2015 Communication Central Presentation Handout

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure and privilege of presenting at the tenth annual Communication Central conference in Rochester, New York. Communication Central is a low-key event wonderfully managed by Ruth Thaler-Carter, which attracts some of the big names in editing in the United States and Canada.

I gave an updated and expanded version of my presentation on electronic file and e-mail management, “Don’t Let Your E-Files Manage You.” Several people at the conference asked me for a digital copy of my handout; I have uploaded it to the Active Voice server for anyone who might be interested:

Feel free to download the file and use it for reference. And if you haven’t attended Communication Central before, you should seriousoy consider attending next year.

Tools and Tips for Rapid Transcription, Part 3

Headphones and a laptop computer on a desktopIn the first post in this series, I discussed how I prepared for an on-site reporting and same-day summary-preparation job at a day-long conference in downtown DC. In the second post, I covered the my activities on the day of the conference itself. In this final post, I’ll discuss the tools and techniques that I use to turn my notes and recordings into a polished final product for the client.

Now the meeting is over, you’ve saved and backed up your files, and you’re back at the office ready to write up the summary, transcription, or minutes. Where do you start?

We’ll begin by looking at ways to clean up your notes. They are the core around which you create the final product. Then we’ll move on to tips for working with your text and audio files.

After completing those steps, you will have a product that looks and reads great! So let’s get started…

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Tools and Tips for Rapid Transcription, Part 2

Conference speaker at podiumIn my previous post, I discussed how I prepared for an on-site reporting and same-day summary-preparation job at a day-long conference in downtown DC. I covered note-taking tools, audio recording tools, and such easily-overlooked aspects like advance work, a suitable typing and recording surface, and suitable cables.

In this post, I’ll continue by discussing my experiences on the day of the conference itself. Just FYI, this will be the shortest of the three posts. Because it builds on the work done in advance of the event and it prepares you for the work to be done after the event, there isn’t as much to cover. But its length isn’t a reflection of its importance; it is the center of the whole effort.

Before the day of the event, be sure to take the time to map and time the route and the parking, unless you have done the trip before — and even then, it’s probably worth double-checking for peace of mind. Before leaving, check in with your favorite traffic-monitoring app to see if there are any road closures, accidents, or other obstacles that could delay you. All of this may seem like overcaution, but remember: as a freelancer, you are always representing your business to your clients. Courtesies like punctuality convey your professionalism. They’re hiring you to solve their problems, not to hear about yours.

So now you’ve arrived at the meeting site. If you’ve followed the tips in my previous post, you’ve already scoped out the room and know where you’re going to set up. Let’s get started!

Continue reading “Tools and Tips for Rapid Transcription, Part 2”

Tools and Tips for Rapid Transcription, Part 1

Conference room and podiumA client recently asked me to provide on-site reporting and same-day summary preparation services for a day-long conference in downtown DC. The job provided me with an excellent opportunity to try out a combination of various tools and techniques — some new, some old — that I had used separately for individual projects, but until then had not used together.

All the pieces worked and played well together, and I was so pleased with the results that I wanted to share them with other writers who are, like me, always looking for ways to improve their writing and editing techniques in the field. Over the course of three brief posts I’ll be summarizing my experiences before, during, and after the conference.

Before the Conference

Although for on-site reporting projects I have generally preferred to use my laptop (a late-2013 MacBook Pro) for taking notes and recording, for this trip I wanted to travel light because I knew I would be taking the Metro and walking a lot. That meant using my trusty iPad and its Logitech Ultrathin keyboard cover. Here’s how I got my iPad ready:

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E-Newsletters: How Wide Do You Go?

I write e-newsletters and e-mail news blasts for several clients (see, for example, here). Like most e-newsletters, they’re designed to be read in an e-mail app (or, for people who use web-based e-mail, a browser) along with an identical web-based version for people whose e-mail apps can’t handle html.

Most use customized templates offered by the big mailing services (MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) But one of my clients handles the mailing in-house, which requires me to use a custom html template that I prepared. Originally, the template had a fixed width of 600px (the width of the masthead graphic).

While working on the latest issue, I started thinking about the limitations of the fixed-width approach in today’s online-centric environment. In the old days, all you had to worry about was different monitor widths. Now, you also have to factor in web browsers and RSS readers, which is where more and more of us are reading our messages — not to mention the burgeoning mobile sphere, which has to fit everything into notecard-sized screens or thereabouts.

I see two problems with using a narrow fixed-width design for this particular newsletter:
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“Take the Time, Get it Right.”

The latest Nieman Foundation Speaker Series lecture features Chris Jones (“Roger Ebert: The Essential Man“) in conversation with Gay Talese (“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold“) about the art and craft of narrative nonfiction. The lessons that Talese offers are useful for writers of all kinds.

As we face pressure to produce more, and more quickly, in order to meet the incessant demands for novelty and immediacy, it’s worth remembering that what makes for great writing involves what Jones astutely characterizes as a process that is “designed to slow you down.” Things like:

  • Go there.
  • Hang around.
  • Look. Really look.
  • Make a good impression.
  • Don’t take notes.
  • Let them rephrase.
  • Notice minor characters.
  • Don’t over-describe.
  • Write multiple drafts.
  • Write in scenes.
  • Take your time.

As Talese says, “I don’t think you’re ever wasting your time when you think you’re wasting your time.”

You may not have the time or the budget to do all of these things for your next piece, but try to work one or two of them into your schedule. Tap the brakes a little, generate some friction, and see if any light comes from the heat.

The Perils of Style Guides

Style guides can be handy tools when used properly, but their application should always be informed by context.

Case in point: take this article abstract from MDLinx, a medical journal abstracting service, which I found while researching recent publications for one of my clients:

“The authors must be aware that acute encephalopathy is an important complication in children with Dravet syndrome, and associated with fulminant clinical manifestations and a poor outcome.”

Huh? Is the abstractor editorializing here? Is one of the authors of the article publicly chastising himself and his colleagues for overlooking something in their study?

A quick glance at the original abstract from Epilepsia magazine:

“We must be aware that acute encephalopathy is an important complication in children with Dravet syndrome, and associated with fulminant clinical manifestations and a poor outcome.”

Ah, that makes sense now. The authors are saying that pediatric neurologists in general should be aware of this potential complication. The MDLinx style guide — whether it’s applied by a human editor or an algorithm, I don’t know — must call for replacing “we” with “the authors,” presumably on the (not unreasonable) assumption that that’s what it typically refers to.

Editors: when applying a style guide, whether its your own or your client’s, don’t forget to take context into account. Otherwise, you risk causing a misunderstanding — or worse.

Tips for Writing a Gift Policy

TrustThe following post is adapted from “Put Your Money in Trust: How a Gift-Acceptance Policy Can Guide Your Fundraising, Reduce Your Risk, and Help Steward Your Donors,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n3, May-June 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Developing a truly helpful gift acceptance policy involves more than simply downloading a template from the Web and filling in the name of your organization at the top, although an organization doesn’t have to begin from scratch, either. A tailored policy reflects a consensus among not only the executive leadership and board members with financial and tax expertise, but also the development staff and volunteers who will have to implement the policy, says Katherine Swank, J.D., a senior consultant for Blackbaud Analytics in Charleston, S.C. Because of the importance of achieving that consensus, it’s not uncommon for the policy-development process to take 18 months or longer.

Swank says the policy-development team should focus on answering some key questions up front:

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Value-Added Writing

I’ll be hosting a panel session on “What Editors Look For in Freelancers” at the 2011 Maryland Writers’ Conference on April 2. One of my panelists will be Tam Harbert, an award-winning journalist who covers technology, business, and government beats. My introduction to Tam was her post on the ASBPE blog, “Freelance Work Worth Paying For,” in which she argues — and demonstrates convincingly — that writing is more than simply stringing words together. When editors hire writers, they are also paying for the ability to provide them with what they want (even when they’re not sure what that is); subject-matter expertise; the ability to present the story in an appropriate and compelling way; critical thinking skills that have been honed from experience; persistence and doggedness in order to get to the real story; and the ability to deliver everything on time.

In an age when “content farms” are busy driving down the rates that many writers can charge for their work — to say nothing of what they’re doing to the quality of information available to people who need it — it’s good for writers to remind ourselves that we offer our clients more than just good grammar. Professional writers bring a broad suite of skills to bear on solving their clients’ word problems. We answer the essential questions:

  • What questions do your readers have?
  • Where are the most accurate and reliable answers going to be found?
  • What’s the best way to present those answers to your readers?

By the time I finished reading the post, I knew I needed Tam on my panel, and I’m pleased that she accepted the invitation. Once you read her piece, I think you’ll understand why too. And if you’re planning to attend this year’s Maryland Writers’ Conference, I hope you’ll consider attending my session and hearing it right from the source.

Tips for Tailoring Your Research

Blank NotepadThe following post is adapted from “More Than Data: How Prospect Research can Help You Fine-Tune Your Ask, Allowing You to Raise More Money More Cost-Effectively,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n1, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Researchers today have access to more information, more quickly, than ever before. But are they looking for the right information in the right places? Are fundraisers making the best use of the information? Making sure that the wheat is being separated efficiently from the chaff has become a crucial management function for today’s fundraising executives.

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