Hashtagging

Think you know everything there is to know about hashtags? From the Romans to social media today, the hash sign has an interesting history. The little symbol that looks like a noughts and crosses board has a multitude of names including hash, pound, number, octothorpe, crosshatch and hex and throughout history has been used as the Latin for pound, on the telephone for connecting to computer systems and most recently on social media.


History

Today the word hashtag refers to a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # which in turn categorises social media posts. The origin of the word ‘hash’ lies in Latin and French. In Latin it is a variant of ‘hatch’ meaning ‘to inscribe with parallel lines’ as in ‘hatchure’ and ‘cross-hatch’, while the old French word ‘hacher means ‘to chop’, with the meal called ‘hash’ so named because it contains chopped meat. Since the 1300s the symbol has also meant pound which was abbreviated as lb but over time, as it was jotted down more and more quickly, transformed into #.

Later as telephones evolved from dials to buttons, hash keys began to appear on telephone keypads too, enabling access to telephone based computer systems, for example when you telephone your bank and are asked to use the hash key to carry out a transaction. Then, in 1988, the hash symbol was used on an instant messaging system called Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to group similar topics, so making it easier for users to find the information they were looking for.

However it was the use of the hash symbol on Twitter which really saw hashtags take off. On 23 August 2007, Chris Messina is credited with posting the first Twitter hashtag #BarCamp and on 20 October 2007, sudden bushfires in the San Diego region of California used the hashtag #SandiegoFire which continues to be used during anniversaries of the 2007 events and any time fires happen again in San Diego. In 2009 Twitter then introduced a search tool, so users could see who else was using a particular hashtag and the following year introduced ‘Trending Topics’ which display the most popular hashtags at a given time.

How do hashtags work

On social media adding a hashtag to the beginning of an unbroken word or phrase creates a post which becomes linked to all other posts that include the same hashtag, allowing people to easily follow topics they are interested in. Hashtags may come about organically as a result of say events reported by the media, for example #MeToo, #PartyGate and #WagathaChristie or companies may create their own hashtags for example Marks and Spencer use #MagicAndSparkle and #PercyPigmas. Television shows also create their own hashtags to encourage people to tweet about their programmes while watching, for example Strictly Come Dancing uses #Strictly.

How to use a hashtag

Hashtags are a great way to get your business in front of people and gain social media followers. Below are some ideas for getting the most out of hashtags.

Set goals

Consider what hashtags you want to be known for and who you want to attract, then make a list of potential hashtags, choosing words or phrases that are relevant to your business and the message you want to convey.

Custom hashtags

Custom hashtags are hashtags that are unique to your business. This could be your business name for example #IzzyWizzy, tagline, product name or the services you provide. Keep them simple, short and catchy.

Check out your competition

Look for the people in your area of work who are popular on social media. What hashtags are they using and what are they using them for?

Trending hashtags

Take time to regularly check what hashtags are trending. There may be a hashtag you can jump on to promote your business. There may also be global or national days that relate to your area of work. Research what they are and create social media posts about them to promote what you do.

Daily hashtags

Daily hashtags are popular hashtags, designed to share a common thread with anyone on social media. These include things such as #MotivationMonday, #ThrowbackThursday and #FeelGoodFriday.

Narrow down your selection

Once you have gone through the above steps you will most probably need to narrow down your selection. Which of the hashtags are relevant to your business and your overall goals. Hashtag popularity is one thing to consider but by using a lesser used hashtag which is still relevant to your business, you will have more chance of being found.

How many hashtags

Social media platforms have different optimum hashtag numbers but don’t use hashtags for the sake of it. It is better to use a few well thought out ones than a load that will reach an audience you really don’t want. Consider using a combination of the different types of hashtags described above and if you have a large list of hashtags you want to use, consider segmenting them into groups and rotating their use.

Research, test, tweak

Well thought out hashtags are a great way to get your business in front of people. Research, test and tweak hashtag combinations to see what hashtags work best for you. Time and effort spent doing this will pay you back in the long term. Check also to make sure your desired hashtag isn’t being used in a negative context and be aware that social media platforms may ban hashtags temporarily or permanently, so always carry out research before using a new hashtag.

Research will help you find trending topics and hashtags that fit well with your business and make your posts more discoverable. Keep in mind, hashtags are not case sensitive, but adding capital letters does make them easier to read for example #TheBigSunflowerProject versus #thebigsunflowerproject. See the blog post below for more information on this.

Hashtags can be an incredibly powerful way of communicating a message, reaching and engaging large numbers of people, gauging the mood on a particular topic, bringing people together and making things happen, so give them a go and see what they can do for you.

Sources

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

The trouble with junk mail

Of recent much has been written about the impact of plastic on the environment but it is not only plastic that is a cause for concern, there is a growing waste paper mountain too, which junk mail massively contributes to. Some days I receive more junk mail than actual mail, so recently I have been on a mission to do my little bit of good in the world, learn what I can do to receive less of this and encourage others to do the same.

Photo by Kyle Bushnell on Unsplash.


What is junk mail

Junk mail is marketing material, say letters, catalogues, leaflets, coupons and menus that are posted to individuals, who are usually selected because they are in a certain demographic. Businesses may also be the recipients of junk mail.

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash.

The word junk is recorded by Etymology Online as ‘mid-14c., junke “old cable or rope,” cut in bits and used for caulking, etc., a nautical word of uncertain origin, also used figuratively as a type of something of little value. Junk food is from 1971; junk art is from 1961; junk mail first attested 1954; junk bond from 1979.’

In the UK 17.5 billion pieces of junk mail are produced every year with 650 pieces of junk mail posted through the average British letterbox and on average 80 pieces of addressed junk mail are sent out to the 583,000 people who die every year following their death. To produce all this junk mail  550,000 tonnes of paper and 16.5 billion litres of water are used.

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash.


The history of paper

Paper was invented in AD105 in ancient China and involved mixing cloth, bark and nets with water to form a paste, then flattening it out to dry in the sun. Initially it was only used for wrapping precious objects but within 650 years, printing had arrived and the first books, playing cards and toilet paper soon followed. It took more than a thousand years to arrive in Europe, so people had to use the skins of calves, goats and sheep as parchment.

In the computer age, you might think there is no longer a need for paper but while there has been a small decline in the demand for newspapers and books, the paper industry is booming.  The world currently uses around 400 million tonnes of paper per year – think money, cardboard boxes, receipts, coffee cups, post it notes, baking paper, egg cartons, birthday cards, straws and wrapping paper. As we turn our backs on single use plastic, paper is one of the main contenders to take its place.

Photo by jplenio on Pixabay.


What’s the problem?

You may be reading this and thinking what’s all the fuss about, how much effort is it to put junk mail in the recycling bin, so here’s the science bit.

Recycling is all well and good but recycling lorries and recycling plants require fuel to run. There is an environmental impact when creating, packing and transporting junk mail and the impact of consuming the energy to print the materials too. One study found the global paper industry eats up around 6.4 exajoules (EJ) of energy each year, that’s enough to make some 87 trillion cups of tea.

Today the process of making paper starts with raw wood. This comes from softwood trees such as spruce, pine and fir and some hardwoods such as eucalyptus. Each piece of junk mail is a tree that has been felled and each year, the global paper industry is fed by more than 100 million hectares of forests, which is an area around the same size as Egypt. While much paper is sourced from sustainably managed forests, some is made from trees in ecologically important forests, contributing to loss of biodiversity. In countries where forests are not sustainably managed, important habitats can be destroyed.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.

Almost every phase of paper manufacturing involves water. To make a single sheet of A4 paper, you need between two and 13 litres of water. And the pulping process, involves cooking the wood used in a bath of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphide, before chlorine dioxide is added to bleach the pulp and achieve a white colour. After the pulping and bleaching is over, paper mills end up with a cocktail which must be treated so that it can be disposed of safely but some paper mills discharge this directly into the water supply, where it is toxic to fish and other wildlife. 

In addition, there are paper shortages globally due to the demand for paper, disruptions caused by lockdowns and border closures have created a break in shipping cycles and there are soaring energy prices too. So whether sending our junk mail to landfill or recycling it, there is a cost to all of us and it is essential we all do what we can to learn how to deal with our own waste.

Photo by Llngchor on Unsplash.


Tired of junk mail? Here’s what can you do

Mailing preference service

Individuals can register with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) to have their details removed from direct marketing mailing lists. The MPS covers around 90 per cent of mailing lists but it should be noted, it is not designed to stop unaddressed items of mail, direct mail delivered to the door, mail addressed to the ‘occupant’, ‘resident’ or ‘homeowner’ or the delivery of free newspapers.

In addition, the MPS Suppression File is intended for consumers (not businesses) at their residential address in the United Kingdom (including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man). Direct Mailers are not obliged to screen business lists against the MPS. If you are a business wanting to stop junk mail from another business, you should contact the business directly.

Royal Mail

Royal Mail are legally obliged to deliver all addressed mail, which includes mail that is addressed ‘To the Occupier’ (or with any other generic recipient information), as well as mail that is personally addressed to you by name.

Opting out from Royal Mail Door to Door stops all unaddressed items from being delivered (although they work with government to get a message to every UK address in exceptional circumstances where delivery of the message is deemed to be in the national interest.) An opt out lasts for a maximum of two years at which time you will need to complete a new form. It isn’t possible to put an opt out in place against a particular address indefinitely, because occupiers of properties may change from time to time.

Note that you need to download the opt out form and sign and return it to the address shown on the form. Many websites detail an email address where the form can be sent but having tried this myself and not seeing a reduction in junk mail, I learned from Royal Mail, that the email address is unmanned.

Postal Review Panel

Should you continue to receive junk mail after opting out with Royal Mail, you can contact the Postal Review Panel. Sitting outside of the Royal Mail Customer Services team,  the Postal Review Panel is for customers who are unhappy with either the way their complaint has been handled or with the responses they have received.

Opting out of other unaddressed mail deliveries

To opt out of other unaddressed mail deliveries you can register with the ‘Your Choice’ preference service run by the Data and Marketing Association.

Photo by Stokpic on Pixabay.

Opting out of charity appeal communications

The Fundraising Preference Service can help members of the public control the communications they receive from charities. By registering your details with the Fundraising Preference Service you can choose to stop email, telephone calls, addressed post and/or text messages addressed to you personally from charities.

Contact your electoral registration office

Search for your local electoral registration office on Gov.UK and ask them to take your details off the ‘open register’ which is a list of people and addresses that can be bought and used for sending junk mail. You can also choose for your details not to be added to the edited electoral register when you fill out an electoral registration form. Tick the box that says ‘opt out’ of the open register.

Put a sign on your door or letterbox

Try putting a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your door. Some organisations may not consider their mail to be junk so be specific and write ‘No commercial leaflets, no free newspapers, no junk mail, no charity bags.’

Contact the sender directly

If an organisation is never told you don’t want to receive their mail, they will continue to send it to you. Write to them directly, including your full name and address and the sentence ‘Please stop processing my personal data for direct marketing purposes in accordance with Article 21 of the General Data Protection Regulations.’

Return the junk mail directly to the sender

Cross out your address and write ‘unsolicited mail, please return to sender’ on the envelope. You won’t have to pay postage for the return but the sender will receive a return charge.

Photo by Picography on Pixabay.

Sources


Further information and sources

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

Tools of the trade

As a virtual assistant I am called on to use many organisational tools in my work, so for this blog post I thought I would write about some of the tools of my trade that make my work a little easier. Got some favourite ways of being organised and staying on top of things? I would love to hear from you about the tools of your trade too.

Image by Pixabay.

Asana

Asana helps to coordinate work across teams by bringing tasks together to ensure  nothing falls through the cracks. If you are familiar with yoga you may also know that Asanas are yoga poses or yoga postures, with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defining ‘asana’ as ‘[a position that] is steady and comfortable’ but for more of that you need to read someone else’s blog post. Asana enables teams to stay organised and connected by bringing them together in a shared online workspace. Within this space, tasks can be detailed and assigned to staff members, collaborators can update one another on their progress, timelines show how work maps out over time, while boards make it easy for your a team to focus on tasks currently at hand.

Slack

Slack is a messaging app that connects people to information and other people in an online unified workspace. Slack allows you to message your colleagues and collaborate, as you would in person, in workspaces known as channels. The system supports asynchronous work, that is work that is not simultaneous or concurrent in time, meaning you can access the information you need in your own time, regardless of your location, time zone or function; ask questions; catch up with new developments and share updates without having to coordinate schedules. 

Dropbox

Dropbox provides a centralised place to securely store documents, manage data access and work together on projects. The system allows colleagues to work from anywhere, knowing their work is backed up in the cloud and large files such as videos, graphics and audio can be shared easily too.

Calendly

Calendly is a hub for scheduling meetings, eliminating the hassle of back-and-forth emails and giving you control over team scheduling with a standardized, scalable process. It’s secure, easy to manage, and integrates with your team’s favourite tools, so you can get everyone working as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Doodle

Doodle is an online scheduling tool which is used for organising meets. If you have ever had to schedule a date or time for a meeting between just a few people, you know that can be hard enough and scheduling meetings with large groups of people – even worse. Doodle offers several different ways to set up polls and surveys that will help you quickly and efficiently set up your next meeting or event. With Doodle you can create group meetings, 1:1 meetings and set up personal bookable calendars.

Canva

Canva is an online design and publishing tool with a mission to make complex things simple, empowering anyone, to design anything and publish anywhere. Canva houses thousands of free templates that include flyers, cards, business cards, resumes, invitations, letterheads, newsletters and much more, 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. 

Loom

Loom is a video messaging tool that helps you communicate through instantly shareable videos. With Loom, you can record your camera, microphone and desktop simultaneously and share your video through Loom’s patented technology, which again enables asynchronous work.

Descript

Descript enables users to record, transcribe, edit, mix, collaborate and master audio and video in the same way as a document. It is the world’s first audio word processor, allowing users to view and edit any audio file as text and converting text to audio too. 

GroupGreeting

GroupGreeting allows users to create a digital card and have multiple people sign it.  Not only is this great for teams who work remotely but anyone who have ever tried to get a paper greeting card signed and passed around an office without recipient seeing it, will understand the benefit of this one. GroupGreeting is easy to use, with unlimited space to sign and a video messaging tool is available too.

Sources and further information

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

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) takes place on 8 March each year and is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

What is International Women’s Day?

The earliest known celebration of women was on 28 February 1909 in New York City and was called ‘National Women’s Day.’  Two years later, in 1911, the first IWD gathering was supported by over a million people. The same year Emmeline Pankhurst called on women to boycott the census, urging passive protest against the government‘s reluctance to give women the vote.

The first form of protest was that women who were at home on census night should refuse to complete the return (and risk a £5 fine or a month’s imprisonment), spoiling the census form by either refusing to provide any information or by scribbling comments on it along the lines of ‘I don’t count so I won’t be counted’ or ‘No vote – No census’. The second method was to avoid being at home that night. Women hid or kept moving from place to place throughout the night to avoid being recorded. Emily Davison, who famously lost her life at the Derby two years later, hid in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament for 46 hours. She was arrested and released without charge but was recorded in the census as ‘found hiding in the Crypt of Westminster Hall’.

Image: International Women’s Day

Historians write that while women have always been 50% of the population, they only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history but if you look at figurines made between about 40,000 BC, until around 5,000 BC, around 90% of these are of women. At the birth of civilised society, women had status, property rights and owned land but the new civilisations wanted to expand and when that happened, society became more militarised and the balance of power shifted.

More recently, the UK census should be a good source of information, however it was not until 1851 that household heads were ‘instructed’ to record married women’s occupations and only then, ‘if they were deemed to be regularly employed’. Actually, most working class women at the time had no choice but to work, in addition to the unpaid work they did at home but this was often not recorded, so the census returns show a blank space in the occupation column against women’s names.

A letter by Joyce Stevens, written for Women's Liberation Broadsheet, International Women's Day, 1975.
A letter by Joyce Stevens, written for Women’s Liberation Broadsheet, International Women’s Day, 1975.
Image: International Women’s Day

Ordinary women, extraordinary lives

Women have achieved some wonderful things throughout history, below are some of my favourite stories.

Hazel Hill

During the 1930’s, Hazel Hill, a 13 year old girl, figured out the precise mathematical calculations to enable improvements to be made to Spitfires, increasing the number of guns to eight from four and helping to win the war.  A 30 minute documentary about Hazel can be viewed below.

Mary Ellis

Mary Ellis joined the Air Transport Auxiliary after hearing an advertisement for women pilots on BBC radio and was responsible for delivering Spitfires and bombers to the front line.

NASA scientists

In the 1940s, a group of female scientists were the human computers behind the biggest advances in aeronautics, breaking down gender and racial barriers at the same time.

The Mercury 13

On 9 April 1959, NASA announced that seven men, who would become known as the Mercury 7, would go into space. At the same time,  thirteen women, enrolled on a privately funded programme and successfully underwent the same physiological screening tests. The women never went to space.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin took the X-ray crystallography photograph known as ‘Photograph 51’, which led to the creation of a model that would change all scientists’ understanding of DNA. One year later, when scientists James Watson and Francis Crick made history by publishing a new model of the DNA code, including the crystallography photograph and Franklin’s research, Rosalind Franklin was not credited for her contribution. It wasn’t until 1968, when Watson published his memoir, that it was revealed Rosalind Franklin was the scientist who contributed the crucial X-ray crystallography photograph. However, while the other men were awarded the Nobel Prize, Rosalind Franklin never received this.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was an  actress famous for films such as Samson and Delilah and White Cargo. She was also an inventor who pioneered the technology that would one day form the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems.

Billie Jean king

In 1973 Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in straight sets during a tennis match dubbed ‘The Battle of The Sexes’. The match was broadcast on primetime TV, drawing 90 million viewers.

Striking female machinists at the Ford Motor company

On 29 May 1970, two years after going on strike, 187 women working at a factory in East London witnessed their hard work pay off when the Equal Pay Act received royal assent. Coming into force five years later, the Act sought to ‘prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’. This meant that it was required for men and women ‘in the same employment to be treated equally, in terms of their pay and conditions of work.

The 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women

In 1973 a group of female office workers started talking about how they were treated at work. They talked about how men made more money than they did for the same job. They talked about how their male co-workers could get away with making passes at them and worse. They talked about how when their children got sick they couldn’t get time off without endangering their jobs. Then they decided enough was enough. Feisty, empowered and fed up, they decided to fight for fair pay and equal treatment and started the 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women. Forty years on from the release of the film 9 to 5, the themes of the film, inspired by the association, are still relevant today.

Image: International Women’s Day

Break the bias

This year the International Women’s Day campaign theme is ‘Break The Bias’ with IWD asking everyone to imagine a gender equal world; a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination; a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive and a world where difference is valued and celebrated.

You may be wondering why we need to celebrate International Women’s Day. Well, that’s because although a lot has changed for women, there is still more work to be done. We need the day to celebrate women’s achievements, ensure we continue moving forwards not backwards and to remember the rights of women around the globe are not all the same. What can you do to break the bias?

Sources and further information

© 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.

Illustration of virtual assistant.


History

There is some dispute over who exactly invented the phrase virtual assistant but sometime in the 1990’s appears to be the agreed date. Author of the 2-Second Commute Chris Durst is credited with having founded the virtual assistant industry in rural Connecticut in 1995 and in 1999, she went on to co-found the International Virtual Assistants Association, serving as its first president. However in 1992 Stacey Brice was already working as a virtual assistant when her life coaching client, Thomas Leonard, coined the phrase ‘virtual assistant’ for her.  She then went on to create AssistU, a virtual assistant training programme.

In 1999 the International Association of Virtual Assistants was set up to provide advice and training for virtual assistants based in the UK and around the world. The Alliance of UK Virtual Assistants, a free directory of VAs in the UK followed in 2000. In 2003 The Virtual Assistant Coaching and Training Company set up its first UK specific VA training and also in 2003 Tawnya Sutherland founded VA Networking, the largest organisation of virtual assistants worldwide. In 2005 The Society of Virtual Assistants, originally known as The UK Association of Virtual Assistants, was founded by seven Scottish virtual assistants. You can learn about what a VA does today, in the short film below.

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

Later 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

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

How to keep your website looking good

In a previous life, I worked as a web editor on a local government website, so for this blog post, I thought I would write about some of the ways you can keep your website looking good. My role involved writing, editing, proof reading and approving web pages prior to publication and educating people on web design good practice, brand maintenance and search engine optimisation. At one stage I think the website had around 900 pages, so it could be a daunting task and the team I worked with continuously reviewed the website to ensure web pages and web documents were kept up to date and monitored it in terms of usability, accessibility and compliance with government legislation.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

First impressions

First impressions really do count with websites. If someone doesn’t like what they see, they won’t stick around for long, so it is important to ensure you keep yours in working order and up to date at all times. Think of your website as your shop window – it needs to encourage people through the front door to browse your wares. Website reviews or content audits are crucial to giving your shop kerb appeal and for good search engine optimisation (SEO), that is a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results (the unpaid listings on a search engine results page.)

Contact information

Contact information of some sort should always appear on your website, namely an address, telephone number, email address or contact form. As a member of The Society of Virtual Assistants, I am required to display a UK mailing address and to be contactable by email too. On a website, it goes without saying that people will expect to be able to reach you online, so displaying an email address or having a contact form is a must have. It also appears more professional if your email address is linked to a domain name, for example toni@vaservices.org rather than toni@gmail.com. I do not display a contact telephone number or an email address but can be contacted via the contact form on this website, which is good for reducing spam email. If you choose to use a contact form too, make sure it is connected to your email address and messages are getting through. You can do this by emailing yourself or asking someone to test the form for you.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is website-design-3.jpg
Photo by Viktor Hanacek

Always proofread and check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. It can be difficult to proof read your own work, as after a while you become blind to what you have written, seeing what you think is there, rather than what is actually there, so again ask someone to proofread and sense check what you have written before you publish it. Alternatively, you can use a website spellchecker. Type ‘website spellchecker’ into a search engine and type the address of your website into the search box to get your website scanned for spelling errors.

Broken links are another thing that should be tested for regularly. These can occur on your website, say if you have been re-structuring your website or as the result of changes on a website that you link to and both look bad if not fixed. Broken or dead link checkers can be found online and work in the same way as the website spellcheckers described above. 

Using the copyright symbol on your web pages will emphasise that you take your rights as the copyright owner seriously. 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. You can read more about copyright in the blog post below.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is website-design-2.jpg
Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels.

I agonised over this wording for a long time but as a sole trader, I have chosen to use  ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ on this website. My hope is that it is warm and welcoming and gives the impression that I am talking directly to you and that you get a sense of who I am. By using ‘we’ I feel I would have been giving the impression there is a team involved here which simply is not the case.

Data protection

It is important to ensure your website is GDPR compliant which basically means you have to inform users about the data that you collect from them. On this website I have a privacy statement which advises how I use and protect personal information. There is also a terms of use statement which governs the relationship between me and anyone who visits the website. Currently I do not use email marketing but if I did, I would ensure that an unsubscribe button appeared on any marketing emails, so people could unsubscribe from these any time they wish. You can read more about GDPR in the blog post below.

This was a difficult one for me, as I rarely like photographs of myself but I have to acknowledge that as a freelancer, having a photo of me on my website brings a personal touch, allowing visitors to put a face to the name of the business. My image is a snapshot but if you can afford to get a professional headshot, do that. Some freelancers use a logo instead – it isn’t a hard and fast rule but whatever you decide to use, make sure it is the same on your website, as in any networking groups or social media platforms you use, so people can recognise you.

Carrying out a content review

The ideas above are all quick ideas for good practice but you may want to consider undertaking more in depth reviews too. You could do these once or twice a year as a project or alternatively, setting review dates on your pages and reviewing these at intervals throughout the year, will help make the load a little easier, particularly if you have a lot of content on your website.

If you know you are adding information to your website that is time sensitive, add a review date to the page at the same time you publish it, as a reminder to update or delete the page, when the date has passed. Don’t forget any documents or images that you use on these pages need to be reviewed and deleted at the same time. It is crucial that behind the scenes you keep your documents and images organised and establish a filing naming convention immediately, to make it easy for you to identify your files and quickly find what you need, particularly if you work in a team.

Remember that your website needs to look good on many different electronic devices also, so regularly test how it looks on computers, tablets and mobile phones – take a look at Test My Site by ThinkGoogle for ideas to improve your mobile site.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

It is important to note that just because you wrote content for a web page once, it doesn’t mean it has to stay on your website forever. You want your visitors to be able to find their way around, not feel as if they are in a rabbit warren. Consider your customer and put yourself in their shoes. Will they be able to navigate their way around your website without all of the inside knowledge of the person who designed it? Ask yourself, do you have duplicate information that could be consolidated on one page? Does your website signpost visitors to stop them getting lost and is it easy for them to return to the homepage? Link titles should take visitors to pages with a matching page title – do your link titles do what they say on the tin? Is the website divided up into clearly defined areas such as departments, events, services or tasks that a visitor may want to complete? Is it accessible to people with disabilities and to older people who may not have all of the digital skills necessary for day to day life? You can read more about website accessibility in the blog post below.

To keep your website fresh, delete out of date content or archive content you think you might be able to re-use or recycle. No one needs to read about Christmas events in July, so replace them with something new. Recognise the difference between what is evergreen content, that is content that needs to be on the website at all times and seasonal content that can come and go.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

Websites are never finished

Websites are never finished, so don’t fall into the trap of spending time and money getting online and then do nothing more with your website. Maybe allocate some time for yourself each month to look around your website and ask ‘does this still reflect my company’ and if it doesn’t, rewrite the content so it does or delete it – think of it like a fresh coat of paint, new curtains or new cushions. Following the above guidelines will help keep your website looking good and keep it in good working order too, encouraging potential clients to trust you and re-assuring existing clients that they are in safe hands. Still not convinced? Take a look at the websites below for further information.

Sources and further information

© 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shopping.jpg
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

©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

© 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.

Image by Pete Linforth.

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.

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.


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. 

Photo by Sorin Gheorghita.

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

Further information

© 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

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