4 Tips on Managing Your Online Reputation

summer-1501608_1920Sadly, the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) has come and gone without me darkening the doorstep of any of the venues showing the films. I did, however, get to see Snowden when it went into wider release a week or so after its festival screening. The movie is Oliver Stone’s dramatic interpretation of whistleblower Edward Snowden. In 2013, Snowden released to journalists at The Guardian documentation proving that the national Security Association in the US (and other security departments in other countries, including Great Britain and Canada) was illegally spying on regular citizens. Continue reading “4 Tips on Managing Your Online Reputation”

How To Write A Video Script

screenplay-408252_1920Writing fiction isn’t really my forte. I love trying, and if I try long enough, I might just create something great (or at least, good).

Writing nonfiction is my forte. Explaining the intricacies of any particular subject matter is fun. Yep, you read that right … fun.

Despite that reality, I don’t think the two are as distinct as some might think. In fact, I merge them as much as possible in everything I write. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone fictionalize work that isn’t meant to be fiction. That would not be good. (Although, I would argue that some instruction manuals read like fiction. Have you ever tried putting something together with the help of instructions that seem to be written for an entirely different product? Uh huh.) Continue reading “How To Write A Video Script”

How To Edit A Thesis

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I’ve received a number of requests from clients asking me to edit a thesis. My first response is always to accept. I love reading theses. It takes me right back to my university days full of ideas and long theoretical discussions. The theories and solutions we devised over pints of beer or cups of coffee may not have stood up against a reality check, but they were fun nonetheless. Even writing my own thesis, though definitely arduous at times, was fun. Taking an idea and tracing its possible routes to a variety of logical conclusions is not something I get to do very often today.

When it comes to editing a thesis, however, a whole different set of skills is involved. The most important is communicating what role exactly the editor plays. More so than for any other type of writing, putting expectations down on paper, in a contract, is of supreme importance.

The Masters or PhD candidate is marked partially on his or her ability to write and explain ideas clearly. So, an editor can’t go in and change much. We, both editor and student, are bound by the university’s rules. Having said that, there are exceptions and differences to those rules from institution to institution.

Here’s an overview of what to expect as a student and as an editor:

  • Stick to the basics. Look for spelling errors, incomplete sentences, punctuation issues. The editor will generally be confined to doing basic proofreading. Structural problems, plagiarism and other larger issues can’t be fixed – at least not by the editor. I’m more than willing, however, to flag the problems for the writer. In those cases, I’m acting more like another reader, or like another pair of eyes.
  • University rules. Each department will typically have its own rules regarding what the thesis should look like. When I’m hired to edit a thesis, the first thing I ask for is a copy of those requirements. For instance, the department may want the student to use APA style. But, when it comes to the title page, it may require something totally different than a typical APA style title page. Ignoring those kinds of details can cause the student a load of problems and set-backs.
  • Get a contract. The Editors’ Association of Canada has a great contract on its website available for download. In it, you’ll find specifics about what the student’s advisory committee might allow in terms of editing. Usually, we’re fairly limited in terms of what we can edit. There are cases, however, where the university will allow us to do more. For instance, I’ve edited papers written by students for whom english is a second language. The fact that their ideas might not be written out clearly has no bearing whatsoever on their research or thought processes. Rather the problem is simply a language issue. In those cases, I have more leeway as an editor to help the student express his or her ideas clearly and correctly. But, I can’t stress enough. Make sure all parties involved – editor, student, university – have signed off on exactly the kind of editing that’s allowed.

The only other important piece of advice I can give to both editor and student is this: keep a copy of the edited work. It’s important in case anyone on the student’s advisory committee questions whether the editor did more “correcting” than he or she was supposed to. The proof is in the saved and edited copy of the thesis. I tend to keep a copy until the student tells me (in writing) that the thesis has been officially accepted.

It sounds crazy, I know, but editing a thesis is really a lot of fun for me. I see it as a learning experience. I can’t be an expert in every field, so it’s a great way to explore a topic that I might not otherwise have a chance to read about.

Over to you: What kind of issues or questions have you run into with a thesis?

5 Tips On How To Write Outside Your Comfort Zone

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You want me to write about what?

Yikes! You’ve just been hired to write expertly about a subject you don’t know anything about. What are you going to do? Take a page from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Don’t Panic!

Remember, being a writer doesn’t mean that you have somehow managed to become an expert on everything. It means that you’ve become an expert on how to approach a subject so that it looks like you’re an expert on everything. Got it?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating lying. Chances are good that someone who knows about the subject will read what you’ve written and call you on it. I’m reminding you that you’re not only an expert writer, you’re an researcher. Writers are used to asking questions and finding answers. That’s the skill that will get you through the task, and at the end, you might find that you are an expert in a new subject area after all.

So, to get you organized and relaxed, I’ve come up with five tips to ease any doubt you might have about your own abilities to write.

Find out who the experts are

Be thankful that you’re living in the age of the Internet. At one time, this step would definitely have required footwork. Today, before stepping out, you can start your research with Google. No matter what the subject area, you can find people to talk to who know a lot about it. People love to talk about their work and the value it brings to their lives and to society. Take advantage of that. The answers they provide to your basic questions will lead to other questions and, in the end, you’ll be able to offer your readers a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Get various points of view

Don’t limit your sources to just one or two people. Even if you’ve been asked to write positively (or negatively!) about a particular subject doesn’t mean you shouldn’t inform yourself about other perspectives. Addressing other aspects or different points of view only strengthens your argument, especially if you can offer a counter argument to those other perspectives.

Be as accurate as possible

If you don’t know something, you must go back to Tip #1 and find out. You need to develop a solid understanding of your subject matter before you start writing about it, or at the very least, before you publish it! Your readers may be experts and won’t appreciate mistakes that should’ve been avoided. Make sure that you quote people who are in the know.

Approach the subject with the spirit of learning

I know … writing about something you might not have any interest in can be daunting. You can probably think of a whole lot of things you’d rather do instead of spending hours reading about a subject you couldn’t care less about. But, look at it this way. Taking this job will be good for you, and not just for your bank balance! Learning about new things will actually make you a better writer. The more stuff you can cram into your brain, the more ideas you’ll have for your next assignment.

Realize that you probably know more about the subject than you think you do

You may have already read about it at one time or another. Mining your own experiences with the subject area will enable you to make some pretty insightful connections.

Your turn: Do you have some of your own go-to tips for dealing with tops that are new to you? Share them!

Why Do I Need An Editor?

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I guess the “I” in that question should really be “we” because everyone needs an editor, even editors!

The issue is that after a while, we become blind to our work. Our eyes skip over the words because our brains know it so well. Having someone else read your work, especially aloud, will bring problems to the forefront really quickly.

I know it’s really hard to let someone see your work before it’s done. So, you don’t have to if that’s a real problem. You can keep working on it till you reach a point of comfort. There are, however, some key times that I really do recommend you hand it over.

First Stage

I actually encourage writers to run their outlines (even in the most basic form) by someone – editor or fellow writer. Right at the very beginning, when you’re in the idea development stage, is a great time to seek guidance. We both know that your ideas aren’t fully fleshed out yet. But a good editor should be able to ask you enough basic questions about your ideas that you’ll be able to plot them in a way that makes sense. Especially for beginning writers, it’s easy to get caught up in one way of thinking about your ideas that you miss out on other perspectives. Sometimes, those other perspectives wouldn’t add anything to your work anyway. Regardless, the act of thinking about them ends up enriching your existing ideas and solidifying the path you take to building them out into a finished work.

Second Stage

Whenever you’re stuck and not quite sure where to take your idea next, put your work on the back burner; let it percolate in your mind for a while. (But not too long, especially if you have a deadline looming!). Then, if nothing’s coming to you, pass it on to an editor or fellow writer. That person should be able to ask you questions that will set your ideas in motion again. Together, you should come to see any gaping holes in the logic of your argument and any style problems.

Third Stage

So, finally, you’re at the point where you’re staring at your finished work. Now what? This is really the time to send it off to an editor. If you’ve been working with one all along, this final stage should be fairly painless. If not, you may find yourself going back over your work to make substantial changes.

Either way, look at the editing process as another step in the journey. All you’re doing is working with a buddy to find ways of expressing your great ideas to their maximum potential. An editor doesn’t sit in judgement of you or your ideas (or, at least, shouldn’t!). Instead, think of your editor as your sounding board.

Have fun with the process and let your creativity flow!

Favourite Writing Haunts

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When I was setting up my office, two objects were of huge importance – the desk and the lamp. My desk had to be the right size to fit my computer (sitting toward the left side), a notebook (sitting directly to the right of my computer because, believe it or not, I still write most of my posts by hand before typing them into my blog!), and enough room on the far right side of my desk for my calendar. The lamp had to be small with a moveable head and bright white light so that I could work comfortably with the main room light turned off.

Sounds very cozy and organized, doesn’t it? Continue reading “Favourite Writing Haunts”

5 Creative Nonfiction Writing Tips

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True stories well told. Lee Gutkind

At some point in university, I read Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species. It was lyrical and riveting. Yes, you read that right. I’m talking about a scientific text published in 1859 … and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was not what I’d call a cure for insomnia like so many of the dry, nonfiction texts I read throughout my school years. Have you ever wondered why history textbooks, so full of adventure, misfortune and the ideals on which countries were founded, tend to be written in fairly unimaginative language? Me, too. Well, I don’t have the answer. I do know, however, that it’s entirely possible to write about facts in an exciting style. There’s a reason why we enjoy reading fiction so much. So, in the interest of readability, I’ve pulled together five tips to help you make your nonfiction writing more engaging. Continue reading “5 Creative Nonfiction Writing Tips”