is font choice. There are so many to choose from and it's tempting to use too many, or the wrong ones.
Here are some tips to choosing the right fonts that will help you attract and keep your reader's attention:
Display fonts are the fancy, decorative styles, and they should be used sparingly. Just a few words. Really. Maybe a headline. Well, maybe not. Definitely not for sentences or paragraphs. They are just too hard to read. Go easy on these. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much. I used a display font above ... for one number and two words. Just two. And it works. Any more than that and it becomes difficult to read.
These are the fonts that have little bits at the ends and tips of the letters; fonts like Times, Goudy, and Garamond. These are great for long passages of text, for books, and reports. They also add a warmer feel to your text. If you're writing a book, be sure to set the text in a serif font. It's easier to read and will look more professional. Not sure about that? Grab a few books from the bookshelf and see what style fonts are used.
These are straight-up fonts, no embellishment, no little bits at the ends or tips of the letters. Helvetica and Arial are common san serif fonts. You’ll see a lot of san serif fonts on the web. They can be easier to read online for blog posts and on your about page, but again, if you have a lot of text or long passages, consider a serif font. Something like Georgia is great for online reading.
Two things to remember.
1) Make it Easy to Read
Your text needs to be easy to read. If it’s not, people will abandon what you've written and your message will be lost.
- Use display fonts sparingly.
- Choose serif fonts for longer passages and a softer, more welcoming feel.
- Use sans serif fonts for shorter entries, technical writing, instructions, and headlines.
2) Use The Two Font Rule
What is the two font rule? Use only one or two fonts on any document, report, or page. Sure, you can use the italic and bold features within the same font and you can combine it with a display font, but that’s it. Any more than that and you risk losing your reader. Too many fonts distract the eye and make it difficult to follow.
I'm here to help. If you're too busy to worry about font choice, content design and editing, send an email, or give me a call. I'd love to help out.
Making you look good in print, online and on paper.
Legacy Books • Presentations
Infographics • Magazines
Annual Reports • Invitations
Boost your credibility.
Writing a book can boost your credibility as an expert in your field and it serves as a permanent record of your achievements, ideas, and expertise.
Make it the best it can be.
If your book is hard to read or lacks a professional presentation, you'll lose readers before they get to the last sentence in the first chapter.
Let's make your book real page turner.
Together, we'll make your book read well and look good. From creative page designs to illustrations, photos, and sidebars, we'll make it a real page turner.
• illustrated biographies
• reference books
• corporate histories
Get the 5 Compelling Reasons to Write That Book
Call, text (207.252.9757), or write today, for a free consultation to see how I can help make you look good in print and online.
People love stories and you've got a good one.
Put it into words and make it last.
5 Ways to Tell Your Story:
2. How-to Materials
3. Conference and Event Programs
4. Yearbooks and Corporate History Books
5. Illustrated Timelines
Posting you story on your website is a great start, but it's not a permanent record. Websites are fluid. Create a lasting record of your achievements online and on paper.
We’ll help! Because while putting your legacy into words sounds like a good idea,
it also sounds like a lot of work.
That’s where we come in.
From generating ideas to combing through archives, our experience with project management, writing, editing, and graphic design will streamline the process for you.
Call or write today. It’s your legacy, let's put it into words.
Handouts or Leave-Behinds?
5 Reasons a Leave-Behind is the Better Move
1. Handouts are Distracting Spoilers
2. Reinforce Your Message
3. Leave a Lasting Impression
4. Expand Your Audience
5. A Good Investment
1. Handouts Are Distracting Spoilers
If you offer handouts at the beginning of your presentation, participants will flip through them and jump ahead before you’ve even had the chance to say hello. Instead, create a sense of anticipation by telling your audience you’ll have something for them at the end of your presentation.
2. Reinforce Your Message (and don't share your slides)
Leave-behinds give you the opportunity to repeat and enhance your message. But don’t just share your slides. To begin with, your slides will likely (and should) have minimal information—and they won’t have much meaning if you’re not there to explain them. A comprehensive overview of your talk in a dedicated leave-behind will be more effective.
3. Leave a Lasting Impression
Is there too little time to present all you want to cover? Put it in a leave-behind. Your leave-behind is a tangible reminder of who you are, and your credibility is reflected in the quality of your materials. Make it professional. Get help with the writing, editing, and design. Because it matters. (That’s where we come in!)
4. Expand Your Audience
An effective leave-behind is one that will be shared when participants return to the office and meet with associates. Make it interesting and you’ll capture a whole new audience.
5. A Good Investment
A well designed leave-behind continues to work for you after your presentation. You can re-purpose it as bonus content on your website, use it as a mailer, or post it on your blog.
Call or write today to make your presentation more memorable.
After I made my first SnowGirl, people had lots of questions.
"What did you use for her hair?"
"Is that an orange peel around her neck?"
Their interest made me consider sharing the information in a way that would be accessible to more people. In a way that might even encourage them to get outside and give it a go.
So I created an infographic, a combination of text and image.
Click on image to see full size version.
If you've got information to share, consider an infographic. Illustrated information attracts more attention and interest.
Online applications, email, websites, and blogs allow us to reach out and connect with the people who care about what we do. But, in order to get (and hold) their attention, the information we share needs to be presented in a way that's eye-catching and interesting.
Here are some ways to make it more interesting:
• photographs (your own if possible, carefully selected, and cropped)
• frequent paragraph breaks
• bold headings
Regular output and information that's helpful and interesting will keep your audience coming back for more.
From figuring out just what it is you need to say, to finding the right words and images to make it interesting, let's make something worth talking about.
Call (207-252-9757) or write today to talk.
It's my goal to help you look good in print. Let's get started.
Letters from Camp
It happens every summer. One publication or another runs an article about camp letters. Missives from home-sick, bug-swatting campers who have been cut-off from smart phones and social media.
Most include funny stories about how good or bad the food is, how infrequently someone may or may not be brushing their teeth, or how often they're changing their underwear. But a lot of them begin or end with some commentary about how kids these days don't know the basics of writing a letter, let alone how to address an envelope.
I write a lot of letters and have been for a long time. I know how to address an envelope, where to put my return address, and where to put the stamp. I thought most everyone else did, too.
Not so much.
I'm sure it's a problem that extends beyond campers stationed in remote woodlands, reduced to pen and paper, so I created an infographic to address the issue. The Elements of a Letter offers a rundown of the basics: gathering supplies, writing a letter, addressing an envelope, and where to put the stamp.
If you're interested in reading more about writing letters, visit, Postmark1206, where all things letter writing can be found. Letter writing, it turns out is good for campers, their parents, and rest of us, too.