5 Tips for Writing a Great Bio

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I’ve had the pleasure of helping multiple people write short bios of themselves in the last few months. Most needed them for their website, professional directories, or speaking engagements and reached out because writing their own bio is just so darn difficult! During this wave, I’ve even had to retool my own biography, which took me more time than I expected!

Why is writing a bio so tough? From my experience, here are some reasons it’s frustrating to tackle this all-important written document:

  • It’s hard to pump yourself up to present your accomplishments in a brief space — in third person, no less!
  • It’s difficult to decide which items to include in a bio and which ones to scrap.
  • It’s challenging to find the right tone for your bio. You are looking to convey a certain message, but that can get lost in just wanting to spit out the facts about yourself.

To ease the bio-creation process, I have provided five tips to help you write a great bio:

1. Compile the facts. Write down all that you’ve done. Dash out the obvious details first, like jobs you’ve had and degrees you’ve earned. Include big and small accomplishments. Jot down fun facts and personal tidbits. Finally, circle items that are most important to include in your bio. Star other things on the list that might make your bio more interesting.

2. Know your audience. Who will be reading this bio? Understanding your audience is the key to any writing. Are you a lawyer needing a bio for your firm’s website? Are you a life coach looking to connect to those attending a workshop you offer? Are you using your bio in a directory where someone might be wanting to use your services?

Once you figure out the target audience for your bio, revisit the list you compiled and think about what’s important. If you need guidance, check out bios written by people in your field. Their audiences are similar, so study the language and details they use and model yours in a similar fashion.

3. Consider your message. Your bio serves a purpose. It may need to convey expertise and authority. It may need to show your interpersonal skills. It may need to include details to help you attain future goals.

Think about how you want to establish yourself and write your bio accordingly. Include adjectives that reflect your message. For example, if you are an event planner, make sure to emphasize your organization skills, whether by saying it or showing it. Or, if you work with families, include some details about your own family or experience you’ve had with organizations that support families or children.

4. Be direct. Don’t assume that people know anything about you when reading your bio. Keep it simple and write in easy-to-read language. Now is not the time to share your creative writing skills. Write in lists of three, as this resonates with readers. Avoid too many details. People just want the nuts and bolts of who you are, not an extensive laundry list of your life.

5. Edit and review. Write a few versions of your bio and read them to someone. Take out a red pen and scratch up the draft. It’ll take a bit of time to get the bio right, so don’t be hesitant to go back to the drawing board and write something new. Though the facts about you may not change with each draft, the way you structure your bio can be altered.

Consider writing long and short bios at the same time so you don’t have to go through this process again any time soon. Using a consistent bio will make you appear more professional.

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To close out this post, I thought I’d share with you the most recent iteration of my short bio. I worked to convey my business services, experience, and passion (in that order). I did not think my degrees or other academic experience were necessary in this brief bio, so I didn’t include them. I added a personal detail about myself at the end because I thought it fit well and shared just a bit about my personal life.

Natalie L. Silver is a writer and editor who collaborates with individuals, businesses, and publishers. Her services include copywriting, editing, and proofreading. She founded Silver Scribe Editorial Services in May 2013 after spending almost a decade working as managing editor for an independent book publisher. Natalie’s love of the written word, experience with different stylebooks, and passion for publishing give her the spark to deliver quality services to all of her clients. She lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband and two children.

And, don’t forget, I am here to help you with your bio if going through this process alone is just too daunting. Send me an e-mail and we can begin a conversation!

Small Business Owners: Why You Need an Editor

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Hey small business owner! Yeah you! The one with the website, brochure, newsletter, and blog that you are trying to manage along with your business services, networking events, professional development, and accounting. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed?

As a small business owner myself, I bet that you have a pretty long to-do list. I started my publishing services business two years ago and have gone from “I feel overwhelmed at the thought of getting all of this going” to “I am not sure where I should be spending my time and efforts.”

Sound familiar?

Chances are, if you are running a small business, you are passionate about the services you offer. Whether it’s selling products, providing services, or being just plain awesome, you want to spend your time focusing on these activities, not on invoicing, tracking expenses, writing copy, or reviewing every marketing material for grammar, usage, and style. That’s where other professionals can help so you can focus on those all-important core activities of your business.

Here are three reasons to find and hire an editor now:

You Need a Brand and You Need to Build It

Just like so many small business owners outsource bookkeeping to keep their accounting organized and streamlined, hiring an editor and/or writer can simplify and boost your marketing plans. In this day in age of content marketing, where you send out informational content to be absorbed by the masses (think social media posts, blogs, and newsletters), your communication efforts need to be substantial and well presented. As a Harvard Business Review article, “Every Content Marketer Needs an Editor,” describes:

The editor . . . acts as a proxy for the reader, and ensures your content offers that reader real value in return for their time.  That editor also has the ability to recognize the difference between an idea that’s worth a 140-character tweet, and one that can be developed into a blog post or report—or, for that matter, a three-minute video. They have the ability to work with an author whose ideas may be terrific but who may not be a strong communicator, and develop that author’s ideas into a compelling and engaging piece of content. And yes, the ability to transform inelegant or even incoherent prose into a tight, readable argument.

So you may be an expert in fitness, in selling jewelry, or in creating beautiful interior designs, but it’s unlikely that you’ve got the time to create each piece of written communication necessary to build your brand for the masses. (If you need help developing your branding concept, check out my associate, Caitlin Merto). Let an expert navigate the world of words so you can focus on everything else.

Why not hire a person who gleefully enrolled in a grammar, usage, and style class in college and who practices editing and writing skills everyday working with a variety of clients? A trained and skilled editor can keep you on message and write eloquent prose in a fraction of the time you would spend doing it. Think of how much more precise a trained photographer is at taking pictures and editing them than an amateur. That’s what an editor can do with your written communication.

You Need Someone to Put Thoughts to Paper

I recently worked with a client whose vision was clear but who had no idea how to articulate her concepts through words, delaying her from launching a new business. She called me one day with trepidation and excitement, unsure if I could help her but excited at the possibility of getting her thoughts on paper.

During our initial phone consultation, the client and I spoke about her concept, her audience, and her needs. Later, we met at a coffee shop and just talked. She told me about herself and her ideas for the business, and I wrote down key phrases and themes that kept appearing in the conversation. She gave me some handouts she had used for workshops that might help craft her message. After our meeting, I went home, compiled my notes and, in just a handful of hours, created web copy that conveyed her vision.

Imagine how long it would take you to create polished copy for a five-page website and think about whether it’s worth your time.

You Need Polished, Professional Prose

Not only can an editor make your thoughts and ideas come to life through words, he or she can also review your prose and correct grammar, usage, and style mistakes as a copy editor. A copy editor looks at the nuts and bolts of your writing and fixes it for obvious errors, grammar mistakes, and overall clarity, among other things.

The article “10 Reasons You Need a Copy Editor” by Whiterock Business Solutions articulates perfectly why you need a copy editor for your business:

There is nothing more embarrassing then promoting yourself or your company with materials that are riddled with typos, grammar mistakes, inconsistencies and poor sentence structure. How can a potential customer expect that you will do quality work when the materials you publish do not live up to the same level of quality.

An editor doesn’t seem like such an extraneous investment for your business now, does it?

I hope I’ve made my case for why every small business owner should utilize the services an editor provides. If you want to take your business to the next level, let’s talk about how I can make your written communication sparkle. Contact me at natalielsilver(at)yahoo(dot)com so we can start a conversation.

5 Essential Résumé Writing Tips

Spring is here, and many of us are tackling those spaces in our house collecting dust. Another item to clean up is your résumé. Whether you’re job hunting in the near future or wanting to stay current, spend an hour or two thinking about this all-important personal document.

While I don’t claim to be a résumé-writing expert, I am fortunate to be related to someone who has spent years coaching and guiding job seekers. Thanks Marcia Lyons for these tips! And if you need a final set of eyes on your document, keep me in mind!

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A résumé is your most important marketing piece, and it takes a lot of thought. The résumé gets the interview, and sometimes it can still get you the job if it’s good enough — even if your interview wasn’t perfect. Why? Because your résumé stays behind and is what the members of the hiring team will look at again as they narrow the field of candidates. If your résumé successfully reminds them of what you have to offer, you can still come out on top.

Here are five things your résumé must include:

  1. A good-looking format. Use a standard, easy-to-read font. Don’t make the font size too small — readability is more important than cramming the information on a single page. Use white space, shaded boxes, and font emphasis (bold, underline, italic, etc.) to create interest and readability. Keep in mind you may also need a plain text version for some websites.
  2. A job description, including position title and dates worked. Also write accomplishment statements for each job of any duration — what did you do in that position to make a difference? Use quantification in the accomplishment statements (i.e., “improved sales by 15% in first year,” “trained 30 employees in proper use of the new software system,” “coordinated 50 volunteers for the school fundraiser.” Numbers make the statement more meaningful.
  3. Résumé-friendly grammar, usage, and style. Always write in the third person, and start sentences with strong action verbs. First person résumés are awkward and make a poor impression.
  4. A skills summary. Locate it somewhere on the résumé where key words are easy to locate. This skills summary should give the reader a quick snapshot of what you have to offer. These are often at the top of the résumé, immediately following the summary of qualifications, or career summary section.
  5. A top-notch summary. This section may be the only part of your résumé that is read as hiring teams go through a giant pile of résumés. If you don’t include this vital section, your résumé reviewer will just look at your last title and that will be what they remember about you. Quite often, this is not what you want. For example, if your most recent position is as a part-time sales clerk but you have been a marketing manager and vice president for a large company, you want to make sure those significant roles stand out at the top.

There is a lot of advice out there, and don’t be afraid to do your homework as you prepare to update your résumé. If you keep these five ideas in mind, you’ll be on your way to creating a document that does the job.

Five Tips to Improve Your Writing

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I was honored to submit a blog post on the bizzy mamas website last week. The bizzy mamas are a networking group for women who juggle business and family. Many of those in the group own their own businesses, so I wanted to remind them that it is possible to be an effective writer without being too obsessed with nitty-gritty grammar.

If you are not a strong writer, I do recommend hiring an editor for major endeavors, however. For websites, proposals, reports, and marketing materials, it’s worth investing a small sum to make sure your documents are of the highest quality possible.

Read my advice here.

Show Your Best Self

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When preparing for a big presentation, you want to make sure you look your best. Shoes polished, suit dry cleaned, accessories chosen carefully. You spend hours reviewing your notes on index cards, practicing in the shower, in the car, and in front of the mirror. You’ve got this!

Your presentation time finally arrives, and you open your PowerPoint file and hand out a thirty-page report documenting your subject matter in more detail. Five minutes into your presentation, you look at your PowerPoint and realize that there are several grammatical errors on the screen. During the question-and-answer session following your presentation, you refer to a page in your report and see a few glaring typos. Despite nailing the presentation with your rehearsed delivery and impeccable dress, the glaring mistakes in your presentation and report send you on a downward spiral. Thinking to yourself, “I must have read that 100 times!” you shake your head as you find your way to the car, hoping that your audience didn’t notice your less-than-polished presentation materials.

To avoid feeling this way at such a pivotal juncture, consider hiring an experienced editor to review your work before a big day. No matter the subject matter, someone with a trained editorial eye will see the misplaced apostrophes, capital letters, and commas. And editors are trained for catching more than just typos. They will make sure that your lists are parallel, that your sentences are clear, and that your hyphens are in the right spot. They will break your text into more appropriately sized paragraphs, provide ideas for organization, and give you tips on how to succinctly introduce and summarize your content. For just a nominal cost, you can make sure your writing stands out just like you do. 

Just as you wouldn’t stand in front of a group of people in old jeans and Converse sneakers, you wouldn’t want to hand out a postcard that confuses “Your” with “You’re.”

Let me be your high-heeled shoes. Let me be your lucky tie. Make sure your written materials are as perfect as your appearance and rehearsed presentation. Let’s get started!

Finding Your Voice

I just returned a single-authored manuscript to a client today after working on it for the last few weeks. While I’m always happy to finish a project, it’s hard to let go of the final product, not just because the dissecting of notes and references gets addictive but because I feel like I get to know an author while reading a book—no matter the content.

In the case of this particular book, the author had mastered his voice, incorporating feeling into an otherwise academic treatise. The author wove in conversational remarks in a heavily researched and referenced book, making it much more enjoyable to read. While he’s had years of practice to refine his voice, there are ways you can develop a voice as an inexperienced or less-seasoned writer.

How do you develop a voice in your writing?

  • Write more. Find an outlet that suits your interests, whether it be a journal, blog, online forum, writing group, or something else. Writing becomes easier with practice. The more you put pen to paper, fingers to keys, the more likely you are to discover how to inject yourself into your work.
  • Read more. If you aren’t reading newspapers, magazines, websites, books, or other written works, make it a priority. Identifying the voices of others will help you find yours. It’s unrealistic to think that your own written works will improve if you aren’t reading enough. Expose yourself to different forms of writing to see how authors’ voices work in various formats and for various purposes.
  • Edit more. Give yourself time to write. Work on a few drafts, even rewriting an entire paper upon completion of the rough draft. Read it aloud to yourself or someone willing to listen. Rather than edit as you go, write a significant amount and then walk away from it for a bit. Come back and reread it, considering whether the work sounds like you. If not, begin to write again.

When you’re ready for a final edit, contact me to help you polish your work. I can help you find your voice as well, so feel free to contact me in the earlier stages of writing so I might be able to provide some tips on your project before you develop writer’s block or write a diatribe.

 

Consistency Rules: An Easy Method to Improve Your Writing

If you don’t consider yourself a grammarian but love to write (or have to for academic or professional reasons), there’s an easy way to make sure your writing looks good. Be consistent.

While it’s important to use proper grammar and punctuation, one of the simplest ways to make sure your work looks polished is to be consistent. An editor fine-tunes her eyes to look for consistency in written works, and it’s important that you either work on this skill or outsource your public writing to someone who can do this for you. While you don’t need to master the Chicago, AP, APA, and MLA styles for documents you plan to publish or submit (unless it’s required), it’s good to identify certain components of your work that should remain consistent.

Here are five things to review in your document to ensure consistency:

  1. Capitalization. Are particular words capitalized the same way throughout the document? Check how you incorporate product names, personal names, professional titles, and organizations.
  2. Spelling. It’s important to spell words the same way throughout a document. While this seems obvious, the English language can be tricky, so double-check your treatment of compound words (did you use a hyphen once, break it into two words another time, and consolidate it in another instance?) For example, in a book I recently edited, the term twenty-something was hyphenated, though I could see someone breaking it into two words (twenty something) or even smashing it together (twentysomething) depending on personal style and the purpose of the document. When in doubt, use the dictionary as a final authority. Also, not to add complications, consider the part of speech of the compound too.
  3. Punctuation. Are you using the serial comma?  Are you using a three-dot ellipsis or three- and four-dot ellipses? When you need to use an apostrophe after a singular word that ends in s are you adding just an apostrophe or an apostrophe and an s (e.g., Henry James’ book or Henry James’s book?) Are you adding two spaces after a period? What about em dashes — are you adding spaces around them? Punctuation can be dubious and, while there are basic rules of American English to follow, you have some choices in punctuation.  Stick with a consistent method in your document.
  4. Formatting. Are you italicizing or bolding specific terms throughout the document? Are paragraphs indented? What about space between paragraphs? Do you capitalize captions or punctuate them as sentences? The document should look good on first glance, and formatting consistently is key to making a good impression.
  5. References. Choose one method for references, such as footnotes, endnotes, or in-text references. Format the references the same way every time. For example, don’t use an author’s full name and the abbreviation for page number (i.e., Mark Twain, p. 123) and then later just use the author’s last name without the page abbreviation (i.e., Twain, 144). Likewise, use the same formatting from endnote to endnote in a given document.

I hope you find this advice useful. I could go into more detail about consistency, but this is supposed to be a tutorial to make you feel more at ease about polishing a document. And always, keep in mind the audience for your work. If you are submitting a paper to a professor, refer to the syllabus for the class’s preferred style. If you are editing a newsletter or a blog, just try to be as consistent as possible. If you are handing over your work to an editor, trust that he keeps a style sheet and refers to the appropriate stylebook.