Mar 122010

imageI’ve made a few changes over on the CJ Writing website to more accurately reflect the SEO copywriting and web content consultancy work I’m doing with businesses these days.

I’ve also included a business related, web-content focussed blog as part of the site re-vamp, and will be posting business related missives there, rather than here, from now on.

This will remain, as always, a personal blog that I’ll use to post all sorts of whimsical bits and pieces that cross my mind, and of course the occasional bout of spleen-venting when the Irish system gets even more frustrating than usual.

The business blog will have a much more practical focus, with hints, tips and suggestions on how to make your web content work harder for your business. I’m also experimenting with a pre-pay Web Content Audit service, and pre-pay Web Content Consultancy packages.

The idea is to help small to medium businesses to fine-tune their web content and keep control of their costs by pre-purchasing the advice and help they need… eliminating the spectre of looming invoices when cash-flow is tight. Of course it also means I get to spend more of my time helping my clients rather than chasing payments.

I think it’s a system that could work well for all concerned. I guess time will tell whether it will catch on or not.

Mar 122008

Stumbled across this wonderful writing advice on the web. It’s an article by best selling Science Fiction novelist C. J. Cherryh, and, as the author encourages sharing I thought I’d post it here in its entirety. It really is great advice, and although its naturally biased towards fiction writing (which is what most non-fiction writers secretly long to write anyway), there are heaps of useful suggestions that will help to make any writing more dynamic and engaging.

The most important thing to remember, as always, is that when you’re writing rules are never absolute. They offer guidance, but if breaking rules helps you convey your message more effectively, do it! Or as C. J. Cherryh so eloquently puts it: “CHERRYH’S LAW: NO RULE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED OFF A CLIFF”.


Writerisms and other Sins:

A Writer’s shortcut to stronger writing.

by C.J. Cherryh

(c) 1995 by C.J. Cherryh

Copy and pass ‘Writerisms and other Sins’ around to your heart’s content, but always post my copyright notice at the top, correctly, thank you, as both a courtesy and a legal necessity to protect any writer.

Writerisms: overused and misused language. In more direct words: find ’em, root ’em out, and look at your prose without the underbrush. You may be surprised by how much better it looks.

Continue reading »

Sep 112007

Mathew Stibbe of Articulate Marketing has posted his top ten reference links for writers on his blog “Bad Language”. Some I’ve used, some I haven’t, and some I find more useful than others — but all of them are worth a look.

Another I find interesting is the site of the Plain English Campaign. I don’t use it very often, but they have a nifty little tool called “Drivel Defence” that you can download to your desktop. It analyses plain text or web files, reporting on individual and average sentence length, and suggesting alternatives words from the Plain English list that may improve the clarity of your writing.

It’s by no means foolproof, but if you use it in conjunction with the various Plain English writing guides available on the site it can help you to write in clear, accessible and unambiguous language.

As with all other writing aids, rules and guides… there are no absolutes. What’s important is getting your message across to your target  audience as effectively and efficiently as possible.

As long as you’re achieving that, feel free to bend all the “rules” you want.

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Jul 262007

I’m an occasional reader of a blog by US based business writer Lynn Gaertner-Johnston. This lady talks a lot of sense when it comes to writing effectively for your target audience — be it in a piece of business writing, a blog or anywhere else. Her post from the 23 July — The Only Rule Is What Works for Readers — really struck a chord with me.

Over the years when I was working in IT, several of the companies I worked for attempted to implement “out of the box” project / programme management methodologies. These systems (like “PRINCE”, Ernst & Young’s “Navigator” and others) laid out a strict and exhaustive set of rules, guides and measures for managing every aspect of a project’s life cycle. The trouble was that you’d end up spending more time and effort satisfying the requirements of the methodology than you would actually achieving the goals of the project. It was a farcical situation — real “tail wagging the dog” stuff.

In each case when I suggested that we didn’t need some elements of the methodology — that we could pick and choose the parts that were most relevant, tailoring the methodology to our needs so that it added tangible value — management looked at me as if I’d grown an extra head.

Imagine: picking and choosing the rules that suit a particular scenario… whoever heard of the like?

I’ve always maintained the same thing about writing. The established rules are there as pointers to guide us along a specific path, but sometimes (often?) the situation demands a detour. At the end of the day the important thing is that a piece of writing connects with the reader, and that it evokes the desired response… period! And if that means treading on the toes of a few grammatical pedants, then so be it.

So go on, break a few “rules” if you feel it makes your writing more effective. You might even enjoy it!

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Jul 112007

I just learnt that the Murnane & O’Shea website has finally gone live. I worked on the copy for the project as part of a production team that included Matt Mills of Axis Digital Media and John Prendergast of Aonach Consulting. Murnane & O’Shea are one of the leading building contractors in the south of Ireland, and this site helps to bring the Murnane & O’Shea brand bang up to date.

The Murnane & O’Shea Homepage

Originally I opted for a more conversational copy style, given that the main target audience was identified as residential buyers, particularly families. After seeing a draft the client felt that the style might detract from the professional image they were keen to portray. I didn’t agree with their assessment but could see why they might be reluctant to come across too “chatty” we finally struck a balance between the informal style that I prefer and the more formal style typically adopted by their construction industry competitors.

What do you think of the copy, and of the site in general? Do you feel a more conversational style would work better, or should it be more formal? Have we got the balance right? Let me know what you think by using the comment form.

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Apr 182007

On Monday 16th April The Evening Echo in Cork launched a new weekly double page feature called Career Moves, and I was commissioned to supply all of the content for the first four weeks (after which it’s scheduled to be taken over by the Echo’s editorial team…).

Career Moves in The Evening Echo
(© 2007, The Evening Echo, all rights reserved)

The section features articles, news, hints and tips on careers, recruitment and training. If you’re in the Munster region, and are looking for a career boost, pick up a copy of the Echo on Mondays and take a look!

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Mar 302007

Have you ever had a great idea but struggled to put it into words?

Whether it’s a book about your life, a non-fiction book based on your area of expertise, that novel that’s lurking deep inside, or even a series of articles to help promote your business, a ghostwriter will take your ideas, anecdotes, facts and figures and craft them into a professionally written, publishable piece of work.

So what is a ghostwriter?

Simply, a ghostwriter is a writer hired to produce a piece of work on behalf of another person who’s name will appear on that work. Ghostwriters are used all the time — from writing celebrity “autobiographies” to business articles for magazines that busy executives don’t have the time or writing talent to produce for themselves.

A ghostwriter’s name doesn’t usually appear on the finished work — although there are exceptions. Where high-profile journalists have ghost-written a celebrity “autobiography”, for instance, you might see the journalist credited as a co-author in much smaller print.

How does it work?

Typically the client approaches the writer about a particular writing project — although this sometimes happens the other way around if a ghostwriter spots a particularly marketable opportunity. They agree a fee for the work based either on a flat fee for writing the work, a share of royalties from sale of the completed work or sometimes a combination of the two.

Then the client provides the information (interviews, anecdotes, thoughts and ideas, documentation, facts and figures, etc.) and the ghostwriter collates it all and writes the finished work. Depending on the terms of the agreement the ghostwriter may also work with the client to find a publisher for the work.

Online ghostwriting

Ghostwriting isn’t confined to the print media — there are also ghostwriters hard at work online, churning out content for other authors. It’s a way for busy people to raise their profile and keep their websites, blogs and newsletters full of interesting, informative and entertaining content without having to do it all themselves.

If you’re a an experienced and talented writer ghostwriting can be a great way to supplement your own writing. If you’re a busy person with a story to tell, then hiring a ghostwriter could be the answer to your problem.

Need a ghostwriter for your writing project? Drop me a line…

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Mar 292007

As a freelance commercial writer I work with clients all over Ireland, and indeed around the globe, without ever meeting them face to face. Modern communications technology makes it possible for me to to do all the research I need, and to communicate with my clients efficiently and effectively without ever leaving my office.

So the question is are meetings really necessary? And from my experience the short answer to that is no.

In the business world an inordinate amount of time and money is wasted travelling to and attending unnecessary meetings. But here’s the thing… in Ireland most people are used to operating within a business culture where meetings are de rigueur. Completing a project with somebody without meeting face-to-face requires a paradigm shift, and some people are uncomfortable with that.

The bottom line is that for independent contractors providing a service meetings will be necessary as long as clients deem them necessary… but before deciding to meet consider the following:

  • What is the objective of the meeting — what do all of the stakeholders want out of it?
  • How much time and resources will be tied up in the meeting (think about all of the people who will be attending, and ask yourselves if a meeting really represents the most effective investment of their time)?
  • Could the objectives of the meeting be more efficiently met through other forms of communication?

If a meeting really is necessary try and make it as effective as possible by:

  • Having a clearly defined agenda before the meeting starts… and sticking to it.
  • Keeping it brief.
  • Limit the number of attendees at the meeting — the more people involved the less effective the decision-making process tends to be.
  • Agree clear actions based on the points covered in the meeting and confirm them later by e-mail.
  • Suggest potential alternative for the future… like conference calling, web conferencing, e-mail, instant messaging, etc..

The truth is that in most cases the time you spend in meetings could be used more effectively, allowing you to deliver more value to your clients. The trick, of course, is trying to convince your clients of that fact!

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Mar 232007

Blogging as a business marketing tool is on the increase, and it’s easy to see why. It offers organisations an effective way to reveal a more personal side of their business to their customers, prospects, suppliers and staff.

The best Blogs are conversational in style, and encourage interaction through comment and discussion. Your blog will help your business to build a rapport with your target audience, and give you the opportunity to gain valuable insight into what makes them tick. They’re also a fantastic way to drive more traffic to your main website, highlight your expertise in a particular area, build brand awareness and position yourself as a market leader.

So where do you start?

Initially you could try setting up a hosted blog a service like Blogger WordPress or Typepad (Blogger and WordPress are free, while Typepad offers a 30 day free trial). You can have your blog up-and-running in minutes.

If you want more control over your blog, you may want to consider hosting it on your own webserver, and there is plenty of blogging software — both free open source options and commercial offerings — that let you do just that.

To test-drive some of the open source (as in free) options check out which lets you play with a huge variety of open source software to find out what works for you. You’ll find blogging software under “Blogs” in the CMS Demo menu on the left nav. I have this blog running on my web hosting account alongside my other websites CJ Writing, Image Invitations and It uses the free, open source WordPress blogging platform, which was an absolute doddle to install and use.

Whatever platform you choose to use for your business blog, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Update your blog regularly — unless you provide fresh, topical content both your readers and search engines will rapidly grow tired of your blog. Make blogging part of your daily or weekly routine.
  • Give your blog a focus — decide what your blog will be about, make it relevant to your business and to your readers, and make sure its a subject that you’re interested in, or even better, passionate about. That passion will shine through in your posts and you’ll attract more readers and more inward link that will help promote your blog’s search engine ranking.
  • Don’t make it too formal — unlike a lot of business writing, your blog should be personal, and written in a conversational style that connects with your readers. Steer clear of business or technical jargon, and try and write the way you’d speak to a friend. Blogging is about building up a rapport with your audience, and you won’t do that with formal, stuffy or overly verbose language.
  • Keep it varied — although your blog needs to have a particular focus, try and vary the topics you cover within that broader subject area. People don’t generally want to read about the same thing over and over again.
  • Have fun — if you enjoy writing your blog, chances are that people will enjoy reading it.

Blogs are becoming a serious and very effective business tool. If you have a business, and want to maximise the effectiveness of your online presence, you should seriously consider setting up your own blog.

If you need help with setting up a blog for your business, or with writing regular, entertaining, targeted blog posts to keep your readers coming back for more then get in touch.

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Mar 202007

For the last year or so I’ve been using portable versions of popular open source software applications installed on a USB Flash drive. It’s brilliant! I just plug the flash drive into any Windows PC, anywhere and I have instant access to my e-mail client (Mozilla Thunderbird), web browser (Mozilla Firefox), office suite (, FTP Client (FileZilla) and much, much more. It’s like being in my own office… only not.

Now these portable applications have been bundled into a Portable Apps Suite that’s simple to install on any removable drive, and provides a handy launcher in the Windows taskbar that gives you easy access to all of your portable applications.

It’s the perfect solution for a writer on the go.

I can carry all of my current work, and the applications I need to work on it, around with me on my USB flash drive. I’m always ready to meet that deadline, no matter where I find myself!

What’s more I have all my browser bookmarks, saved passwords, e-mail and account settings ready to go. No more remembering addresses, login details or struggling with awkward webmail interfaces.

And because they’re all open source applications I have no software licensing headaches.

Give Portable Apps a try, and pretty soon I bet you’ll be wondering how you managed without them!

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