Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Writing an historical novel

Jan Shapin, author of "A Snug Life Somewhere," will give a talk Sunday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. at the Jamestown library, called "Fact and Fiction, Writing an Historical Novel."

Shapin, also a playwright, wrote the Colonial Theatre's script for "A Christmas Carol," produced in Westerly from 1992 to 1997, based on events and characters from the mill town of Carolina, RI. In 1999 she wrote a play about the Catholic worker movement that was done at various locations in the state in conjunction with the Newport Historical Society. Earlier, a play drawing on her family's history in Northern Wisconsin, was performed at the RI Playwrights' Theatre.

"A Snug Life Somewhere," her newest novel, follows the journey of a young woman caught up in labor and political events in Seattle during and immediately after World War I.

"I wanted to write something easy to read and yet full of information people don't know about the Red Scare, how the American Communist Party was financed, the 1919 Seattle General Strike. So I took a fictional character, Penny Joe Copper, and set her in the middle of a labor tragedy, where her brother was killed, then followed her as she got caught up in the political events that swirled around her," she said.

Shapin, 63, a Newport resident, has been writing plays and screenplays for over 20 years. Recently she has turned her attention to fiction.

Light refreshments will be served and the author will be available to sign books.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


  1. Pay attention to the world around you—little things, big things, people, animals, buildings, events, etc. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, feel?

  2. Listen to words and sentences. What kind of music do they have? How is the music of poetry different from the music of songs?

  3. Read all kinds of poetry. Which poems do you like and why?

  4. Read what you write out loud. How does it sound? How could it sound better?

  5. Ask yourself: does this poem have to rhyme? Would it be good or better if it didn’t? If it should rhyme, what kind of rhyme would be best? (For example, 1st and 2nd lines rhyme; 3rd and 4th lines rhyme—“Roses are red/So is your head/Violets are blue/So is your shoe"; or 1st and 3rd lines rhyme; 2nd and 4th lines rhyme—“What is your name?/Who is your mother?/This poem is quite lame/I should try another.”

  6. Ask yourself: does this poem sound phoney? Don’t stick in big words or extra words just because you think a poem ought to have them.

  7. A title is part of a poem. It can tell you what the poem is about. It can even be another line of the poem.

  8. Before you write, think about what you want your whole poem to say.

  9. If you end up saying something else, that’s okay, too. Poet X.J. Kennedy says, “You intend to write a poem about dogs, say, and poodle is the first word you’re going to find a rhyme for. You might want to talk about police dogs, Saint Bernards, and terriers, but your need for a rhyme will lead you to noodle and strudel. The darned poem will make you forget about dogs and write about food instead.”

  10. Go wild. Be funny. Be serious. Be whatever you want! Use your imagination, your own way of seeing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Writing Tips for Non-Writers Who Don't Want to Work at Writing

A writing question:

What writing tips would you whisper to those who aren't aspiring professionals, but would like to write better? If I asked you about losing weight and you said "Diet and Exercise" you'd be a) correct and b) ignored. So no ideas that take work. We want the quick fix! Tips like "Edit your work" aren't useful. "Gerunds are your friend" are.

So, the task here: Tell y'all how to write better without you actually having to make an effort. Fine. Here's how I would do it.

0. Speak what you write: This is rule zero because all other rules follow on this. Basically: If what you're writing is hard to speak, what makes you think it's going to be easy to read? It won't be. So speak out loud what you write. If you can't speak it naturally, rewrite it. Simple.

1. Punctuate, damn you: For God's sake, is it really so hard to know where to put a comma? When people read, even in their brains, there's usually some part of them that is sounding out the words. Without appropriate punctuation, especially commas, that word-speaking part will eventually choke on the sentence. Having said that, there's a tendency to over-punctuate as well, particularly with exclamation points. Too little punctuation makes it seem you want to collapse someone's lung, too much makes it look like you're a 14-year-old girl writing an IM. You want to avoid both.

Here's a quick and dirty guide when to use punctuation:

Periods: When you're writing down a thought and you're at the end of that thought, put a period.
Commas: When you're writing down a thought and you want to take a breath, whether mental or physical, put in a comma.
Semi-colon: Put these in your writing in the place where, in conversation, you'd arch your eyebrow or make some other sort of physical gesture signalling that you want to emphasize a point.
Colon: Use when you want to make an example of something: For example, just like this.
Question Mark: Quite obviously, when you have a question.
Exclamation point: When you're really excited about something. You almost never need to use more than one in a paragraph. Use more than one in a sentence and you damn well better be using it for humorous and/or ironic effect.
Dashes: You can use these when you've already used a colon or a semi-colon in a sentence, but be aware that if you have more than one colon or semi-colon in a sentence, you're probably doing something wrong.

Somewhat related: Use capitals when you should (beginning of sentences, proper nouns), don't use them when you shouldn't (pretty much every other time). Lots of people think not using capitals makes them look arty and cool, but generally it just makes the rest of us wonder if you've not yet figured out the magical invention known as the shift key. Alternately, the random appearance of capitals in inappropriate places makes us wonder if you don't secretly wish the Germans won World War II (and even the Germans are cracking down on wanton capitalization these days, so there you are).

2. With sentences, shorter is better than longer: If a sentence you're writing is longer than it would be comfortable to speak, it's probably too long. Cut it up. This is one I'm guilty of ignoring; I tend to use semi-colons when I should be using periods. In fact, I'd say the largest single editing task I have after writing a piece is to go in and turn semi-coloned sentences into two sentences (or more, God forgive me).

Shorter is also better with paragraphs, but there's such a thing as too short: Take a look at a not-particularly-well-edited newspaper and you'll see a lot of single-sentence paragraphs, generally preceded or followed by other single-sentence paragraphs that should have been compressed into one paragraph. Good rule: One extended idea or discrete event per paragraph.

3. Learn to friggin' spell: I'm not talking typos here, because everyone makes them, and I make more than most. I mean genuine "gosh I really don't know how this is spelled" mistakes. This is particularly the case with basic spelling errors like using "your" when you're supposed to be using "you're" or "its" for "it's" (or in both cases, vice-versa). Here's a good rule of thumb: For every spelling error you make, your apparent IQ drops by 5 points. For every "there, they're, their" type of mistake you make, your apparent IQ drops by 10 points. Sorry about that, but there it is.

What's truly appalling is that even people with advanced degrees (I'm looking at you, scientists) screw these particular pooches. I look at some of the writing I see from people with MAs and PhDs after their names and I think no wonder China's poised to kick our ass.

Look, spelling isn't hard. Nearly every single computerized writing tool has a built-in spellcheck that will catch 90% of your spelling errors, and as for the rest of them, well, it isn't too much to ask adults to know the difference between "their" and "there." It's really not.

Also, here's a handy tip for those of you with Internet access (which, by definition, would be all of you reading this on my site). If you have a word, the spelling of which you're not sure, and you don't have a dictionary handy (either bound or online), copy the word, paste it into Google's search engine, and hit "search." If you've spelled it incorrectly, chances are really excellent that when your search results come up, up at the top Google will ask "Did you mean:" and present whatever word it is that you're failing to spell. There's no shame in doing this.

Bottom line: Typos aside, there's no reason not to spell things correctly (and you really should get on those typos, too, although I note that I'm the last person in the world to ride folks on that one).

Related to this:

4. Don't use words you don't really know: It's nice to use impressive words from time to time, but if you use an impressive word incorrectly, everyone who does know what the word means will think of you as a pathetic, insecure dork. I'm just saying. Bear in mind that this is not limited only to "impressive" Latinate words, but also (indeed especially) to slang. Use slang incorrectly -- or even use last year's word -- and you'll look like teh 1am3r. Unless you're using the slang ironically, in which case you might be able to get away with it.

But generally: stick to words you know you know, or make real good friends with that there dictionary thingie.

5. Grammar matters, but not as much as anal grammar Nazis think it does: The problem with grammar is that here in the US at least, schools do such a horrible job of teaching the subject that most people are entirely out to sea regarding correct usage. It's the calculus of liberal arts subjects. But grammar need not be stupendously complicated; in the final reduction the point of grammar is to make the language as clear to as many people as possible. Frankly, I think if most non-writers can manage to get agreement between their verb and their subject, I'm willing to spot them the whole "who/whom" conundrum.

Now, obviously, you should know as much grammar as you can; the more grammar you know, the better you can write. But the bottom line is just this: Be as clear as possible. If you're not confident about the grammar of a sentence, re-write it and strive for clarity. Yes, it's possible that in doing so the resulting sentence will lack style or something. But it's better to be plain and understood than to have people admire your style and have not the slightest idea what you're trying to say.

6. Front-load your point: If you make people wade through seven paragraphs of unrelated anecdotes before you get to what you're really trying to say, you've lost. Yes, Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor pull that stunt all the time. But: Surprise! You're not them. Also, there were lots of times when Twain just needed to get to the goddamn point, already.

Now, sometimes people write to find out what their point is; I think that's fine because I do that myself. But most of the time after I've figured out my point, I'll go back and re-write. Because that's the magic of writing: You can do that. It's not actually a live medium. No, not even in IM, since you can still re-write before you hit "send."

This point is more flexible than some of the others; sometimes you want to go the long way around to make your point because doing so makes the point stronger. I took the long way around in my "Being Poor" essay, for example. However, most of the time it's better to let people know what you're doing than not, if only because then you have a better chance of them sticking around until the end.

7. Try to write well every single time you write: I have friends who I know can write well who send me the most awful e-mail and IMs because they figure it doesn't matter how many rules of grammar and spelling they stomp on because it's just e-mail and IM. But if you actually want to be a better writer, you have to be a better writer every time you write. It won't kill you to write a complete sentence in IM or e-mail, you know. The more you do it, the better you'll get at it until it will actually be more difficult to write poorly in e-mail and IM than not (mobile text messaging I understand has more limitations. But I tend to look at text messaging as the 21st Century equivalent of semaphore, which is to say, specialized communication for specialized goals).

There really is no excuse for writing poorly in one's blog. At least with IMs and e-mail your terrifying disembowelment of the language is limited to one observer. But in your blog, you'll look stupid for the whole world to see, and it will be archived for as long as humanity remembers how to produce electricity. Maybe you don't think anyone who reads your blog will care. But I read your blog -- yes indeed I do -- and I care. Madly. Truly. Deeply.

8. Read people who write well: Don't just read for entertainment, but also look to see how they do their writing -- how they craft sentences, use punctuation, break their prose into paragraphs, and so on. Doing so takes no more time than reading what they write anyway, and that's something you're doing already. If you can see what they're doing, you can try to do it too. You probably won't be able to re-create their style, since that's something about that particular person. But what you can do is recreate their mechanics. Don't worry that your own "voice" will get lost. Be readable first and your own style will come later, when you're comfortable with the nuts and bolts of writing.

9. When in doubt, simplify: Worried you're not using the right words? Use simpler words. Worried that your sentence isn't clear? Make a simpler sentence. Worried that people won't see your point? Make your point simpler. Nearly every writing problem you have can be solved by making things simpler.

This should be obvious, but people don't like hearing it because there's the assumption that simple = stupid. But it's not true; indeed, I find from personal experience that the stupidest writers are the ones whose writing is positively baroque in form. All that compensating, you know. Besides, I'm not telling you to boil everything down to "see spot run" simplicity. I am telling you to make it so people can get what you're trying to say.

Ultimately, people write to be understood (excepting Gertrude Stein and Tristan Tzara, who were intentionally being difficult). Most people are, in fact, capable of understanding. Therefore, if you can't make people understand what you write, most of the time it's not just because the world is filled with morons, it's also because you are not being clear. Downshift. People will be happy to know what you're saying.

10. Speak what you write: Yes, I've covered this before. But now after all the other tips you can see why this makes sense. If you can't make your writing understandable to you, you can't make it understandable to others.

And now I'm off to speak this to myself. If I can do it with my writing, you can do it with yours.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Grant-writing training offered

A grant-writing training program will be offered here from Oct. 29-Nov. 2 at Laramie Community College (LCCC). The program will cover all aspects of researching grants, writing grant proposals and negotiating with funding sources.

The course is taught by the Grantsmanship Center and will be hosted by the Wyoming Community Action Partnership.

According to the course literature, more than 100,000 nonprofit and government personnel have attended this 5-day workshop.

During the workshop, participants learn The Grantsmanship Center's proposal writing format, which the Center claims is the most widely used in the world. In addition to practicing the most advanced techniques for pursuing government, foundation, and corporate grants, attendees develop real grant proposals for their own agencies.

Upon completion of the training, participants receive free follow-up, including professional proposal review, access to The Grantsmanship Center's exclusive online funding databases, and an array of other benefits.

Tuition for the Grantsmanship Training Program is $875 ($825 for each additional registrant from the same organization).

To ensure personalized attention, class size is limited to 30 participants. To register online, to learn about scholarship opportunities for qualifying organizations, or for more information, visit Or call The Grantsmanship Center's Registrar at (800) 421-9512.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Website Content Writing Tips

When writing for the web, use
  • shorter sentences, words and paragraphs
  • one idea per paragraph
  • concise text - half the word count (or less) than writing for print
  • the inverted pyramid style, putting the most important point or the conclusion first.
    simple words
  • objective language to build credibility, rather than exaggerated claims or overly promotional words like "great", "tremendous" etc.
  • bulleted lists
  • highlighted text (bold or color, also hyperlinked text) for scannabilitymeaningful headlines and subheads, avoiding cute or clever lines
Write better web content.
Understand how people (don't) read on the Web

Reading on the web is too much work!
Reading from a computer screen tires the eyes. People read 25% more slowly on the web than they read print material.

That's why, web content has to be 50% shorter than print.

Readers on the Web scan text
According to a study by usability expert Jacob Nielson, 79% of readers on the Web tend to scan or skim text rather than read word for word.

Highlighted text (bold or color, also hyperlinked text) and bulleted lists aid scannability.

Readers on the Web are impatient
Readers on the Web are in a hurry to get the information they want, and move on.
They don't have the patience for obscure and complex text. They don't enjoy scrolling through masses of text either.

Since there are millions of alternative websites in cyberspace, they will quickly move to another site if they don't enjoy the information gathering experience on your site.

Attracting attention and retaining reader interest is a challenge, specially as you have just
  • 10 seconds to grab attention with your web site content
  • 55 seconds to develop an understanding of your company or product
To combat reader fatigue, make it easy for your Web users to get relevant information. Put the most important information at the top. Use clear and concise text.

Readers on the Web are skeptical
Credibility is a major factor in retaining reader interest on the Web.

Use objective language, write meaningful headlines and subheads and avoid marketing jargon or exaggerated claims to build credibility. Cute or clever lines could mean that the reader takes longer to get to the main point.

Hyperlinks to the sources of your information or to related information also add to credibility.

Readers avoid information overload
In an average workday, people suffer from information overload . They already have a large number of emails in their inbox to contend with, and several documents to read.
They don't want to spend time and effort reading content that they may not find useful.

Offer your readers information in bite-size chunks which are easily digestible. Use short sentences, short paragraphs, one idea per paragraph.

Use meaningful headlines and sub-headlines which help them nail the information they want, quickly and easily.


5 Steps to Writing for a Business Boost, Increased Web Site Traffic, Expert Status, or Just Plain Fun

Would it help your business if you were the author of numerous articles, an ebook or various guides? Would it boost your career to write for professional journals? Could you increase traffic to your web site by having news releases and articles picked up by e-zines that cater to your industry and that are read by people interested in your product or service? Or have you simply dreamed of one day writing articles, essays, ops eds, or books for your local newspaper or your favorite publications?

Whether you feel the need or simply have the desire to write, you can get started on your publishing career today. In the process, you can give yourself expert status, boost traffic to your web site, reach new career goals, improve your visibility on the Internet, and see your dreams of being a published writer come true.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cursive writing has changed with the times

It is interesting how time and technology can change common events of the day, even as simple as cursive writing.

When I was attending elementary school, back in the “Dark Ages” of my youth, cursive writing was emphasized as important for children to know. Then again, we didn’t have computers or word processors that would neatly print our thoughts on paper without us lifting a pen.

Without computers or typewriters, cursive writing was a good way to write down thoughts. It took less time and, usually, provided more room on the paper to write additional words. This is not the case with block letters, which would always take up more space, unless the person could perform this task at a microscopic level.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Writing Speeches for Your Executives? 5 Tips to Help Your Clients Deliver Exciting Speeches

Writing Speeches for Your Executives? 5 Tips to Help Your Clients Deliver Exciting Speeches

1. Open Hot, Close Hotter

To grab audience attention and be remembered, start the presentation with a bang -- not a limp "Thanks, it's nice to be here." The first (and last) 30 seconds have the most impact on the audience. Save any greetings and gratitude until they've already grabbed the audience with a powerful opening. And don't end with a whimper. Remember that last words linger. Unfortunately, many speakers close with "Are there any questions?" Wrong! Instead, say, "Before I close, are there any questions?" Answer them. Then, close on a high note.

2. Get the Inside Scoop

Attendees at one of my seminars, "How to Be a Coach to Your Client," wanted to know how they can personalize and add excitement and color to the speeches they craft for others. How, they ask, can they get those invaluable inside stories? I suggested they do what I do: Interview the client's colleagues and family members. These people are familiar with the "stories" the speaker often tells -- stories which have already been honed to what I call the "Hollywood model" (characters, dialogue, dramatic lesson learned). What insights and amusing stories can they share? Advise your members to ask others for input that can provide color and energy to a presentation.

3. Try Inside-Out Speaking

Don't write speeches for people to read. Instead, sit down with them, in person or on the phone, and ask them questions. I do this, pulling out of them their ideas, stories, life experiences, philosophies and examples through questions. Then, my job is to help them organize, wordsmith and deliver these comments with more drama.

Although the client and I often end up with a script that can then be edited and tightened, the words grow out of our conversations. I call this "inside-out" speaking. My work represents a cleaned-up conversation, one the speaker is going to have with the audience. Of course, a script is not a conversation. Nevertheless, if it sounds conversational, it is far more appealing and much easier to deliver directly to the audience without reading it word for word. Emotional contact is impossible without eye contact.

4. Provide Five Magic Moments

How are great speeches like classic Hollywood movies? Movie promoters say that a successful film has to have five magic moments for each viewer, although not necessarily the same five. When the film does, people will talk about it and add enough energy to a paid advertising campaign to make it a hit. Be sure your presentation has five great moments -- dramatic, humorous, profound or poignant -- that the audience can relive in its minds later and repeat to friends.

5. Avoid Borrowed Stories

I urge you to create vivid, personal stories for your executives' presentations. Imagine how I once felt, sitting in an audience of 18,000 people, listening to former First Lady Barbara Bush describe a great story she had read in Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was my own story which made the point, "What you do speaks louder than what you say." (Yes, I know Ralph Waldo Emerson said it first.) Did Barbara Bush mention it was my story? No.

But even if she had mentioned my name, I think she missed a huge opportunity with her speech. Back then, I imagined her sitting in bed at the White House, going through stacks of books with a highlighter pen for things to talk about. Since then, I've realized that a speechwriter did the research and wrote her words. My point? I'm not upset she didn't credit me. I am disappointed that someone with Barbara Bush's incredible life experiences did not share them. I am sure she had much more interesting recent topics and perceptions than reporting on something someone said to me many years ago. That's how audiences will feel if your members repeat things they've read instead of experienced.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Tips For Writing Thank You Letters

By Nathan Newberger It is proper business etiquette to send thank you letters, but many people overlook this matter of courtesy. A thank you letter can make you stand out from the other candidates competing for jobs, and in this tight job market, it is wise to consider every tool that will give you an advantage.

To be effective, a thank you note should be sent before the hiring decision has been made, so it is best to mail it as soon as possible after the interview. When you send a thank you letter, you give the interviewer a chance to remember you (imagine having interviewed 10-15 candidates for a position, and then trying to distinguish each one after the interviews and trying to remember the specifics about each person). It is your opportunity to mention any important information you forgot to discuss during the interview.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Resume format tips

A good resume that presents your information in the correct format is your most important job searching tool.

If you are job hunting, you know that one of the most important tools at your disposal is your resume. If you’ve been working at the same job for a long time, you may not have needed to put together a resume for many years. However, the job market is volatile these days and your situation could change quickly. Or you may simply wish to look for a better job. Whatever your situation, you’ll benefit from thinking about how to best present yourself in a resume. One of the first questions you’re likely to ask yourself is what format should I use?

There are two main types of resume format. The first is a chronological format, and the second is a skills format.

The chronological format presents your work history in chronological order, usually from the most recent job backward. This is a good format to use if you have a solid employment history with a steady career development curve. In this format you can demonstrate your dependability and professional growth.

If you are just out of school or returning to the workforce, or if you have holes in your work history, you may choose to use a skills format for your resume.

In the skills format, you target the skills you offer, using your work history to support these skills rather than as the core of the resume. This format will enable you to list time spent performing the various skills described without listing the exact dates you worked the jobs. Remember too that you can include volunteer or other unpaid experience in skills you list in your resume.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Punctuation Errors: American and British Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are used to set off speech or quoted sentences and words. Despite its simple role, people tend to get confused about the position of other punctuation in relation to the quotation marks. Should it go inside or outside the quotation marks?

It depends. If you are writing in American English, other punctuation should go inside the quotation marks, even if it is not part of the quoted sentence. Here is an example from the New York Times:

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Get it in writing for a good start in a work relationship

The Employment Relations Act 2000 required for the first time that an individual employment agreement must be in writing.

Every employee will be covered by an employment agreement -– either individual or collective.

Getting the agreement right at the start of a relationship can save heartache further down the track and will help focus employers on what they are really after and employees on what it is the employer wants from them.

The employees' requirements will also be dealt with. So it is well worth putting in the effort to get an agreement right. Draft up what you want and then take legal advice on how to turn this into a legally effective contract.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Writing center dropped from national rankings

University officials say they aren't concerned and that the writing program is still a success.

The WSU Writing Program was dropped from the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of “Academic Programs to Look For” — the first time the program didn’t make the list since 2001. But Mary Wack, vice provost for undergraduate education, is not concerned.

“This list is not official rankings,” she said. “They send out a bunch of questionnaires that ask ‘Who comes to mind when you think of good writing programs?’ So it is almost luck of the draw and it isn’t based on specific criteria.” The writing program has also received recognition from other sources.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

10 Tips for Technology Proposal-Writers

1. Read the Request for Proposals (RFP)

The number one rule for writing a successful grant is to read the RFP...and then to follow the RFP's rules and guidelines when writing your proposal. Not surprisingly, most unsuccessful proposals violate this basic rule. The RFP is written for the specific purpose of providing prospective grantees with all of the information that they need to write a successful proposal. Most grant-makers spend a huge amount of time writing their RFP. They expect you to read it and follow it carefully.

2. Write Appropriate Proposals

This follows from reading (and understanding) the RFP. Do not waste your time, or the reviewers' time by submitting proposals that do not meet the guidelines of the RFP. If an RFP says that it will not fund proposals for specific items, expenditure categories, or for specific populations, then do not write a proposal asking for these things. For example, it is quite common for grant-makers to state that they will not provide funds for hardware and software. If this is the case with your RFP, then do not write a proposal asking for funds for hardware and software. Grant-makers follow their own rules to the letter, and "exceptions" are not made. Rather, inappropriate proposals are almost always simply rejected.

3. Follow the Structure Provided by the RFP

Another thing that virtually all RFPs provide is a "suggested" proposal structure or table of contents. If your RFP provides such a structure, follow it! Most of the time, this suggested structure forms the basis of the checklist that reviewers will use when reading your proposal. Reviewers use a checklist to determine if each proposal has all of the required elements, sections, etc. Make their job easier, and thereby improve the chances that they will like your proposal; organize your proposal by their structure.

4. Clearly State Your Proposal's Goals

All reviewers want to see your proposed project's goals. If you do not clearly state these goals, then the assumption will be that you do not have goals. Goal-less proposals are generally not funded. Furthermore, it is important that your goals be aligned with the purposes of the grant program (as stated in the RFP) and that they are reasonable given the scope of your proposed project and resources. Good goals are at the core of all good proposals.

5. Align Your Proposal with Your Technology Planning Goals

Good goals are also at the core of good educational technology plans. Therefore, when writing technology proposals, you should reference your planning goals. Show how your proposal supports your broader goals and how it completes some element (albeit a possibly small element) of your technology plan. Alignment with planning goals gives your proposal a "big picture" that demonstrates that the funds you are requesting will accomplish much more good than the specific, anticipated, outcomes from the proposed project.

This is also a good place to mention that increasingly, technology proposals that come from districts which do not have technology plans are not funded. Funders expect grantwriters to have their proposals grounded in the long-term vision and strategies expressed in a technology plan. While it is not often necessary to include your technology plan with your proposal, it is always a good idea (or in fact, often a requirement) to reference it in your proposal and/or include it as an appendix.

6. Specifically State Your Project's Impact on Teaching and Learning

What impact will your proposal have on teaching and learning? This is the bottom line of any successful technology proposal. If you cannot show impact, it is unlikely that your proposal will receive funding. Do not make the reviewers search for your anticipated impact. Do not assume that they will understand your impact unless you specify it. Specifically state how your project will positively impact students and their educational environment.

7. Include Evaluation and Dissemination Components

In many cases, an RFP will dictate that you include one or both of these components. Funders see the projects they fund as learning experiences for a larger educational constituency and as guides for future funding inititiatives they might make. Therefore, funders are interested in projects that can measure their success, document their challenges, identify potential problems, and ask questions for future research. This is the value of an evaluation component to your project. Further, virtually all funders seek ways to share the outcomes and learnings of their projects. This is the point of a dissemination component.

It is a common mistake for proposal writers to consider evaluation and dissemination as "wastes" of often-tight project funds. Do not fall into this trap. Evaluation and dissemination components are critical to successful projects. Conscientious proposal writers, who have a "big picture" for their project, devote sufficient project time and resources to evaluation and dissemination. Even when the RFP does not specifically ask for one of these components, their inclusion very much strengthens a proposal.

8. Realize that Not All Technology-Related RFPs Fund "Computers"

In fact, most grant programs do not fund basic hardware, software, network access, and other "infrastructure" needs. Rather, the majority of technology-related grant programs now fund staff development and curriculum development. Writing a proposal for one of these programs requires a through understanding of not only what you will use, but how and why you will use it. Another way of putting this is that few funders simply want to "give you stuff." Instead, they are mostly interested in how you are putting "stuff" to good use and creating positive impacts on teaching and learning.

9. Collaborate!

Successful proposals are collaboratively written. Collaboration not only helps in terms of editing and reviewing drafts, but more importantly it expands the ideas in your proposal. Proposals that are obviously "one person's idea" are not favorably reviewed. Further, proposals that involve several collaborating partners are always more successful than those which are limited to a single organization/school/individual. Collaboration shows that others believe in your proposal's idea and will work to make it a reality.

10. Write, Modify, Resubmit

Few proposals are successful the first time around. If your proposed project is rejected by a funder, try again. Try with a different funder and if possible, resubmit the proposal to the original grant maker. Before you resubmit an idea, it is wise to incorporate any feedback you received on your rejected proposal. Remember, when resubmitting a proposal it is necessary to redraft the proposal document to the new RFP (in terms of organization, components, budget requirements, etc.). Do not simply photocopy your old proposal for the new submission and do not submit proposals that do not fully fulfill the current RFP.

Monday, October 15, 2007

12 Tips for Better RFPs

Battle-tested strategies for managing the request for proposal process.

Although more and more districts are using requests for proposals (RFPs) instead of bids for technology purchases, RFPs are still seen as cumbersome and time consuming.

But there are strategies to manage the RFP process and make it more efficient, according to vendors and districts that have successfully been through it. Rob Chambers, IT director for the 5,000-student K–8 Rosedale Union School District in Bakersfield, California, and Kathy Thomas, manager of education strategy for Dell, have the following suggestions.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Writing a Newsletter for Your Business

Newsletters can be an excellent marketing tool as they can be used to promote the products and services provided by a business. A good business newsletter can help to increase business and to make a sell. If you’re stumped on how to write an effective newsletter for your business, then consider utilizing the following strategies.

Before you produce the newsletter, you need to determine its purpose. Ask yourself who you’re writing the newsletter for. Since we’re talking about business newsletters, chances are that your readers are customers and potential customers. You want to cater your newsletter specifically to them.

Once you’ve identified the purpose, include information about your business. Include articles that emphasize company accomplishments and success stories of products sold. Articles such as these help lend credibility to your business.

Include people in your newsletter. A strong connection with the reader can be established by showing who your work is done for and who it is done by. Including guest columns about company successes written by employees or customers is a great way to show readers that you are making a difference by producing quality products.

An easy way to impress readers is to include a section listing your business’s most recent statistics. Along with sell statistics, you can include customer satisfaction ratings. Let those you serve vouch for the quality of service your business provides.

Include a “frequently asked questions” section. Identify at least five of the most asked questions about your business and/or the products and services it provides. Then provide both the questions and answers in your newsletter. This is a great way to not only provide information about your business but to solve questions about your business as a whole.


Friday, October 12, 2007

How To Change Your Writing Style

When you work as a freelance writer, you often need to alter your writing style to meet your clients’ needs. One day you might be writing for a finance publication; the next day you might supply content for a dating site. This is a normal part of the life of a working writer.

Sometimes you may need to write for different nationalities. While formal English around the world may be pretty similar, informal writing will vary depending on whether you’re writing for an American, Canadian, British or Australian audience. Whatever the case, you need to nail the style and the vocabulary to get the job done right.

Elements Of Style

So how do you change your writing style when you need to? And how do you know what makes each style different from the others? One of the first steps is to identify your own writing style. I know that I usually write in a British style. That means long sentences and clauses. Writing web content for American readers means short sentences. It’s like good good web content writing, except that you use one main idea per sentence.

If you’re an American writing for a British publication, then you can use long, complicated sentences. If you’re British and are writing for an American publication, keep it short and direct. Make good use of style guides to find out about typical word usage.

Watch Your Language

The language is different, too. Let me give you an example. I recently wrote some articles on real estate for a UK firm. That meant that instead of ‘real estate’ I said ‘property’. Instead of ‘realtor’, I said ‘estate agent’. Instead of ‘adjustable rate mortgages’, I said ‘variable rate mortgages’. A good tip for finding out the right vocabulary is to visit a reputable site based in the country. For finance, I use the Motley Fool, which has both a US and a UK version.

Slang And Spelling

Apart from serious articles, it’s useful to understand the current slang. Try visiting a chat room to see how people from different places express themselves. You can also read newspapers and magazines from those countries. A final tip is to watch your spelling. Get a good dictionary or online dictionary to check the spelling that’s appropriate for a particular audience.

It’s easy to write successfully for different audiences. In fact, writing in a different style is a bit like acting. While you write the piece you pretend to be someone else. Once you have written the article, you go back to being you.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Five Tips for Writing Children's Literature

If you are interested in writing stories for very small children, here are five tips that can help get you started.

The recent overwhelming success of the Harry Potter book series has shown the publishing world just how profitable stories geared toward young audiences can be. If you are interested in writing stories for very small children, here are five tips from The Children's Writer's Reference, a new resource book by Berthe Amoss (author of numerous children's books) and Eric Suben (former editor of Golden Books):

  1. One thought per sentence. Keep your writing simple and uncluttered. If the sentence needs a comma anywhere but before or after attributions of dialogue, think about breaking it up into two sentences.
  2. One thought per sentence. Keep your writing simple and uncluttered. If the sentence needs a comma anywhere but before or after attributions of dialogue, think about breaking it up into two sentences.
  3. Avoid cliched images. Remember your audience. Your cliche may be new to most children, so familiarity will not be an aid to understanding. Small children do not have a wide range of associations to use in understanding the image.
  4. Be literal. Writing in children's books must be concrete. Focus on giving information your audience can perceive with their five senses.
  5. Provide captivating dialogue. You can express much more about your characters through their own words than you can through dry narration. Also, since your book will most likely be read aloud, providing different voices to be acted out often makes your book more enjoyable for the adult to read and the child to hear.
  6. Keep it simple. The trick in children's books is to use as few words as possible. Avoid adverbs and adjectives where possible and use good active verbs. For example, instead of saying "He ran quickly," say "He sped."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to Write a Speech

While a speech and an essay have much in common, a speech or oral presentation differs from a written essay (see How to Write an Essay) in several ways. The most significant difference to keep in mind in speech writing, however, is that a speech is heard while an essay or written presentation is read. This point, obvious as it is, leads to the main features of a winning speech.

Like other good writing, speech writing requires that you use correct grammar, that your words are precise, and your word choice strong. WhiteSmoke's all-in-one writing solution provides grammar check, spell check, dictionary, thesaurus, writing enhancement, and more features in one online writing tool. Use its thesaurus to help you find a better word. Use the dictionary to make sure the word you want to use really means what you want to say. The writing enhancement tool suggests ways to improve your writing using a unique Natural Language database.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ten Top Tips For Writing A Memorable Speech

When you sit in the audience enjoying a wonderful speech, the speaker's words seem to all make sense. They seem to be well-organized and easy to follow. One thought seems to fit with the next in a tight jig-saw puzzle kind of way. The speech is logical, interesting, convincing, entertaining and has a nice flow to it. You seem to be gently and effortlessly led along by the speaker's words. It's a small slice of heaven, isn't it?

What we see and hear as effortless speech-making actually comes from diligent, intelligent, sophisticated speech-writing. It comes from someone sitting down and crafting a thoughtful, smart, strategic set of concepts turned into practical tips, stories and action items. What the audience hears is music to their ears, almost literally.

Do you have a speech coming up soon? Need to write a talk that will grab your audience and make them sit on the edge of their seats? Take a moment to learn these ten essential elements of speech-writing and you may just give the speech of your life.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

12 Poetry Writing Tips

I have been writing poetry for over the last twelve years and while at times the muse has been a pain and I've learned a lot the hard way. Below are some the best tips I have been given or discovered on my own that will surely make your journey poetry in motion.

» Feel free to write something that's horrible. The point is to allow yourself to release what's inside. Perfection will come with time, and who knows, that horrible poem might later be revised once you have grown and become a work of art.

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Writing is catalyst for testing surge

SAN ANDREAS - Green means more than "go" at Toyon Middle School.

For the past year, green has also been the color of topic sentences, the key "big idea" statements that come at the beginning of essays.

New writing instruction strategies including a color-coded system for understanding the parts of an essay seem to be succeeding at this campus in the hills between Valley Springs and San Andreas: Almost two-thirds of the school's seventh-graders and 58 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or higher in English-language arts on the 2007 California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

15 Tips for Writing Winning Resumes

The thought of writing a resume intimidates almost anyone. It's difficult to know where to start or what to include. It can seem like an insurmountable task. Here are 15 tips to help you not only tackle the task, but also write a winning resume.

  1. Determine your job search objective prior to writing the resume. Once you have determined your objective, you can structure the content of your resume around that objective. Think of your objective as the bull's-eye to focus your resume on hitting. If you write your resume without having a clear objective in mind, it will likely come across as unfocused to those that read it. Take the time before you start your resume to form a clear objective.
  2. Think of your resume as a marketing tool. Think of yourself as a product, potential employers as your customers, and your resume as a brochure about you. Market yourself through your resume. What are your features and benefits? What makes you unique? Make sure to convey this information in your resume.

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Resume Writing Tips

Begin by determining your objective (do this prior to writing the resume). Clearly state what sort of a job you want and know what skill-set and experience is needed to do well in that job. After your objective is determined, you can structure the content of your resume around that objective. You have a small window of time to get the interest of a hiring manager, and being scattered will only get your resume filed in the "circular file" - i.e. - the trash can. Take the time before you start your resume to form a clear and obtainable objective. You have your objective - you're on your way.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Great Technical Writing: Tell your Users What to Expect


In your User Documentation, you direct your Reader to perform tasks with your product. If you don't tell your Reader what to expect when performing those tasks, you will have a baffled Reader, resulting in dissatisfaction and expensive calls to technical support.


I bought and installed a Reverse Osmosis water filter. The instructions told me to fill, and then empty (the instructions foolishly used the term "dump," which would have caused the destruction of the system) the tank.

The filter had a capacity of about 100 gallons per day. Thus I expected the initial fill (4.5 gallon tank) to take less than one hour. After about an hour the tank was still filling. Worried, I called the technical support. I was told that it takes about two hours for the tank to fill.

One line in the User Documentation would have eliminated that call: "The tank initially takes 2 hours to fill." Not knowing what to expect I, and perhaps other Users, wasted the time and money to call the technical support line.


I had some problems with my Cable/DSL (Internet-Ethernet) router. The internal control panel made it easy to check for and download updates to the internal software. The system told me that it would take a few minutes to check for updates (good), but it did not tell me how long the update would take to perform once I downloaded the file.

Not telling the User what to expect in terms of time is a mistake. I started the update and after a few minutes of operation (was it working?) I canceled the process. I re-started it again, and decided to wait longer to see what happened. It took a few minutes longer, and successfully completed.

It would only take a simple phrase such as "the software update can take up to five minutes to complete" to reduce the User's anxiety.

PROGRESS INDICATORS (as displayed in a windowing environment) are often useless. Some go beyond 100%, others are logarithmic: they move quickly in the early processing and wait, seemingly at the end, for a long time while processing is completing. Consider making progress indicators relate to the time of operation, not number of files.

Some progress/activity indicators have nothing to do with the program they are associated with. I have used virus checkers that have abnormally terminated, yet the activity indicator kept on moving. Make sure that progress/activity indicators do reflect activity of the associated program.


Telling the User what to expect is not a new concept. If you have ever downloaded files, the download site will often tell how long the file will take to download, based upon your Internet connection.


While most examples of "telling the User what to expect" deals with the time needed to complete an activity, others can be related to the indicators and performance of the product.

I have a small smart battery charger that has a red light for each of the battery positions. Unfortunately, the operation of these lights is impossible to understand, and there is no description of how they work.

Here's what happens. When you first insert the battery, the light illuminates. A short while later (the charging still has many hours to go), the light goes off. Sometime toward the end of the charging cycle the light may go on again.

This is clearly confusing to the User. The User's expectation is that when the light goes out, the charging is completed. This would result in a lot of User frustration, as Users would try to use "charged" batteries that were not charged. The developers of the battery charger should explain the operation of these displays.


Tell the Users what to expect as they use your product. Often this information is the amount of time it will take for an operation to complete. For other products, you may have to tell the User what the indicators mean.

Don't leave your document Readers confused or left to figure things out on their own. Doing so will reduce your Users' comfort with your product, and increase your technical support costs.

About the Author:

Barry Millman, Ph.D., has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (1966, Carnegie Institute of Technology) and an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Psychology (Human Information Processing, University of Calgary).

Visit: for resources to help you create the User Documents that your Product needs and your Users deserve.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Top 10 Blog Writing Tips

Most of the "rules" about writing for ezines and newsletters apply to writing posts for your blog, but there are some important differences. Keep these 10 tips in mind and you'll be publishing great blog content that attracts prospects and clients in your niche market.

  1. Write with the reader in mind. Remember WIIFM? It's marketing jargon for What's In It For Me? That's what you should be keeping in mind. Your reader will read your post looking for what's in it for them.
  2. Make it valuable and worthwhile. Don't waste people's time. If you don't have anything to say, no problem, plenty other people do. So share their articles, do an interview, review a book.
  3. Proof-read for typos and glaring grammatical errors. You wouldn't go out of the house with dirty hair or missing a sock, so why would you publish spelling mistakes? Respect your readers by polishing up your stuff.
  4. Keep it short and simple, sweetie. (KISS). Most people are scanners. You may have a lot to say and think it interesting, and it may be. But people are reading online and out of time. Get to the point quickly. Publishing short posts more frequently is a better format than publishing lengthy articles every few weeks.
  5. Keep it lively, make it snappy and snazzy. Even if you aren't a natural born writer, you can write for your blog. Just write like you're speaking to your friend.or to yourself! Remember though, get to the point quickly. Keep in mind the journalist's rule of 5 W's in the first paragraph: who, what, why, when and where.
  6. Link often. This builds credibility and positions you as an expert in your field. People don't have time to know what others are doing, you should tell them. Linking to other blogs and websites also helps you build a network of associates who will in turn link to your blog.
  7. Use keywords often. This will help you stay on purpose, and the search engines will love your blog. Your rankings will go up. This is one of the reasons we have you write out your purpose statements before beginning your blog. The clearer you are about your purpose, the more consistently you will deliver messages that are on target. And the more often your keywords show up, the better your search engine results.
  8. Write clearly (short sentences, only one concept per sentence). No double speak or jargon; no more than one idea in one sentence- don't make your readers have to think about your meaning. Spoon feed them. Use commas and dashes liberally.
  9. Write like you talk. It's okay to use common expressions from speech. Examples: Go figure. Don't even go there. Now, I ask you. Gotta love it. (And, remember the age group of your readers.)
  10. Use a clear headline, and don't be afraid to make bold statements (but don't mislead people either). Make it snazzy and use key words. Example: Ex-Techno-Weenie Masters HTML Code

BONUS: After you write a post and BEFORE you hit the save button

Use this checklist to ask yourself a few questions as you are reading through for typos and grammar:

  • Is the topic clear to someone who only reads the headline?
  • Does the lead paragraph tell who and what the story is about and why the reader should care about it?
  • Is the angle you've used likely to seem newsworthy?
  • Would someone who knows absolutely nothing about this topic understand this post?
  • Is the post free of jargon?
  • Is it written in journalistic style and does it make an effort to be objective?
  • Have you peppered the headline and the post with keywords and phrases that will be attractive to search engines?
  • Did you remember to ask your readers a question at the end, or something to stimulate readers to comment?
  • Did you remember to write with the reader in mind, always keeping in mind WIIFT? (What's in It for Them?)

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