Five In-The-Cloud Tools for the Successful Corporate Blogger

In preparation for my new life as an itinerant corporate web writer, blogging my way through Europe, I need to ensure that I have all my cloud resources in place before I leave. Fortunately, I have a plethora of tools that help me keep track of information, track my time and expenses, stay on top of writing trends, and so forth.

Here are my top-five cloud tools:

Dropbox Store your files where you can retrieve them from anywhere. You can also invite others to share specified folders and work on files with no need to upload or download files. A must for anyone on the move.
Evernote This is similar to Dropbox except that instead of saving entire files, it allows you to save key pieces of information. I use Evernote because it syncs effortlessly with Awesome Note on my iPhone so I can check travel arrangements or simply drop in thoughts for later.
Mint.com Aggregate all your finance information into one place. This doesn’t allow you to conduct transactions; it’s designed to help you if you have multiple accounts or credit cards so you can get an overview of all transactions. I use this on a daily basis to check that all is well.
CMOS The Chicago Manual of Style online is a great resource for writers. It provides all the information you’ll need for grammar, word usage, styles, citations, and more.
Visual Thesaurus I use this excellent resource to help me brainstorm words visually. Enter a word and it shows homonyms, synonyms, antonyms…the works as a branched infographic that you can click through until you find just the right word.

 

3 Steps to Planning Your Corporate Blog

In my first post on this subject, I described how I re-organized my life to become a world traipsing corporate blogger. It’s forward looking as I haven’t flown the coop yet, but soon I will be in France writing for my clients back here in Vancouver. How is this possible? Research, planning, communication.

I need to get up to speed on disability claims and liability in an area where I know little. How am I going to do it? Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Get connected – there are lots of online resources I can draw from. For example, LinkedIn has great groups on the very subject I’m suddenly interested in—legal blogging. I’ve joined a few groups and I’m reading the content and making notes about what I find.
  2. Get organized – this is no place to be disorganized. I’ve used my standard timetracking software to track my time and plan ahead. I use Excel, but you can try Billing Boss, because it also allows you to invoice your clients.
  3. Set up subject matter alerts – there are a few questions here, but what you need are some keywords that you can use to create some effective news alerts in Google. When you know the best words (I’ll blog about that soon), go to Google News and enter them. At the bottom of the results screen, click Create an email alert for [your keywords] and follow the prompts.

Lest this blog get to be too dry, here’s an inspiring quote for all concerned: “Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul; the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.”
— Napoleon Hill

My New Book: “How I blogged my way through Europe”

Currently, only my friends know that I’m going to be working in Europe this winter. “How?” they ask. “Savings”, I say. Well, savings and ruthless cunning.

I took the summer off to quiet down and think about my future. I did little other than teach my technical writing courses at BCIT and study jazz clarinet. Under the placid surface, though, I was trying to figure out how I could work in Europe. This went back and forth for a while and it looked like I’d just have to go there first and start talking to people and perhaps plan on a miracle.

I was also talking with people in Vancouver about various types of work and I’ve been finding a bit of a perfect storm in which my technical writing and marketing copy writing meet as a powerful sales tool. Did you know there’s a large market for corporate bloggers with technical writing skills and a handle on social networking tools?

I’m now attracting companies that need to make their blogs and web sites look like, well, like someone’s home there. That’s where I come in. I write. And I research a lot about industries I never imagined I’d have to know anything about. The coolest part is I can do this writing from home. And, I reasoned, if I can do it from home, why not from the south of France?

And that’s just what I’m doing in a few short weeks. Living in France and blogging about companies in Vancouver. So you ask, “how did you do it?” C’est si simple, n’est-çe pas?

Oh, and savings helps too. I’ve been stowing away funds in my ING account and have amassed a small fortune.  Since signing up four years ago, I’ve earned $423.72 in interest alone?

If you haven’t switched to a no-fee, high interest bank yet, why not?

Grammar tip – Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Check Sentences for Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers

Let’s face it, misplaced and dangling modifiers are just plain fun (as long as it’s not you who writes them). A misplaced modifier usually just doesn’t make sense, because they appear to modify the wrong thing.

After our French lessons, we could understand the French spoken by our visitors from Québec easily. It’s misplaced because it sounds like the visitors spoke easily, when it’s our “understanding” that should be modified. “…we could easily understand…”

A dangling modifier often renders the sentence hilarious. The most famous example of a dangling modifier is by Groucho Marx:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.
How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.

There are web sites exclusively devoted to documenting them.

Here’s another example: “It wasn’t long before the two got engaged, lived in several Canadian cities, pursued their separate career paths and explored their new surroundings while weighing the pros and cons of each.”

What are they weighing the pros and cons of?

  • Their surroundings
  • Their separate career paths
  • Several Canadian cities
  • Their engagement
  • All of the above

How Dade County Service Fleet Relies on Job Management

All-AirAs service companies grow and add more vehicles to their fleets, they are challenged to track vehicle whereabouts and driver behavior. Without some form of automated vehicle location (AVL) and telemetry (vehicle diagnostics) fleet managers are in the dark while their vehicles are on the road.

That’s why All-Air of Dade County, Florida is re-investing in its Webtech Wireless Quadrant job management solution. Integrated with Garmin®, the job management solution enables fleet managers to dispatch vehicles to their next location, and it saves drivers from needing to call for other dispatches or directions.  Drivers can enter address information and get turn-by-turn directions.

Without their Webtech Wireless solution, fleet managers at this air conditioning solutions and service fleet would have no verifiable way of knowing how safely their drivers were driving. All-Air utilizes the Scorecard and LED feedback to maintain its driving quality. Dangerous driving is recorded on the Scorecard and drivers also see a flashing LED light that warns them that their driving is dangerous and it’s also being recorded.

Now, to fulfill All-Airs’ commitment of  “professionalism, care and attention” to its customers, the company is increasing its investment in the Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant Job Management solution across the entire fleet.

Avoid Ambiguous Pronouns

Avoid Ambiguous Pronouns

Ambiguous PronounThe best way to avoid this kind of confusion (what kind of confusion? The confusion that results from ambiguous pronouns), is to read your copy carefully checking that you can  identify the noun that belongs to the pronoun.

If more than one noun emerges as a possibility, replace the pronoun with its intended noun.

“There’s a high fly ball! Winfield goes back. His head hits the wall. It’s rolling toward second base.”

What’s rolling toward second base?

  • The ball
  • The wall
  • Winfield’s head

 

Simplify Tense

Simplify Tense

Unless you’re a time traveller (and therefore familiar with temporal paradoxes), you’ll be confused by sentences where the writer did not follow a logical progression in time (that skipped writing course at university would have helped now) and now covers too much temporal real estate in a single sentence—don’t you start doing this!

English has twelve tenses. Present tense is the only real tense—all the others are factors of our imagination. The best rule of thumb is to stick to the present tense as much as possible and make occasional forays to other tenses as needed. Don’t make time travellers of your readers by hiking them hither and yon through your temporal landscapes.

EXAMPLE: “Madonna removed her wedding ring before she appeared last week sparking rumours that her marriage is on the rocks.”

Tim Lloyd, Portal 80 Multimedia Inc.

“I would like you to meet Jason Hall, the fellow that will be working on the content for the site. We have worked with Jason in the past; as previously mentioned and find that he will be a great addition to the team.”

What’s a Technical Writer Worth in Vancouver?

My students frequently ask me about salary ranges for technical writers and, occasionally are confronted with their expected salary range on a first job interview. Based on Stats Canada information, you can add a job title, city, and province and find out what the salary range is. Here are the latest statistics on what salaries technical writers get in Vancouver:


Try it yourself.

Use Active Voice

Use Active Voice

Tricky Dick

The phrase, “Mistakes were made” is attributed to US President, Richard Nixon, to acknowledge that the Watergate situation was mishandled. He could have spoken in active voice and said, “Mistakes were made by me” or better still, “I made mistakes”, but he evaded direct admission of responsibility and thereby went down to history as Tricky Dick.

There are three times when it’s appropriate to write in the passive voice:

  • When the doer is unknown. “My bass clarinet was removed.”
  • When the doer is unimportant. “The lab rats were given a placebo.”
  • To protect the doer from embarrassment. “You were overcharged for your purchase.”

TIP: In technical writing, you can distinguish between general concepts and action-oriented procedures by writing the former in passive voice and the latter in active.

Using active voice in web writing adds interest and action to your writing. Good sentences begin with a clearly stated subject (the doer) and a strong verb (action). While it is a commonly used verb, “to be” is passive as it describes a state of being rather than doing. So the more you use “to be”, the more passive sounding your writing will be. Also, some verbs are weaker than others. The verb “to understand” is weaker, because it is harder to quantify and tends to get lumped with another verb that’s doing the real work.

EXAMPLE: To understand how to run for President of the United States, you must have friends in high places.