Choosing a social media platform

Social media enables people and organisations to share information, ideas, personal messages and more via the internet. It is also for any business that wants to gain exposure online, connect with existing or potential customers, build brand awareness, find new leads, generate website traffic, gain an insight into the shopping habits of customers and improve their customer service. However, there are too many social networking sites to ever have a presence on them all, so the aim of this blog post is to help you  learn about the most widely used platforms.

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Image by Gerd Altmann.

Facebook

Facebook is the largest of all the social media platforms, with over two billion monthly active users, meaning you are sure to find some of your audience there. Usage is spread pretty evenly between males and females, with users getting more active as their age increases but with younger users increasingly more interested in other platforms. Facebook accommodates text (63,206 characters in regular posts), images and videos and is good for building relationships. Facebook groups enable an audience to be gathered together in one place online and can be helpful in creating conversations, while Facebook business pages can be used for advertising which can be customised to target specific audiences.

Twitter

Twitter has around 300 million monthly active users who post messages known as tweets. It is useful for communicating breaking news in bite sized chunks of 280 characters or less but links can be added to tweets to signpost readers to further information.

Famous for its use of hashtags (although today these are used on other social media platforms too), Twitter formally adopted them in 2009. Anything with the hashtag symbol in front of it becomes a hyperlink, meaning that clicking on a hashtag generates a list of tweets using the same hashtag. Twitter went on to introduce trending topics, by placing the most popular hashtags on its homepage.

Research conducted for Twitter by IPSOS MediaCT (IpsosConnectUK), found that 60% of Twitter UK users have a strong interest in TV shows, regularly using the platform to talk about tv, something encouraged by programmers who now display their own hashtags as their programmes are aired, allowing viewers to join in with Twitter conversations.

Instagram

Instagram is a photo and video sharing social networking service owned by Facebook. It has well over one billion monthly users meaning the chances are, much of your audience spends time on the platform. It is the home of influencers (someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience), brands, bloggers, small business owners and also your friends and family. Popular with teens and young adults, use of the app slowly drops off with age but is consistently popular with men and women. Beautiful photography, illustrations and selfie-style videos are the currency here.

Pinterest

Pinterest is another photo and video sharing social media platform. It has over 320 million monthly users, predominantly adult women who use the platform as a social bookmarking tool for saving ideas and finding creative inspiration, from art, fashion, food, interior design and more. Pinterest also offers businesses a unique way to market themselves as a visual search engine.

SnapChat

Popular with the under 25’s SnapChat has over 300 million monthly users, who use it to share updates and communicate with friends and family through disappearing images and short video messages. Video driven storytelling that entertains and educates a young audience is the name of the game here.

TikTok

Tiktok is one of the newest social media platforms but is also one of the top in terms of user figures. Users are mostly aged between 16 to 24 and use the platform for entertaining, interesting and comedic short videos. Businesses should use TikTok if they want to reach a young audience but they should avoid self-promotion on this platform. People you might not expect to see on TikTok include The Washington Post and Judi Dench.

YouTube

YouTube is an online video sharing and social media platform owned by Google. Music, films, gaming, sports and fashion can be found on the platform and it can also be used for producing video tutorials, visually driven instructional content, product reviews or interviews.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is primarily used for professional networking and career development, allowing job seekers to post their CVs and employers to post jobs. Editorial content can also be published enabling businesses to build their brand and engage leads through conversations.

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Photo by Austin Distel.

Taking the next steps

Now that you know about some of the most popular and widely used social media platforms, you are ready to take your next steps.

Set goals

Firstly set goals for what you hope to achieve through your use of social media marketing. Things you might want to focus on include:

  • Improving your customer service by providing a platform where customers can reach you with complaints, questions, and concerns
  • Identifying new leads
  • Finding new customers who might be interested in your products or services
  • Learning more about your audience
  • Increasing traffic to your website and boosting sales.

Choose a platform that matches with the work you do

Secondly, choose a platform that matches the type of content you aim to create. If you are say a solicitor or an accountant it may be that you don’t have much in the way of visual information so Instagram and Pinterest are not going to work for you, whereas LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will allow you to share useful information, blog posts and link to articles you’ve written. Creative businesses on the other hand, say artists, food businesses, hairdressers, jewellery makers or interior designers could easily make Instagram and Pinterest their social media home.

Slow and steady wins the race

If you want to make use of more than one social media platform, consider first using ones you are already familiar with and enjoy using, leaving the others until you are up and running with these. Also, don’t be afraid to focus on one or two platforms and doing these well. Doing them half heartedly will drive your customers away. And if a social media platform isn’t working for you, don’t be scared to stop using it. Remember social media should enhance your business but it isn’t compulsory and you don’t have to do it all at once, so build your social media presence slowly and have fun with it.

Sources

Further information

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Digitally present

On 6 August 1991, the first website was introduced to the world. It is hard to believe the world wide web is only 30 years old, as today it seems there is little we can do without it. I built my first website in 2001 and from 2005 – 2018 worked in local government as a web editorial assistant, so for this post, I am sharing some of my thoughts about the importance of having a digital presence in the world today. 

Illustration of a tree bearing website and social media icons.
Image by Gerd Altmann.

Launched at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, the first website was created by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. On it, people could find out how to create web pages and learn about hypertext (coded words or phrases that link to content). By 1992 there were 10 websites, by 1994 there were 3,000 websites (after the world wide web became public domain)  and by the time Google made its debut in 1996, there were 2 million.

In 2006 the Cheshire County Council web team appeared in the internal newsletter.  It was reported we had scored a national ‘hit’ parade high, with more than 648,000 internet users having clicked on to the Council services online, helping to scoop the coveted ranking as the eighth most visited local government website in the UK. It all seems incredibly wide eyed and innocent now but at the time the world was pretty much changing in real time in front of our eyes, as we encouraged our customers to ‘do it online.’ Websites were cluttered, dis-organised, used outlandish fonts and colours, had background music, guest books and counters to show the number of people who had visited the website and it wasn’t unusual to have text scrolling or flying across them.

Why is a digital presence important

In 2020, Forbes reported that in 2019 alone, there were approximately 3.8 million Google searches conducted each minute, many of which were carried out to find information on local businesses.  Today many people will visit a company website and social media pages before they do anything, so a strong online presence acts like a shop window, where customers can browse, get a feel for a business, interact with a business and read customer reviews, with many people watching from a distance before they make contact or part with their money. In turn, websites, social media and other digital platforms allow businesses the opportunity to educate customers about what they do and showcase their work 24/7 to a global audience, who increasingly expect to see all businesses online, no matter their size.

Credibility

One of the main reasons to have an online presence is to increase your credibility. Without this, many people today will question your legitimacy whereas a strong online presence will help build trust, find potential customers and affect their purchasing decisions. Having an online presence is an opportunity to get the word out about what you do but if people can’t find information about your business easily, they are likely go elsewhere.

Saving you time

An online presence can also help increase internal productivity within your company, reducing telephone calls meaning staff are not constantly being distracted. At the same time, it helps customers find useful information such as your location or opening hours at any time of day or night, which ultimately provides better customer service for them. 

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Image by Gerd Altmann.

Top tips for building your online presence

First impressions count

Websites and other online services need to have a clean, modern and professional looking design, so no scrolling text, flashing images, crazy fonts, flying text, background music or emoticons – those days are gone. However, it is also important that your website is not style over substance, so beyond aesthetics, you should ensure you are providing valuable information to your customers, rather than posting for the sake of it. Sharing news updates about your company or maintaining a regular blog, where you provide original content related to what you do or the industry you work in, is important in bringing customers to you and ensuring they see you as current and relevant. Plan what you want to share ahead of when you want to share it, rather than thinking it and doing it in a rush the same day.

Branding

Use branding to clearly establish who you are, what you represent and what you stand for. Think BBC, Coca Cola, Virgin, Marks and Spencer – branding is your identity and should be instantly recognisable to your customers wherever you promote yourself, whether that be online or in printed material.

Ensure you can be contacted

If people are searching for you online they will expect to be able to contact you online too. Ensure your website has a contact email address and/or contact form and make sure these work by sending yourself a test email or asking someone to send one for you. If you are happy to be contacted by telephone or post, make sure these details appear on your website too. Alternatively, you can ask customers to book a call by using a Call To Action (CTA) button on your website or by using an online calendar such as Calendly and if you work from home but don’t want to share your home address online, look to obtain a virtual office address.  Where contact information can be added to social media, you should ensure it is added and kept up to date there too.

Identify top tasks

People visits websites with a specific task in mind and if your website doesn’t help them complete those tasks, they will leave quickly and go somewhere that does. Considering the top tasks of your customer will help you identify the pages you need to include, content to feature on your website, page headers and sub headers to help them find their way around and a logical structure to each page’s content. Your website navigation menu needs to be easy to find and all key tasks need to appear in this – having links hidden away where they can’t be found doesn’t benefit you or your customer. 

Writing for the web

Writing for the web is different to writing for print, as we read differently on screen than on paper, so before posting anything online, you need to tailor how you write for an online audience.

  • Use everyday language and plain English.
  • Proof read, sense check and spell check what you write by reading your writing aloud to yourself. It can be difficult to proofread your own writing, so if possible, ask someone to proofread for you too.
  • When you’ve finished writing, leave it for a while, return to it and read it through again – you will be surprised how much of your work you can still improve.
  • Do not use words and phrases that people won’t recognise or provide an explanation if this cannot be avoided.
  • Explain all abbreviations and acronyms, unless they are well known and in common use, for example VAT.

You can learn more about writing in plain English in the blog post ‘Plainly Speaking’ on this website.

Print versus web

Reading a flyer, brochure or book is a very different experience to viewing something on a screen. Printed materials need to be eye catching to entice people to pick them up but people read differently online, scanning what has been written to find information of interest, so anything posted online needs to recognise this. And remember, there may be times when a customer may need to print something from a website and they are not going to thank you if a document is beautifully designed but uses all their printer ink.

Accessibility

Remember, people with disabilities and older people are your audience too. You can learn more about this issue in the blog post ‘Making digital technologies accessible to all’ on this website. And although the number of older people who are digitally connected continues to rise, there are still around 5 million people over the age of 55 who are not online. Don’t forget to design your online services so they can accessed by people of varying ages, abilities and requirements and consider alternative ways to communicate with those who may not be online, to be sure you are not excluding them.

Link checking

Undertake regular link checks – broken links, regardless of whether they appear on your website or an external website you may link to give a poor impression. Free broken link checkers can be found online.

Learn from experience

What do you find most frustrating about the websites you visit? Don’t fall into the trap of designing the same for your customers.

Keep your website fresh

Remember, websites are never finished, they are not a static thing that you create once and then forget about, they always need updating. The same applies to social media. It isn’t enough to set up pages and leave them – both need to be nurtured and maintained and have life breathed into them regularly. Neither is there is a one size fits all solution, so remember to always consider your target audience, always consider what you want to achieve by having an online presence and if this changes, be prepared to change what you do.

Sources

Further information

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

A short history of virtual assistants and remote working

A virtual assistant (VA) is a person who works remotely online. With technological developments virtual assistants are now able to perform all the tasks a secretary or administrator would traditionally handle while working from home but how did virtual assistants come into being?

Isaac Pitman
Sir Issac Pitman

In the 1800’s Sir Isaac Pitman, invented Pitman shorthand and founded the first school for secretarial services. The school only admitted men, as women were not allowed in workplaces, however, with the invention of the typewriter, early technology paved the way for women’s entry into the profession and women went on to occupy office jobs and perform secretarial work. Historian Anna Davin records that when the British civil service took over operating telegraph and postal offices in the 1870s, female clerks were sought for their typing speed and dexterity, with the official in charge saying the wages ‘which will draw male operators from but an inferior class of the community, will draw female operators from a superior class.’ Women were favoured too because they could spell and type better, would raise the tone of the office, then marry and leave without requiring pensions. By the 1930s, men had disappeared from the industry and the role of secretary became a female one from then on.

A female typist operates a Sholes and Glidden typewriter, as depicted in an 1872 Scientific American article.

The word secretary originally meant ‘one entrusted with the secrets or confidences of a superior’ and is derived from the Medieval Latin ‘secretarius’. The Online Etymology Dictionary records the word was first recorded circa 1400 meaning a ‘person who keeps records, write letters, etc.,’ originally for a king. In the 1590’s the word referred to the title of ministers presiding over executive departments of state. The word is also used in both French and English to mean ‘a private desk’ or ‘secretaire’ in French, while the term ‘secretary bird’ refers to the bird found in sub-Saharan Africa, with a crest, which when smooth, resembles a pen stuck over the ear.

Vintage advertisement for an Underwood typewriter.

By the 1960’s ‘training respectable girls’ to be secretaries, focused on honing the relationship between the secretary and her boss but would-be secretaries at the Lucie Clayton school were also taught the importance of deportment and makeup, along with diary management. In her article ‘A Short History of the Secretary’ Claire Phipps writing in the Guardian quotes a letter published in The Times in 1969, advising that secretaries wear deodorant; learn how to make good tea and coffee; and always look beautiful, but not provocative … changing stockings was an activity best confined to the ‘powder room’. Typing pools saw large numbers of women find employment in a strict and disciplined environment, where a room of secretaries produced endless documents from shorthand notes.

Embed from Getty Images

When exactly the secretarial services industry gave rise to virtual assistants and who coined the phrase is up for debate but technology was the driving force. The telephone and fax machine helped bring people and workplaces together around the world and in the 1980’s the typewriter evolved into the word processor making document production quicker and easier. In the 1990’s the internet made the world smaller again and changed the way all people lived and worked, with the demise of the typing pool, a computer on everyone’s desk and at home, laptop computers, tablets and mobile phones for working anytime anywhere and an increase in remote working. Remote working may however have began earlier than you think, with IBM allowing five of its employees to work from home as an experiment in 1979, an experiment that by 1983 saw roughly 2,000 of its employees working from home; in the mid 1980’s the US department store J. C. Penney allowed its call centre staff to work from home; and by 2018, 70% of the worlds population was believed to work remotely at least once a week, with 55% working from home at least half the week.

Man working from home holding baby.

In the 2015 Financial Times article ‘The case of the vanishing secretary’, Emma Jacobs wrote of the dying secretarial services industry, reporting administrative jobs were in decline, however in 2020, it was not technology but a global pandemic causing a global reset, forcing people to work at home and to find new ways of working. Up until then it was estimated office workers spent 90,000 hours of their lives at the office. Collaborative software that enables the sharing, processing and management of files, documents and more among several remote users and/or systems, allowing them to work jointly on a task or project, was suddenly in huge demand.

Since the 1800’s office work, the people who do it and how they do it has come a long way and today, yet again, the role of the office is undergoing more disruption. How this works out long term is currently much debated, however, post pandemic, as things hopefully begin to return to normal, many people, myself included, have re-assessed their lives and the things that are important to them, liking their work life balance more and are open to the opportunity for change.

Further information

Sources

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Making digital technologies accessible to all

The Oxford English dictionary defines accessibility firstly, as how easy something is to reach, enter, use or see and secondly, as how easy something is to reach, enter or use for somebody with a disability. In the second instance, accessibility means people with disabilities are not excluded from using something as a result of their disability and that they can do what they need to do, in a similar amount of time, in a similar way and with a similar amount of effort as someone who does not have a disability.

Why is digital accessibility important?

Digital accessibility means that all people can use the exact same technology, regardless of whether they can use a mouse, have a vision or hearing impairment or how they process information but for many people with disabilities, this simply isn’t the case. The short film below provides a brief introduction to digital accessibility.

To fully understand what is meant by digital accessibility, you need to experience how technological barriers feel. You can do this by turning off your computer monitor and trying to type; using your phone from under a table; unplugging your mouse and trying to navigate a website; increasing the zoom level on a document or web page to 500% or unplugging your speakers and watching a webinar without sound. Digital technology has the ability to provide access and independence but when technology is not made accessible it creates barriers, therefore accessible technology is important so that as many people as possible can use computers, websites and social media, allowing them to participate independently in society.

Research undertaken by Reason Digital via Populus and Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index in 2020 shows that:

  • people with disabilities are over 50% more likely to face barriers to accessing digital and online services than people without disabilities
  • if you have an impairment you are three times more likely not to have the skills to access devices and get online.

And the covid-19 pandemic which forced everyone online more, has now widened the digital divide further, showing accessibility is no longer a ‘nice to have’, as starkly illustrated in the video below, which shows Labour MP Vicky Foxcroft asking a question at Prime Minister’s Questions on 14 April 2021, over one year into the coronavirus pandemic

Accessible technology versus assistive technology

Accessible technology is technology that can be used easily by people with a wide range of functional abilities, allowing each user to use it in the ways that work best for him or her. When using a computer for example, there are many ways to input information, say with a mouse, the keyboard, or through a speech recognition system. Accessible technology can be directly accessible, meaning it is usable without the need for additional devices, or accessible through and compatible with assistive technology.

Assistive technology is the term used to describe devices, equipment and software that help people with disabilities live more independently, so for example a smartphone with a built in screen reader is directly accessible and an online job application is compatible with assistive technology when someone with a visual impairment can navigate it using a screen reader.

You can learn more about the range of assistive technology available and the impact and benefits of accessible and assistive technology below.

People with disabilities are your audience

The charity Scope reports that at least one in five people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability and others will become disabled in old age. People with disabilities are everywhere and everyone.

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Photo by Gerd Altmann

However, as a society, we treat people with disabilities differently and in doing so exclude them, forcing them to find adjustments simply so they can access information or services other people take for granted. In turn companies:

  • alienate people with disabilities
  • limit the size of their audience
  • potentially put others in danger of missing out on essential information.

Accessibility issues may affect those with vision and hearing impairments; neurodiversity such as dyslexia, seizures, autism, or other cognitive differences; learning difficulties; mobility issues including arthritis, quadriplegia or spinal cord injuries and mental health such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, depression, or ADHD, so when designing anything it is important to consider the range of people who need to use the product or service. You can learn more about this on the GOV.UK website below.

What accessibility isn’t

Accessibility isn’t about changing existing content or making alternative content specifically for people with disabilities but designing content that can be used for everyone, aiming to be inclusive at all times and being inclusive regardless of who you are writing for. There is no doubt it is a difficult task to get right every time for everyone but ultimately, it is the right thing to do and will also enable you to reach the largest possible audience for your business. You can learn more about inclusive design on the Microsoft website below.

Getting started

Want to create accessible websites and social media but don’t know where to start? Here are some tips.

Alternative (alt) text

Alt text describes an image to someone who cannot see by reading the text aloud to users of screen reader software. If adding a photo of say a plate of food, a bad description would be ‘a plate of food’. A good description would describe the food, say ‘A plate of fish and chips’.

You can learn more about screen readers and alt text below.

Not sure how to add alt text to your social media posts? Instructions can be found below.

Colour contrast

How easy is it for you to read the number in the image below?

The number 74 formed by shades of green bubbles on a circular background of orange and brown bubbles.

When designing images, it is important to consider the colours you use. Pastel coloured backgrounds with pale text are almost impossible to read if you have low vision or visual impairment. Black text on a white background is also difficult for people with dyslexia to read. Where possible, use an off white or pale background with dark text. You can learn more about colour contrast below.

Emojis

Screen reading technology reads emoji descriptions out loud, so try to use no more than three at a time and avoid adding lines of emojis. You should also check the name of the emoji you are using, to make sure it means what you think it does.

Interested in hearing how a screen reader handles mass emojis? Take a look at Twitter page of Alexa Henrich.

Fonts and special characters

People with dyslexia, learning and visual impairments can struggle to read some fonts, so choose easy to read fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Calibri or Verdana and avoid italics and special characters.

Interested in hearing how a screen reader handles fonts and symbols? Take a look at the Twitter page of Kent C Dodds.

GIFs

Colour contrast is also an issue with GIFs. Flashing images can trigger symptoms in people who have epilepsy or get migraines and can cause seizures. To ensure GIFs are accessible, make sure they do not flash more than three times per second, check the colour contrast ratios if the GIF includes text, add alt text if possible and describe the GIF in accompanying text.

A hashtag drawn in sand.
Image by Tanja-Denise Schantz.

Hashtags

To make hashtags more accessible, use capital letters at the start of each word. This is known as camel case and it enables screen readers to recognise the words, making your content more readable to people with dyslexia or cognitive disabilities. Also, use hashtags at the end of a post so as not to disrupt the flow.

Headings

Headings are an important part of web accessibility. They aid readability of a web page for all readers by splitting it into sections so helping readers scan the page and find information quickly. However, headings are essential for assistive technologies such as screen readers which use them as signposts to navigate a web page. To make your headings as useful as possible:

  • Use headings in hierarchical order. This means a <h2> heading should always follow a <h1> heading and so on.
  • Only use one <h1> heading per web page.
  • Don’t skip headings, for example, using a <h2> heading followed by a <h4> heading.
  • Headings should describe the content that follows it
Woman wearing a mustard coloured hat covering one eye with her hand.
Photo by Javad Esmaeili.

Images

It is difficult for people with visual impairments to read text that has been embedded in an image, so make sure any such images are accompanied by a text description that can be read by a screen reader. 

Plain English

Writing in plain English is important if your message is to be understood by as many people as possible. You can learn more about Plain English in the Plainly Speaking blog post on this website.

Videos without captions or audio description

People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment are unable to access the information without captions or a transcript, so when creating video content, always add captions to your videos, make transcripts available for longer videos, add audio description to your videos and provide a summary of the video in accompanying text.

Designing for accessibility

For more information about designing for accessibility, visit the websites below.

Sources

GOV.UK

Other sources

Disability facts and figures

Further information

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

All about blogging

Blogs are online journals written for both personal and business use. A blog may focus on a single topic or a whole range of topics and may have multiple authors or only one. The articles that appear on a blog are known as blog posts and these can be on any manner of subjects from cookery to gardening to politics. I have written a personal blog for a number of years now – if you are interested to learn more about me, pop on over to A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That and for a short explanation of what a blog is take a look at the video below.

History

The word blog is an abbreviation for ‘weblog’, as in ‘world wide web’ and ‘log’, with a blogger being a person who writes a blog. The Online Etymology Dictionary states the word was first evidenced in 1998, however prior to this, the word was recorded in 1993 as referring to a ‘file containing a detailed record of each request received by a web server’. In 1969 the word was British slang for any hypothetical person, as in ‘Joe Bloggs’ and in 1860 was recorded as meaning ‘a servant boy’ in one of the college houses and also as a verb meaning ‘to defeat’ in schoolboy slang.

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Photo by Victoria Heath.

Why should my business have a blog?

Blogs can help drive traffic to your website, increase your sales and establish you as an authority in your area of work. A regularly updated blog will help you reach new customers, as search engines love fresh content, so the more frequently you update your blog, the more likely your website will climb the search engine rankings, gaining you visibility from potential customers.

Know your audience

Before you begin writing consider who your audience is, as this will help refine the purpose of your writing, for example, is the aim of your blog to inform, persuade or entertain? Considering your audience will help you decide on a suitable writing style, say technical or humorous; provide inspiration for your posts and increase the likelihood of people returning to read future blog posts. You should aim to write blog posts that answer the questions most frequently asked by your customers or that provide fresh insights into your area of work.

Writing style

Blogs are an informal style of writing, so don’t be afraid to write in a natural and chatty style. Use a headline to grab readers attention and add images, embed videos, use headings and bullet points to break up text and make your blog more readable.

Image by Werner Moser.

Consider how people consume information online

It is reported that most people normally only spend two to three minutes reading a blog, so blog writing needs to be designed for busy people quickly scanning content, using an ‘F’ shaped pattern of reading, that is horizontally across the top, then moving down the page, scanning horizontally for a shorter period and finally scanning vertically down the left side to see if anything catches their eye. You may have noticed of recent, for this reason, much online content now advises how long it takes to read, so readers can decide if they have time to read an article before they begin reading.

As such, it is recommended blogs are written using an inverted pyramid writing structure. This means rather than beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion (known as a pyramid format), blogs should begin with the most important piece of information first, so readers get the gist of the post, regardless of how much they read. This way of writing has its origins in print journalism and is now widely used by blog authors since, like traditional newspaper articles, people may not have time to read something fully. The opening paragraph should be followed by a brief explanation that justifies the opening conclusion, which is then followed by supporting details that led to the opening statement. In other words, a blog article should move from the most important point to the least important point.

Make your words count

Blog posts should be as concise as possible. Particular attention should be paid to the following.

  • Think carefully about how you start paragraphs – the first few words need to make your reader want to continue reading.
  • Paragraphs and sentences should be short.
  • Look out for repeated words, especially if in close proximity.
  • Remove words that do not significantly change the meaning of sentences and remove multiple words where a single one will do.
  • Avoid using jargon (visit The Plain English Campaign website for an online dictionary of plain English alternatives for jargon.)

Ready to start a blog? Take a look at the websites below.

Sources

Bee.

©2020 ~ 2021 Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Plainly speaking

The English language is spoken around the world from the United States to Tristan da Cunha, a remote group of volcanic islands in the south Atlantic Ocean. English is part of the Indo-European family of languages which are spoken in most of Europe and areas of European settlement and in much of south west and south Asia. The English language uses words from 350 languages and its evolution is fascinating, as shown in the short film below.

Currently it is thought there are around 1.5 billion English speakers, about one quarter of these are native speakers, with a quarter speaking English as their second language. Today the Oxford English Dictionary contains over 600,000 words, so it is hardly surprising that humans struggle to understand one another sometimes and as amazing as the English language is, writing in plain English is important if your message is to be understood by as many people as possible. In some instances, the law even gives people a right to expect plain English. For example, European law states that terms in a consumer contract can only be enforced if they have been written in ‘plain and intelligible language’ and in the USA the Plain Writing Act was signed by President Obama in 2010.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne.

What is Plain English?

Plain English encourages clear and concise use of the English language. It is best described as concise, easy to read and allows the reader to understand the message the first time they read it, whether that be web content, documents, emails or social media posts and being able to read quickly, means everyone can benefit from this style of writing.

Writing in plain English helps people:

  • who have poor memory
  • are easily distracted
  • are slow at reading or processing information (one in six adults have difficulty reading)
  • have difficulty identifying the main points from a long passage of text
  • have a very literal understanding of language
  • are reading in a hurry
  • who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia (10% of the population who are believed to be dyslexic)
  • speak English as a second language

The Plain English Campaign

Since 1979 The Plain English Campaign have fought for ‘crystal clear communications’, campaigning against what they call gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information, particularly in legal and government documents, believing that everyone should have access to clear and concise information and working with thousands of organisations including many UK government departments, public authorities and international banks, helping them make sure their public information is as clear as possible and promoting a writing style that enables readers to understand a message the first time they read it. The campaign encourages the use of short, clear sentences and everyday functional words, so for example, instead of ‘demonstrate’ say ‘show’, instead of ‘objective’ say ‘aim’ and instead of ‘in relation to’ say ‘about.’

The campaign officially began after its founder, Chrissie Maher OBE, publicly shredded hundreds of official documents in Parliament Square, London and delivered the first issue of the ‘Plain English’ magazine to 10 Downing Street dressed as the Gobbledygook Monster. Born in 1938, Chrissie could not read until she was in her mid teens, however, heavily involved in community work during the 1960s, she founded Britain’s first community newspaper, ‘The Tuebrook Bugle’. In the 1970s she set up ‘The Liverpool News’, the country’s first newspaper for semi-literate adults and Impact Foundation, a community printshop. Chrissie was invited to be a councillor on the National Consumer Council (NCC) when it was created in 1975 until 1979 and during this time she also started the Salford Form Market, a project to help people fill in forms, which led to the birth of the Plain English Campaign. In 1994 Chrissie received an OBE and has an honorary MA from Manchester University and a honorary doctorate from the Open University.

Two people signing a document.
Photo by Romain Dancre.

Organisations can now apply for The Plain English Campaign Crystal Mark, a seal of approval for the clarity of a document which appears on over 23,000 different documents in the UK and in other countries including the USA, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand, while the Internet Crystal Mark enables organisations to show they are committed to plain English on their websites. The campaign also holds an annual awards ceremony which includes the Foot in Mouth award (for baffling quotes by public figures); Golden Bull awards (for the worst examples of written tripe) and the Kick in the Pants award (draws attention to companies or organisations who need to communicate in plainer English).

Photo by Aaron Burden.

In a 2012 study by Christopher Trudeau, 80% of the people who responded said they preferred sentences written in plain English. The more complicated the issue, the more they preferred to read simpler language. It also found people with specialist knowledge had an even greater preference for plain English because they had more to read and did not have the time to wade through pages of content.

It is also important now so much reading is done online, as people read differently on the web than they do on paper. The IONAS website explains ‘Firstly, online content is read up to 25% slower, yet at the same time, the internet provides users with an unbelievable mass of information. The combination of these two factors means that the average internet user has become impatient. Whether the text is a news article or a product description, these days it’s rare for users to consume each word like a good book. Instead, online texts are scanned and skimmed over, while search results are scoured and combed through. This must now be taken into account when designing web projects and content campaigns.’

So, to quote Winston Churchill ‘Short words are best, and old words, when short, are best of all.’

The Plain English Campaign have a wealth of useful information on their website to help with writing clearly. Take a look below to learn more.

Sources

Further information

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

The importance of copyright

Copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to the creator of a piece of work, to print, publish, perform, film or record literary, artistic or musical material. I have chosen to write a blog post about this subject following experiences in workplaces – in particular a telephone call I received from Getty Images who had found one of their images on my organisations website and wanted paying for it and a conversation with a colleague who wanted to search Google images for an image to accompany something he would be putting online.

Just because something appears on the internet, doesn’t mean it is free to use. Any image that you right click and save or any piece of work that you download belongs to the person who made it or a third party who owns the copyright but while most copyright owners want their work to be seen, unless they have expressly given permission for their work to be used, you infringe someone’s copyright by using it without their permission.

The purpose of copyright is to stop others from using your work or copying it without permission and it is the responsibility of creators to defend their work against copyright infringement. Copyright protection starts as soon as a work is created and in most countries lasts a minimum of life plus fifty years for most types of work but it varies depending on the type of work. The protection applies to literature, drama, music or artistic work, including illustration and photography, non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases, sound and music recordings, film and television, recordings, broadcasts, the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works.

Copyrighted works are often marked with the copyright symbol (©), the creators name and the year of creation. The symbol is often found alongside a statement saying ‘all rights reserved’, which means you withhold all rights to the maximum extent allowable under law. Legally the phrase is the same as having no statement but the statement is commonly used to emphasise the copyright owner takes take their rights seriously.

Female photographer sitting in a field of flowers.
Photo by Jessica F.

History

The right to be identified as the creator of a piece of work can be traced back to ancient Greece as far as the 6th century before the common era (B.C.E) but it was with the invention of the printing press that the need for statutory regulation was realised. Richard III encouraged printing, while at the same time seeking to limit and censor texts deemed to be harmful to the church and crown.

Image by Janet Gooch.

In 1534 The Printers and Binders Act, banned the import of foreign works, enabling the Lord Chancellor to limit the price of books and in 1557 the Stationers’ Company received its Royal Charter from Mary I, giving the company the power to decree who could print books and the right to seize illicit or pirated works. The Licensing of the Press Act 1662 built on this work with an act for ‘preventing the frequent abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed books and pamphlets and for regulating of printing and printing presses’ which gave the Stationers’ Company the responsibility to censor literary works. However censorship led to public protest and in 1694, Parliament refused to renew the Act. The Stationers’ Company campaigned for new legislation to restore their role but this failed, leading to them changing their tactics and arguing authors should have a right of ownership in what they wrote.

The Pirate Publisher—An International Burlesque that has the Longest Run on Record, from Puck, 1886, satirising the then existing situation where a publisher could profit by simply stealing newly published works from one country, and publishing them in another and vice versa.

Parliament was persuaded and in 1710, this led to the enactment of the first Copyright Act, the Statute of Anne and for the first time copyright belonged to authors rather than the printers and publishers. The Statute of Anne begins ‘Whereas printers, booksellers, and other persons, have of late frequently taken the liberty of printing, reprinting, and publishing, or causing to be printed, reprinted, and published books, and other writings, without the consent of the authors or proprietors of such books and writings, to their very great detriment, and too often to the ruin of them and their families.’ The Statute remained in force until it was replaced by the 1842 Copyright Act and was greatly influential in the formation of other copyright laws across the world.

Statute of Anne.
The Statute of Anne.

Why is copyright important?

Creativity is the way that writers, artists and musicians make their living and if you use their work, it is important to acknowledge this and pay them, unless requested otherwise. Not all creators require payment, some may only ask that you thank them or credit them at the place where the image is used. However, copyright infringements happen every day, so it is important to stay on top of protecting your copyright but also to ensure you are not breaching others copyright.

If you have an original idea or piece of creative work, it is a potential asset and could end up having considerable value in the future, both to yourself and to future generations as part of your legacy, when passed down as part of an estate. If someone infringes your copyright, you have legal grounds to pursue the guilty party to either pay for a license, or compensate you for any financial loss you may have incurred. Copyrighted works that attract the interests of other parties may also be licenced to make sure the originators benefit financially benefit from their use.

Famous copyright cases


There are many famous copyright cases – Apple versus Microsoft, Dyson versus Hoover and numerous music copyright cases. In the 1970’s Star Wars vs Battlestar Galactica saw 20th Century Fox sue Universal Studios for copyright infringement, claiming it had stolen thirty four ideas from Star Wars, including a character named Skyler and wanting to use ‘Star Worlds’ as the name for the show. More recently, Meghan Markle won her copyright claim against the owners of the Mail on Sunday after they published a personal letter she wrote to her father. A High Court Judge ruled in her favour after deciding the publication of large parts of the handwritten letter was ‘manifestly excessive and unlawful.’

Then there is the tale of British photographer David Slater, who in 2011, travelled to Indonesia, to take photos of local wildlife. Unable to get the shot he wanted of some monkeys, he placed his camera on a tripod as the monkeys were curious about the equipment. One monkey in particular was drawn to the reflection of the lens and went on to take a few ‘selfies.’ Mr Slater sent the images to his agent, who circulated them to a number of news sources and the photos were subsequently published by the Daily Mail. However, in 2014, a dispute between Mr Slater and Wikipedia began when Wikipedia uploaded the pictures and tagged them as being in the public domain, reasoning monkeys cannot own copyright.

In September 2015, the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Mr Slater in a California court on behalf of the monkey (named Naruto in the suit) to assert copyright over the picture, claiming the selfie ‘resulted from a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Mr Slater, resulting in original works of authorship not by Mr Slater, but by Naruto.’ In January 2016, the trial judge dismissed the action on the basis that even if Naruto had taken the pictures by ‘independent, autonomous action’ the suit could not continue as animals do not have standing in a court of law and therefore cannot sue for copyright infringement. However, this did not stop PETA appealing the dismissal. The parties later reached a settlement out of court. 

Exceptions

There are exceptions to copyright law, including use for noncommercial research and private study; text and data mining (the use of automated analytical techniques to analyse text and data for patterns, trends and other useful information for non-commercial research); criticism, review and reporting current events; teaching; helping people with disabilities and parody, caricature and pastiche (permits people to use limited amounts of copyrighted material without the owner’s permission for the purpose of parody, caricature or pastiche). As such, you should always check whether someone’s use of your work is permitted before trying to stop them. However, certain exceptions only apply if the use of the work is ‘fair dealing’, a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing, rather, the question to be asked is how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

It is also important to be aware that media, such as DVDs and e-books, are often protected by Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) (also known as copy protection measures or DRM) which prevent unauthorised access or copying. EU and UK law protects the right of copyright owners to use TPMs to protect their works, and circumvention of such technology is illegal.

Another exception are Creative Commons licenses which enable creators the freedom to decide exactly how people may use their work and for what purpose, providing a way for them to grant copyright permissions to their creative work, so providing a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

In addition, some photo providers such as Getty images and Historic England now allow their images to be embedded on non-commercial external websites. Code can be copied and pasted into a web page and the image will appear together with a title, the author name and clearly states from where the image was obtained, so allowing images to be shared on social media, blogs and websites for free, protecting content creators’ ability to earn through commercial licensing but providing opportunities for rich visual storytelling too.

Empty room with drums, keyboard and microphone.
Photo by John Matychuk.

Need help finding images you can legally use? Here is some useful information to guide you through the process.

  • Royalty-free images: in return for an initial licence fee, these are available for nearly unlimited commercial use, meaning you can use the images virtually anywhere, as long as you comply with the terms of the licence agreement
  • Stock images: these are images made available for licence by paying a fee to both the originator and the stock agency managing them, while the originator retains the copyright of their work
  • Editorial images: these are licensable images but with restrictions on use, such as limitations on size, placement, duration of use and geographic distribution – all images must be used in an ‘editorial’ manner, meaning the usage must relate to events that are newsworthy or of public interest
Photos hanging on a line.
Photo by Raj Rana.

Not sure where to start your image search

There are a number of websites that offer free images also but always remember to check the terms as these vary between websites and creators.

Wikipedia is also a good source for images that are in the public domain and therefore not subject to copyright.

Sources

The UK Copyright Services

Further information

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

UK GDPR and the right to privacy

On 25 May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into force, along with the Data Protection Act 2018, modernising the laws that protect the personal information of individuals and replacing European data protection law that was almost twenty years old.

The new regulations were designed to provide greater protection and rights to individuals and to change how businesses and other organisations handle the information of those that interact with them, at a time when private lives had become increasingly public, with individuals freely sharing their personal information online. There is the potential for large fines and reputational damage for those found in breach of the rules.

Post Brexit, as of 1 January 2021, the UK regained full autonomy over its data protection rules. However, The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was retained in UK law and is now referred to as the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR). It will continue to be read alongside the Data Protection Act 2018, with technical amendments to ensure it can function in UK law.

Keyboard and padlock.

A little bit of history

1890


GDPR brought big changes but also built on previous data protection principles. In fact data protection laws can be traced back as far as 1890 when two United States lawyers, Samuel D. Warren and Louis Brandeis, published ‘The Right to Privacy’ in the Harvard Law Review, an article that uses the phrase the ‘right to be let alone’, as a definition of privacy. Over a century before the implementation of GDPR, it was argued ‘Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual … the right ‘to be let alone’ … Numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’  The invention referred to was the portable camera, while the business methods referred to celebrity journalism.

1940’s


In 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, this included the twelfth fundamental right, namely the Right to Privacy; in 1980 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued guidelines on data protection, reflecting the increased use of computers to process business transactions; and in 1981 The Council of Europe adopted the Data Protection Convention (Treaty 108), rendering the right to privacy a legal imperative.

1990’s


In 1993 PC Brown was charged under the UK Data Protection Act 1984 offence of using personal data for a purpose other than that described in the Data Protection Register. PC Brown was entitled to use the police national computer database for his duty, however on two occasions he used the database to assist a friend who ran a debt collection agency, making checks on vehicles owned by debtors. On the first occasion, the vehicle was owned by a company and did not reveal any ‘personal’ data. On the second occasion the search revealed personal data, however there was no evidence that any subsequent ‘use’ was made of the information obtained and the case was dismissed, with it being stated the word ‘use’ must be given its ‘natural and ordinary’ meaning. As there was no evidence that PC Brown had not employed the information ‘for a purpose’, he was not guilty of an offence.  However, had the case been brought in 1998, PC Brown would have been found guilty, as the act had been changed to have a much wider definition of ‘data’.

Photo by Omkar Patyane.

In 1995 The European Data Protection Directive was created to reflect technological advances. It also introduced new terms including ‘processing’, ‘sensitive personal data’ and consent and in 2002 the EU adopted the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications. On 1 January 2005, the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 was fully implemented. The Act was intended to improve the public’s understanding of how public authorities carry out their duties, why they make the decisions they do and how they spend their money. Placing more information in the public domain would ensure greater transparency and trust and widen participation in policy debate. In 2009 the EU Electronic Communications Regulations were amended in response to email addresses and mobile numbers becoming prime currency in conducting marketing and sales campaigns.

2000+


In 2010 the international non-profit organisation Wikileaks began publishing secret information, news leaks, and classified media provided by anonymous sources. Leaks have been political and diplomatic in nature, but have also included documents from Amazon, the Catholic church, the military and the CIA. In 2011 following the UK News International phone hacking scandal which saw journalists hacking the phones of people from all walks of life to get stories, The Leveson inquiry, a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press saw a series of public hearings held throughout 2011 and 2012. The reforms for independent regulation were endorsed by all parties and at the time ‘Hacked Off’ a campaigning group pushing for meaningful reform of UK press was formed to ensure victims of press abuse have their voices heard and are given protection from continuing intrusions. However the reforms have not been upheld, people, particularly those in the public eye, still suffer abuse and the Hacked Off campaign continues its work. In 2014 a ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU gives people the right to ask internet search engines to remove results for queries that include their name. The concept became known as ‘the right to be forgotten’.

Today, post GDPR and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, technology and privacy are at another crossroads, with more people than ever working from home, surveillance of the home in terms of employer concerns about cyber security and conduct at home will become inevitable.

Photo by Gian Cescon.

Understanding UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) today

The Online Etymology Dictionary records the word data as first being recorded in the 1640s as ‘a fact given or granted,’ the classical plural of the Latin word datum “(thing) given” and neuter past participle of the word dare, meaning ‘to give’. From 1897 data came to mean ‘numerical facts collected for future reference’ and in 1946 it meant ‘transmittable and storable information by which computer operations are performed’. The term data-processing was recorded in 1954, data-base or database meaning a ‘structured collection of data in a computer’ in 1962 and the word data-entry in 1970. Today, personal data, is defined as information that enables a person to be identified.

The body responsible for protecting personal data and enforcing GDPR in the UK is the Information Commissioner’s Office. The law impacts how people can access information and places limits on what organisations can do with the personal data they obtain, that is information that allows a living person to be directly, or indirectly, identified from data that’s available, as per the short animation above. This may be something obvious, say a person’s name, location data, or a clear online username, however, IP addresses and cookie identifiers can be considered as personal data too. Furthermore, there are special categories of sensitive personal data that have greater protection, for example personal data about racial or ethic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, membership of trade unions, genetic and biometric data, health information and data around a person’s sex life or orientation.

For individuals, ultimately GDPR aims to give them control of how their personal data is used, say the ability to opt in and out of marketing material easily and being removed from databases. For organisations GDPR affects any organisation that offers goods and services, irrespective of whether money has been transacted, they have a duty to report data breaches and there are significant fines and legal implications for non-compliance.  As such organisations need to recognise the data they hold is personal information about individuals who have a right to know how and why their personal information is being used and stored forcing companies to act transparently and accountability.

Further information

Information Commissioner’s Office

Sources

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Canva

I have recently been teaching myself how to use Canva, an online design and publishing tool with a mission to empower everyone in the world to design anything and publish anywhere. I have no graphic design experience and my knowledge of Photoshop is sparse (I can crop and resize images) which is frustrating as my head is always brimming with ideas, so I was excited to see what I could create with it. 

Graphic design is defined by the Oxford English dictionary as ‘the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines and books’, while the Online Etymology dictionary advises the word graphic comes from the Latin word graphicus, meaning picturesque and from the the Greek word graphikos meaning ‘of or for writing, belonging to drawing, picturesque.’

Canva houses thousands of free templates for easy graphic design and the drag and drop interface allows users to customise these by uploading their own images, dropping them into the template and saving the file to your computer. There is a lot of choice and it is a bit like falling down the rabbit hole. Template categories include posters, presentations, flyers, cards, business cards, resumes, invitations, letterheads, newsletters and much more.

Firstly I wanted to design a logo and a banner image for the Izzy Wizzy website and to use this across social media too. One of the fabulous things about Canva is once you have designed your image, you can save it in different formats for use in different places, so rather than having to mess around re-sizing your image for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on, Canva does it for you in seconds.

I chose the minimal and bold monogram logo below.

Canva template.

I then adapted this, changing the text and dropping a sunflower image into the template to create my banner image.

Having created my logo and banner images I was feeling braver, so I decided to create a series of individual images for use on social media to promote the services I provide too. The images feature the sunflower and bee that appear on the Izzy Wizzy website and use the same fonts for consistent branding. In addition they feature a positive or humorous message, together with the website address.

It took me some time to get my head around how things worked but I had a lot of fun playing. I am very happy with the results and now feel confident about using Canva again to produce other things for myself and clients.

Further information

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

The lost art of typewriting

Recently while reviewing a document I had written, Microsoft Word admonished me with the warning ‘only one space between words is better’. Oh no, I thought, not you too. The issue had come up in an office I worked in a few years earlier, with younger members of the team happy to inform me what I was doing wrong. The world it would seem had changed as the typewriter gave way to the computer. Type ‘one space or two after a full stop’ into a search engine and you will see the debate that is raging.

I learned to type in high school, in the 1980’s on a manual typewriter. I can still remember the click clack hammering sound of the keys being struck, the sound of the carriage return lever being hit when I needed to start a new line, the bell as the roller returned to the left hand margin and the sound of the roller as it turned moving the paper up out of the machine. Electric typewriters came along not long afterwards (although my first exams were taken on manual typewriters) and computers came fast on their heels.

History

In the 1860s, Christopher Latham Sholes, an amateur inventor in Milwaukee invented the first typewriter, which he developed with Samuel Soulé, James Densmore and Carlos Glidden and first patented in 1868. Resembling a piano, it was originally built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys, so everyone would know where to find them. In 1878 US Patent Number 207,559 marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout and a deal with gun maker Remington, proved to be a huge success.

Remington typewriter advertisement pre 1900.

By 1890, there were more than 100,000 QWERTY based Remington produced typewriters in use across the country and in 1893 when the five largest typewriter manufacturers – Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore and Smith-Premier merged to form the Union Typewriter Company, they  agreed to adopt QWERTY as the design we know today.  However, the monospace type of a manual typewriter did not create a sufficient visual space between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next, so users needed to use two spaces in order that sentences did not run into one another. Today with proportional fonts, only one space is necessary to create the necessary separation but for those of us who had it drilled into us that two spaces should always be used after a full stop, it a hard habit to break. 

A learned skill

If you wanted to work in an office, typewriting was a skill that had to be learned and for which exams were sat and qualifications achieved. Typewriters were complex pieces of machinery as can be seen in the illustration below. The strange unfamiliar arrangement of the keys was the first of many things I had to learn before I could begin typing, such as how to insert a sheet of paper, how to wind the roller to bring the paper in and out of the machine, how to adjust the paper if it wasn’t straight and how to hold the paper in place with a ruled metal bar which was also used for setting margins and tabs. 

Diagram showing Remington typewriter parts. 

As my training progressed, I learned to touch type by typing the same letters over and over, for example asdsd, fadsf, dfsaf, so I would learn where the keys were without looking, before progressing to ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’. I was taught how to layout letters correctly, sometimes with full punctuation (that is using commas within dates and addresses); how to type envelopes and labels and I learned that the word ‘stet’ next to words that had been crossed through or changed, meant the writer wanted me to ignore the alteration – the word means ‘let it stand’. If my letter was to have an enclosure, the letters Enc needed to be added to the bottom of the letter.

Example of a letter using full punctuation.

Then there was carbon paper, thin paper coated with ink which was used for making duplicate copies of a  document. So for example you may be asked to produce a letter with two carbon copies, say an office copy and a copy for another recipient and would have to construct a sandwich made of paper and carbon paper which then needed to be fed into the typewriter. Copy letters needed to have the letters  CC and the name of the recipient inserted at the end of the letter, so that everyone could see who received a copy of that letter. However, if you wanted copies of a letter to be sent without everyone knowing who had received it, you had to instead handwrite the letters BCC, which stood for blind carbon copy, along with the name of the recipient on the copy letter only (and also remember to put the right letter in the right envelope). Speed tests were undertaken too, as typing exams were timed, so you needed to be able to produce your work in the allocated time when you came to sit your exam. I remember feeling terrifically proud of mine, which were signed by my typing teacher and my headmaster.

Speed test certificate.

There was one font size and font style but no way to emphasise text in bold or italics. The typewriter ribbon, black on the top half, red on the bottom half, allowed the typist to type in one of the two colours, depending on how the machine was set. The ribbon also needed to be changed regularly by reaching into the top of the machine, removing the ribbon spool and replacing it with a new one.  Underlining if required was done by repeatedly hitting the underline key the length and distance of the text that needed underlining. Tables were created in a similar manner and rows and columns of figures had to be lined up correctly and evenly spaced. It was slow, methodical, detailed work and any mistakes had to be corrected manually, using a typewriter pencil, tippex liquid or tippex paper. However, presentation was of the utmost importance, so if errors could not be corrected neatly, you would need to start over with your document. 

Example of an instruction to type a letter.

Examinations

I remember undertaking many practice papers in preparation for my exams and anxiously waiting my results. RSA and Pitman were the typewriting qualification boards and they had strict rules that needed to be adhered to if you wanted to pass your exams, meaning that attention to detail was a must. Two spaces after a full stop or a colon and one after a comma or semi colon were essential and you lost marks if you failed to do this.

RSA exams were timed and assessed in three areas – production (completing the work in the given time), accuracy and presentation. Failing in one area meant you failed the whole exam. Candidates could achieve RSA qualifications at three levels – elementary level (RSA one), intermediate level (RSA two) and advanced level (RSA three).

Instruction to type a letter.

Today I am the proud holder of RSA qualifications at levels one, two and three, an RSA elementary qualification in audio typing, Pitman advanced and elementary qualifications, along with Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT) and European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualifications. Then I learned how to create and update websites too, which I have now done for over 15 years. And I feel proud, not only for me but for those who went before me, doing it the hard way, learning their craft before computers ruled the world and then, as we entered the digital age, learning new skills and ways of doing things. 

So, if you feel annoyed when seeing two spaces after a full stop, just for a moment consider how important it actually is. And remember, there was a time when two spaces were the standard and the only way to do things. Typing wasn’t always as easy as it is today. And finally, you never know what changes may happen in your own lifetime, so maybe take a moment to think before you dismiss someone’s way of doing things out of hand. Be kind to those who may do things differently to you, as one day, you may find yourself in their shoes.

Note

Microsoft Word now enables users to change document spacing. If like me you find two spaces a hard habit to break but need to work to a house style, select editor on your toolbar, then ‘punctuation conventions’ and ‘one space’. Further information can also be found in help by typing ‘change the spacing between text.’

Sources

Further information

Bee.

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.