Do I need to have good writing skills as a virtual assistant?
We often get this question, and here’s the answer that we usually give: As someone who conducts business online, you should have good writing skills, especially since most communication nowadays happens in writing. Sure, we’re all guilty of a a typo here and there, or a missing punctuation mark, and that’s not the end of the world.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn and improve our written communication skills.
So when Lisa Lepki reached out to us to talk about a tool that would help me catch some of those typos, I jumped at the chance to have her share her editing wisdom on the blog.
Your clients expect high quality content and communications. Consider the blog posts, emails, and other content you write for them. Every word you write makes an impression; make sure the face you put forward in your content represents your brand well.
What impression does it leave with clients if your communication or content is full of technical errors like misspellings and punctuation gaffes? To stand out, and skyrocket your VA business, you need more than technical editing skills to make your content shine.
Here are five ways to make sure your content is concise, technically correct, and easy to understand.
1. Overused words
You can use some words and phrases now and then, but when they’re overused, it detracts from your meaning. Avoid sounding awkward or wishy-washy by tackling the following:
“Could,” “might,” and “maybe”
Let’s face it, telling a client “I might be able to get this report done by the due date” doesn’t inspire confidence.
The solution is to use more authoritative wording. “I will have this report done by the due date” tells your client that you mean what you say. Build confidence and trust by avoiding undefined words such as “could,” “might,” and “maybe.”
Words like “very,” “really,” and “so” are intensifiers. They’re used to prop up a weak noun, adverb, or adjective, but add nothing to your meaning.
Don’t tell your clients you have “very fast service.” This means different things to different people. It’s much better to be specific: “I have 24-hour turnaround time on blog posts.”
Look for stronger words to replace intensifiers. Why say, “I’m really happy to work with you on this project” when you could let your client know “I’m ecstatic to work with you on this project.”
What comes to mind when you read the word resource? It could refer to a lot of things. A resource could be a book, a tree (think natural resource), or even a person.
Avoid non-specific words like “interesting” or “system.” Don’t tell your client you find his “new system interesting.” Instead let him know you find his “new Software as a Service platform amazingly simple to use.”
Awkward sentence constructions
An example of awkward sentence construction is beginning several sentences in a row with an “-ing” word.
Consider this example: Generating more sales is every business’s goal. Aligning your sales and marketing teams is a key component. Organizing teams of both sales and marketing personnel is one solution.
It sounds stuffy and robotic. Mix up your sentence constructions to keep your target audience engaged. If they have to work too hard to understand you, you could lose the project.
You can use an editing tool like ProWritingAid to find all of these overused words.
2. Writing style
Stylistic choices can mean the difference between getting a new client or turning off a prospect. And if you’re writing blog posts for clients, search engines will dock their website for weak writing style. Here are specific examples to look for:
Passive voice happens when you bury the subject of your sentence after the verb or cut it altogether.
Consider this example: The business plan is being edited prior to release to catch last minute errors or omissions.
Your client will wonder who is doing the editing.
Here is another example: The seminar was created by Sales and Marketing to show customers how to use the new software.
In this example, the subject (who created the seminar) is buried after the verb.
Now let’s look at the same sentences using an active voice:
I will edit the business plan prior to release to catch last minute errors or omissions.
Sales and Marketing created the seminar to show customers how to use the new software.
Passive voice can sound stuffy. Politicians use passive voice to avoid taking responsibility for actions. The last thing you want is to sound like a politician, right?
Adding an “-ion” or another suffix to a verb turns it into a noun, creating hidden verbs. A few examples will help make hidden verbs clearer.
Employees took up a collection to help poor families afford healthy food.
We performed an analysis of the spreadsheet to find broken or misused formulas.
The CEO made a decision to cut 10% of the workforce this year.
The best way to help you see the hidden verbs in bold in these sentences is to show you the rewrites:
Employees collected money to help poor families afford healthy food.
We analyzed the spreadsheet to find broken or misused formulas.
The CEO decided to cut 10% of the workforce this year.
A few adverbs used in your content is fine. The key is to find where adverbs are masking a weak verb. You need stronger verbs instead of adverbs.
Here are some examples:
Weak verb + adverb: The client quickly sent an email responding to my question.
Strong verb: The client fired off an email responding to my question.
Corporate wording creeps into your content when you’re trying to sound eloquent instead of going for clarity.
Here’s a really convoluted example of corporate wording:
The latest solution creates synergy between users and administrators to enhance workarounds and generate buy-in for our core competency.
The rewritten version is much clearer:
Users and administrators are creating solutions we hope everyone can get behind to support our company’s products and services.
3. Sticky sentences
Sticky sentences use too many glue words to hold them together. Glue words are the 200+ most common words in the English language. Words like “in,” “for,” “to,” “and,” “with,” “from,” “by,” and many more add nothing to your meaning.
An example will help explain.
Original: I was able to find the answer to the problem in the database of the audit reports of the system and get the system admin to make some changes that will resolve the issue.
The glue index (or percentage of glue words used) in the above sentence is 61.8%. You want less than 40% of your words to be glue.
Here’s what the rewritten sentence looks like:
Rewritten: The audit report database contained the error, and the system admin’s changes resolved the issue.
Now the glue index is 37.5%, and the sentence is much clearer.
Use an editing tool like ProWritingAid to find those passages in your writing with a high glue index.
Transitions get little attention, but they are good indicators whether readers follow you. Think of them like road signs to help your reader follow your train of thought.
You don’t want to jump from idea to idea without giving readers a hint that you’re covering something new. You may remember transitional phrases from school, such as “nevertheless,” “likewise,” and “as a result.” They help show relationships between your ideas.
Let’s look at an example.
Original: The DNA testing kit comprises 10 different testing strips. You must send the samples to a laboratory for analysis.
Transitional: The DNA testing kit comprises 10 different testing strips. However, you must send the samples to a laboratory for analysis.
The transitional version clarifies that these two ideas are separate and require different actions.
As virtual assistants, you can have clients around the world. The difference in spelling between the US, England, Canada, and Australia can trip anyone up.There are over 1,700 spelling differences between UK English and US English. Canadian and Australian English falls somewhere in between the two.
The most common inconsistencies are words with “-or” in US English and “-our” in UK English. Examples include: honor/honour, color/colour, and neighborhood/neighbourhood.
The key is to stick to one version of English throughout your work.
Using hyphenations is another inconsistency. Do you “e-mail” clients or do you use “email”? In fact, over 60% of randomly sampled documents have hyphenation inconsistency. So, it happens to the best of us.
Finally, capitalization inconsistencies are easy to make, too. Do you “google” something or “Google” it? You can find it used both ways. Again, the key is to pick one and stick with it.
If you want to knock your clients’ socks off, master self-editing so your content is spotless. The best way is to use an editing tool like ProWritingAid to check for technical edits and style choices.
Editing tools catch all the above errors and more. Tools suggest improvements, but it’s up to you to decide what edits to make. You have control over the changes so you can stay true to your brand voice and writing style.Even more important, your clients will be pleased with your content. When you can help your clients engage their target audience through well-written blogs and other content, you become valuable. And the more value you add, the more clients you’ll have.
ProWritingAid’s online editing tool is free to use, but they have generously offered Horkey Handbook readers 25% off ProWritingAid Premium, which allows you to use their integrations for Chrome, MS Word, Google Docs, Scrivener and more writing software programs. Just use code HORKEY2018 when you choose your plan.
Lisa Lepki is the Editor of the ProWritingAid blog. A word nerd, she loves the technical elements of writing almost as much as the writing itself. She is the co-author of The Novel-Writing Training Plan and 20 Editing Tips from Professional Writers Her work can also be found on Writer’s Digest, bookbaby.com, The Write Life, and DIYAuthor.