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Ethics in writing: how to balance personal and journalistic ethics.

April 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Ethics in writing: where is the line in the sand?

The Search Guru explores the fear of writing and how to overcome it

Isaac, a high school senior, was dying of leukemia. He wished, with all of his heart, to survive long enough to graduate. I learned about Isaac when my newspaper editor called me and said that I needed to be at the football field where his graduation ceremony was to take place. If Isaac was released from the hospital for the ceremony, I was to walk with him, up to the podium, as he got his diploma – and then talk to him as we strolled, capturing his thoughts.

I was taken aback by this assignment. Normally, I covered school board or city council meetings, or profiled someone local with an intriguing hobby. But, this? This didn’t feel right. “What,” I asked my editor, “if he doesn’t want me to?”

“Do it, anyhow,” she says. “This is an important local story.”

I was startled by the response, especially since my editor was a caring woman, but I nevertheless went to the high school field. I can’t say that I’m especially proud of that decision, but I didn’t debate with the editor any more than the question listed above. I was only working part time, so that I could spend time with my young children, and I needed the income from the newspaper. But, still. This just didn’t sit right.
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Find the courage to write: author Ralph Keyes provides direction and hope.

April 15th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Finding the Courage to Write

The Search Guru explores the fear of writing and how to overcome it

“I worry that I’m not good enough,” says Joy Bautista Collado, although she can’t define precisely why. “I need courage.”

And, even though other people encourage her to write, she doesn’t try to publish much because of her fear. “My biggest insecurity,” the writer from the Philippines confides, “is that English isn’t my first language and I’m afraid that I’ll get criticized because of that.” Joy has this fear even though her command of English sounds perfectly fine to me – and even though she is fluent in two other languages (which is more than most of us can say!): Filipino and Ilocano, a local dialect that is as different from Filipino, she explains, as English is from Mandarin Chinese.

Some of her fear arises, she believes, from hurtful comments made about an article that she wrote three years ago about chairs in bars. “I did research,” she says, “but I didn’t do enough.” Joy would like to write memoir material but, for that, she needs to “save up more courage.” Ironically, the one type of writing that she finds liberating is to write about her fears.

Meanwhile, writer Nida Sea confesses something that held her back from writing much for two and a half years: the need to interview sources. “I was afraid,” she says, “and I wondered “why do I need to talk to people?’”

She tried to write using secondary sources from the Internet, but that didn’t produce the quality she needed. “I kept hearing the same thing over and over again: you need sources,” Nida says. “I figured that interviewees would think I was an idiot and might say to me, ‘why did you just ask me that question?’”

She eventually plunged into conducting an interview but “sweated my entire shirt up” during the process. She traces her fears back to when she worked at a pharmacy and a pharmacist would criticize how she interacted with other people.

So, what should Joy and Nida – and let’s face it, all of us – do when fear rears its ugly head?
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Over-confidence is one of deadly sins of writing: tips on managing your ego.

April 8th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Deadly sin of over-confidence: managing your ego

The Search Guru discusses the dangers of being overconfident in your writing

Now, I usually don’t brag. I really don’t. But, in this post, I’m going to do so, openly and without shame. Through my entire elementary school career, I was the spelling bee champion. Yes, I was. Without question. I didn’t just win some of the weekly spelling bees. I didn’t win most of the weekly spelling bees. No. I won them ALL.

But, before I could truly wear the golden crown of the Spelling Bee Queen, I had one more hurdle to jump. At the end of the 6th grade year, our class needed to take on the other 6th grade class in the grand championship. For this stellar event, the spelling bee did not take place in our classrooms. No. We would be on the stage. The BIG stage . . . in the library.

I didn’t practice, of course. Didn’t need to! Instead, I spent my leisure time with friends, knowing my victory was secure.

The good news is that our class left the other class in the dust. We creamed them. And, after a while, only two people were left in the competition. Me – and my good buddy, Dale. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And then, the unthinkable happened. I misspelled a word. What that word was, I cannot say. I have blocked it from my memory. But, in just one quick and tragic moment, my perfect record had been tarnished, my hope for the sparkly tiara snatched away.
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How to critique writing effectively: find tips from professionals.

March 28th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

How to critique writing effectively

The Search Guru discusses the value of writing critique

Last week, our blog post on critiquing focused on:

  • finding the right critique partner(s) for your writing
  • helping you to eliminate feelings of defensiveness to get the most out of the feedback provided

This week, we’re turning the topic upside down and sharing tips on how to provide quality feedback on another person’s writing. Because, let’s face it. If you can offer useful feedback to another person, he or she is more likely to return the favor. And, even if that never happens, there’s no harm in paying it forward.

Topics covered in this blog post include:

  • making sure you’re the right critique partner for this person/project
  • ways to communicate your feedback in an appropriate and effective manner
  • knowing when to push and when to back off

Are you the right critique partner?

If someone asks you to critique his or her piece of writing, make sure that:

  • You have the time to invest in this process
  • You understand the goals of the piece of writing, including the target audience and where it may appear
  • You have the knowledge and ability needed to provide effective feedback
  • You feel comfortable communicating openly with the writer and feel that he or she will be able to communicate effectively with you (and handle feelings of defensiveness professionally!)

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Quality writing critiques are a gift: here’s how to be open to receiving them.

March 21st, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

How to be open to receiving quality writing critiques

The Search Guru discusses the importance of quality feedback in writing

In 2008, I had an opportunity to pitch a script for an historical fiction play that highlighted the role that people in northern Ohio played during the pre-Civil War years. A small percentage of Ohioans, mostly during the years between 1830 and 1860, helped slaves to escape from their owners, even though their actions defied federal law and were punishable by prison time and crushing fines.

Since I’m fascinated by the Underground Railroad era, I decided to create a proposal. Before I submitted it for consideration, I showed my 17-year-old son, since he also reads heavily about that time in history. “What do you think?” I asked him happily, assuming the proposal was ready to go. “Does it work?”

Now, Ryan is nothing if not straightforward and he simply said, “No. It doesn’t.”

No?? I’m thinking. No??? How can this not be ready? And, more importantly, how can I – who’d already been writing professionally for nearly 20 years at that point – have missed something that a teenager could quickly spot?

Swallowing my pride, I asked why the script didn’t work – and he gave me a piece of outstanding advice: “Because the subject matter of this play is naturally so grim,” he tells me, “you need to balance it with something quirkier.”

Hmmm. That made some sense. And, when I asked him for specifics, he spun out an offbeat character named Pepper Jack who added a whole new dimension to the play. I incorporated Pepper Jack into the proposal, sent it off – and eventually received word that my play was among the finalists and so the director wanted to meet with me. As I entered the theater that day, I was greeted by the director who enthusiastically waved his hand around the room and said, “I can already picture Pepper Jack walking across my stage . . .”

Humbling experience, no doubt. And, although I won the contest and got the contract, that probably wouldn’t have happened without the advice of my critique partner.
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Writing mentors: read examples of positive mentoring relationships.

March 12th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Celebrating writing mentors

The Search Guru discusses the value of writing mentors

Recently, the head of the Cleveland Job Bank, Kelly Blazek, made the news – at first locally and then nationally and then internationally – for writing harsh responses to younger job seekers. The story has even apparently qualified as Hollywood gossip; been dubbed “BlazekGate”; risen to the level of a top trending topic on Twitter; and caused a new verb to arise: “blazeked,” referring to someone being blindsided by a response.

I found myself caught up in the drama, and then wondered what made this story so compelling to so many people. Ultimately, I decided that it was because Kelly had presented herself as wanting her listserv subscribers to feel like “my little sister or brother” saying that “I’m looking out for them.” And yet, she didn’t use that tone in certain emails.

In other words, she was presenting herself as a mentor and the outrage arose when she acted in a radically different way.

This post isn’t about Kelly, although she did inspire the topic and cause me to think about my own writing mentors. One of my earliest was a wise and yet very cranky newspaper editor. He certainly wasn’t warm and fuzzy, and his approachability varied mercurially with his moods. Yet, he still taught me much about interviewing people and quoting them effectively in copy.

One of the most unexpected of my writing mentors was the bestselling author and respected New York editor, Sol Stein. I’d interviewed him for the AOL Writer’s Club when the online site was still new and evolving. At the end of the interview, he told me that, if he could ever help me in any way, to just let him know. So, when I got my first book contract, I emailed to ask him a question, and he ended up reviewing the entire contract for me, free of charge.

So, I decided to ask other communication professionals about their mentoring relationships and experiences, and I got intriguing responses. Here’s more.
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Break through writer’s block with these helpful writing techniques.

March 7th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

The dreaded writer’s block – and ways to smash through the barriers

The Search Guru gives helpful tips to combat writer's block

If you ask 100 people how to define writer’s block and/or what causes the blockage, you’ll get at least 101 answers, ranging from those who don’t believe in the phenomenon to those who have elaborate theories on the subject.

When making the case for its existence, you could point to the character of Bubba in Forest Gump, one of the brainstorming masterminds of all time. When he got on his favorite subject, he knew how to examine it from every angle.

To quote, “Anyway, like I was saying, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That . . . that’s about it.

And, if Bubba the shrimp expert eventually ran out of ideas – which is a commonly described symptom of writer’s block – then you shouldn’t feel bad when you find it difficult to come up with fresh topics for your blog or site. It happens to the best of us. But, when that happens, what should you do?

Some ways to generate blog and article ideas include:
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Editing and proofreading expert K.D. Sullivan shares tips & experiences.

February 28th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

The Search Guru chats with K.D. Sullivan, CEO of Untreed Reads Publishing

The Search Guru interviews editing and proofreading expert K.D. Sullivan

Style sheets? Does anyone remember editorial style sheets??

K.D. Sullivan and I quickly discovered that we share many publishing experiences and beliefs – including a love for consistency in published writing. We both worked in print publishing for years before online publishing was even a glimmer in anyone’s eye, and we both nostalgically long for the days when the use of an editorial style sheet was more common.

Before we get into details, here is a list of the books published by K.D., either as a single author or as a coauthor:

  • Go Ahead…Proof It!
  • In the Driver’s Seat: A Roadmap for Independent Professionals
  • A Cure for the Common Word (English and Taiwan editions)
  • The Art of Styling Sentences, 4th Edition
  • The Art of Styling Sentences, 5th Edition
  • The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Spanish for Health Care Professionals
  • The Gremlins of Grammar
  • The McGraw-Hill Desk Reference for Writers, Editors, and Proofreaders book and CD
  • 35 Job Aids for Effective Communication

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Leslie Carruthers speaks about SEO in 2014 on 3/15/14: WebSigCleveland.

February 27th, 2014 by Jeffrey Mann

SEO in 2014 presentation: Leslie Carruthers speaks at WebSigCleveland

Search engine optimization (SEO) has changed significantly, largely because of Google updates called Panda and Penguin – and a whole new writing of the Google algorithm: Hummingbird.

In 2014, the emphasis is on creating and promoting remarkable content. Many old school SEO tactics can now hurt your site so what you don’t know can hurt you. To find out more, come to the WebSigCleveland event on Saturday, March 15th from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The event is free and open to the public.

The event will be held in Room 30 (lower floor of the administration building) in Notre Dame College: 4545 College Road, South Euclid, Ohio 44121-4293.

WebSigCleveland.org is a collaboration between the Cleveland Digital Publishing Users Group and the Greater Cleveland PC Users Group. The partnership provides monthly web development educational programs.

Find excellent proofreading tips from communication experts.

February 21st, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Proofreading tips: excellent ways to find mistakes inn copy

The Search Guru offers tips for proofreading your online content

For four years, I edited a full-color print magazine, one that was costly to produce. The tone of the publication was friendly, cheerful, upbeat and neighborly, while the audience consisted largely of conservative women in their 50s.

In one issue, we were including an article about a prestigious art museum and the museum had loaned us slides of numerous pieces of art to choose from as illustrations. The art director and I agreed upon our choices, and I wrote captions for them. The night before the magazine was ready to go to press, though, I heard the art director sounding frantic, telling me to look at the photo of the vase we’d selected.

So, I took another quick glance. “Yeah, still looks good to me,” I say, going back to whatever else I was doing.

He repeats, “Look at the vase.”

“I already did,” I impatiently reply, thinking there were far better ways for me to spend my time.

“Kelly Sagert,” he snaps, raising his voice sharply at me, something he’d never done before. “You look at that vase again right now!”

Knowing he was upset but not understanding why, I took a much closer look – and then I realized that the decoration on the vase, which he and I had earlier assumed were abstract squiggles, was really a graphic fertility symbol, one that would have offended our readers – which would have really upset our boss, who would have invested a significant amount of money in printing this full-color print publication.

Proofreading. Even when you think you’ve done a good job, you probably should do it again.

So, we at The Search Guru decided to ask other people in the communications industry about what proofreading tips and experiences they could share.
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