My Foray Into Technical Writing

Below is an article I wrote for a client that required me to try my hand at technical writing. I felt like the end result was pretty strong, and my client was very happy. I’ve made a few notes in italics where I wanted to offer my readers a few tips – feel free to leave any questions in the comments as well!


 

When you buy water softener systems you’re able to use them to filter out excess minerals that might be present in your water. Clean water is something that everybody wants. In some areas it is more difficult to get soft water without the help of a water softening device. They can produce cleaner water that does not leave mineral deposits and residue.

It’s important to remember, however, that a water softener doesn’t filter the water – it only removes minerals such as calcium and magnesium. If you want filtered drinking water you’ll have to buy some sort of water filter as well.

Benefits of Water Softener Systems

The modern idea of a water softener was introduced in 1903. Today almost all populated areas have some type of water filtration system and many individuals have water softener systems in their homes.

Water softening devices work by replacing calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions. Hard water can cause many problems such as build up in pipes and water heaters as well as decreasing the effectiveness of soap and detergent. Water softener systems stop the clogging of pipes and the soap issues from occurring.

The water softener is a middle man in the process of getting water from the source to your home. The softener will take in the “hard” water, run it through beads that contain sodium ions and then pass it through and out into the pipes as cleaner soft water.

I think I struggled in my early writing career most with providing vivid descriptions of problems. If a reader doesn’t feel that they have a problem, they’re sure not going to buy your solution. This section needed to be longer with better descriptions of the problems. And more adjectives…

Types of Water Softener Systems

When you go to buy water softener systems you will need to understand the different types of units available. They all have to be flushed and recharged at regular intervals as the device loses its effectiveness. Here is an overview of the various water softener systems:

- Manual: A manual system has to be regenerated by hand. You must add salt and open and close the valves to control when the softener flushes and the rate at which it regenerates. This type is used when the softener can’t be placed next to a drain.

- Timer initiated: This type of system has a timer that tells it when to regenerate. It works on its own, except that you set the timer to let it know when to cycle and you have to add salt when needed. It’s less efficient in its use of salt because it regenerates on schedule whether the softener has been fully depleted or not.

- Demand initiated: This type of system uses a water meter and works as needed. It includes an extra water holding tank and keeps track of how much water is being used. It’s the most efficient in its use of salt because it only recharges when necessary. It’s similar in operation to a water heater.

- Off-site regeneration: This type of system is serviced by a private company who sends a technician to pick up the softener so it can be recharged at their shop.

I think this section is strong, but if I were writing it now I would do a bit more research into the types of systems. Having had one put in myself now to go along with my tankless water heater I know that there’s so much more information that could have been put into this section, such as twin tank softeners, do-it-yourself options, and softeners for under-sink applications.

Tips on Buying Water Softener Systems

There are many things you will want to think about when you go to buy water softener systems. You should consider individual features, different styles and other options that you have.

Control valves are important because they need to be high quality. They’re essential for the proper operation of the unit. They regulate the water usage and determine when it’s time for the system to turn on. When they go bad they’re expensive to replace. You need to be sure the control valve is well made so you won’t have to worry about replacing it any time soon.

You will also need to review the different types of water softener systems. Think about which type you want and consider the features of each option. You will also want to consider the cost. The fully automatic softeners will usually be the most expensive. Manual systems will be less expensive. You should also be aware that systems that run on timers are less expensive to operate than on-demand systems although they use a lot more salt. If cost is a concern then you’ll really need to weigh your options.

Another thing to think about when you buy water softener systems is how easy they are to install and operate. You may want to look over the different systems to see how they operate and what the installation process involves.

There are also other points to consider. You want to look at the warranty to be sure it’s fair and check into replacement part costs. You don’t want to get a system only to learn that fixing it will be more than you can afford. Finally, you want to consider the different brands available.

Of course there are so many more tips I could have written here, but the client wanted a short article. That’s the struggle of a good copy writer – you need to be able to say a lot in a tiny space. I feel like I did a decent job here summarizing big-picture issues.

Water Softener Brands

There are many different water softener brands on the market. To help you narrow down your choices here’s a look at three of the top brands that you may want to consider when you buy water softener systems:

Fleck: Fleck is a well known brand of water softeners used by many establishments like Starbucks and the Buckingham Palace. Their most popular systems are the Fleck 5600 series which are affordable and made of easy to find parts.

GE: GE is another popular and respected brand. GE water softeners come in a range of sizes and styles. They use a SmartSoft technology that is designed to make the systems more efficient.

Culligan: Culligan has a strong history in the industry and has been a leader in water softeners for 70 years. This company is known for the superior efficiency and durability of their systems. They have the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and are certified by the Water Quality Association.

Unique Approaches vs. the Time-Tested in Copy Writing

Copywriting may not be a perfect science, but there certainly are a lot of principles you can stick with in order to expect a given range of sales.

Of course the best copywriting in the world can’t sell something with terrible value to a lot of people. There has to be a market, you have to reach that market (selective mailing lists, etc.).

But when you know you have a market … when you know you can reach that market … then sticking with the old principles should yield a certain range of results. Assuming you’ve built in enough profit, you should more than pay off your direct mail costs — you should pull in a handsome profit.

So here’s the question: when do you ignore the more traditional approach and try something totally unique, something never done before?

The answer: when you can afford to.

Let me explain. If you have a very limited budget — and especially if you have only one shot to make a direct marketing sales pitch, you will often want to stick with the traditional approach. This way, you can expect to make enough money back to run a second project and still have profit in the pocket.

Granted, this doesn’t account for something unusual that you know will work. It doesn’t account for going by pure intuition. Some of the greatest business decisions ever are made by intuition.

But when in doubt, I recommend sticking with what has proven to work for a hundred years and more. Humans are humans, and if you can tap their emotions and convince their minds of an excellent value, you should have a decent return on your marketing investment.

Eventually, you will have earned enough profit that running a trial project alongside your test project is feasible. By mailing to comparable demographics, you can test an old letter or package against a new one — and that new one can be as bold and daring as you like! (Alternatively, you can make very slight adjustments to learn how important certain areas of your letter are!)

If I were to sit here and write about what is bold and daring, it wouldn’t be. Bold and daring is something inventive, and it must suit your given product or service directly. But as one example, think of the author who decided to give away his entire book (one he was printing!) online. The idea was to pull together a large audience of people who liked his work enough to by the printed book. And boy did it pay off. If I remember correctly, he printed 10,000 copies of the book and sold them all right away.

So imagine writing that sales letter: FREE BOOK. How hard would that be to sell? Not very. Free is an easy thing to sell. And there were absolutely no strings attached. But when he gave away all these e-books, he had quite a mailing list and quite a fan base. That very unusual approach made that author a lot of money.

Only you can decide when to be traditional and when to be daring. Traditional isn’t a bad way to start out, but when you have the chance … take a chance. You might be surprised to see what comes about from a little ingenuity!

Copy Writing: The First Thing They See

Depending on the medium you use to reach an audience, there are different “firsts” that audience will experience when coming across your message.

Firsts can include the image on a postcard; an envelope; or the header on your web site. (And if your web site loads slowly, the first experience will be a long wait for your message, and a lot of people will hit “Back” on their web browser. Don’t ever forget this point!)

So you may spend time agonizing over your headline, thinking this will make or break how many people keep reading your message. And that is in part true. But it is not necessarily the first obstacle.

The picture on that postcard had better grab them.

Or that envelope had better.

Or the first visual effect on your web site had better.

Something has to grab them. Something has to prove, “This is important to you.”

You can achieve these results in different ways. On a postcard, pure entertainment value may get them to turn the card and read it. Or maybe it is the image joined with a teaser that suggests to them that they’re missing out on something — something they WANT to be part of!

Envelopes are tricky. People get so much extra mail these days it is tantamount to e-mail SPAM. Why should they open up? Maybe the letter looks official. Maybe it looks like something regarding taxes, or a bill, or information about something they ordered. Maybe the envelope references an offer they can’t refuse: “A Free Massage just for reading this note!” That envelope is a critical part of your overall copy!

On a web site, you need to have something that loads quickly even on slower modems. The entire feel for the site then gives an impression before the headline is probably even read. Does it look professional? Does it portray smiling people whose needs are being met by your product or service? Does it use a banner advertising someone else’s product above your own headline?

So regarding headlines … DO agonize. They certainly WILL make a difference to your sales. But don’t forget that a headline is not the first moment you meet your reader, and first impressions are as critical in copy as they are in all of life.

The Second and Third Things They See

Once you’ve gotten a reader past the image on a postcard, the envelope of a letter, or the loading and first impression of your web site, the second experience they should have (if you have made it correctly dominant) is your headline.

The headline has to say exactly this: “You have been LOOKING for this message.” Of course not in those words, but that’s what the headline needs to convey.

Let me give an example of what I think is a poorly written headline that I recently saw:
“best clean air value”

If I have been looking for air filters, this might be a decent headline. I’ll at least want to know if they really do offer a better value than what I’ve researched. But this seems to narrow the playing field TOO much. (Focus is great, but you’ve just focused down to such a small number of people, it will be hard to recoup the expense of your mailing!)

I would try to tease far more people in by saying:
“Stop Getting Sick from the Air You Breathe.”

A reader wonders, Am I getting sick from the air I breathe? I didn’t realize that. How can I stop getting sick from that?

Most people WANT to be in good health. Many are wondering why they AREN’T in good health. So this type of headline shows them something they WANT to know more about.

Here’s an even better way of stating that message:
“Stop Getting Sick. 30 Days of Clean Air, FREE!”

Maybe you’re offering a 30-day money-back guarantee on air filters. This would be a great way to ask them to try one out. Again, it’s a message they WANT because people’s health is so important. If they can experience potentially better health at no cost to them, this is a more welcomed message than someone saying, “We have a great value.”

What’s Next?

The third, fourth, fifth (and so on) things a reader sees is of course the body of your message. And here’s where we talk about focus again. You need to support your headline.

If you used that last headline, then the body of your copy may draw pictures of family members — perhaps a young child — getting asthma because of unseen particles in the air. This plucks the heartstrings.

Once emotional interest is earned, you can start to prove to the mind that illness from airborne particles can easily be stopped. THEN, you must show that YOUR air filter is either: 1) as effective but less expensive; or 2) more effective. These are the primary ways of creating value.

Of course you can show greater value in a number of ways, but you MUST show one of those two.

So your headline must win the reader by showing a definite benefit, immediately. The headline must be something they’ve been looking for — either actively or passively (i.e., gosh, I hadn’t thought about that, but if I’m getting sick from something I sure want to know about that. Then, the body of your copy must support that headline throughout. Convince heart and mind of the value you supply and you will improve your chance for sales!

Rich Man

Dear Mr. Ira,
It is the request of one Akito Suvarta that you be present at the address on the enclosed blue index card on the 15th of April, 2005 Anno Domini. You are to clear your schedule for at least the week before and the week after. You are to bring one (1) sleeping bag, one (1) change of clothes, any hygienic items you wish to bring, two (2) weeks worth of MREs (to be obtained at the address given on the enclosed white index card), and, if you wish, one (1) flashlight, and one (1) book of your choice. You are not to bring any electronic equipment, any cellular phones or radios, or any means of audio or visual recording (no cameras, no tape recorders). You may not bring any other person(s) with you. You are to transport yourself alone. Upon your arrival, you will receive further instruction. If you are present at the specified location on the specified date, the sum of $300,000,000 USD will be transferred into an account for use by you or any person(s) of your choosing. If you are not present at the time and place specified, no money will be given, and there will be no further correspondence. You may tell your spouse of this offer, but no one else. We look forward to your visit.

-Iron Crutch corp.

Ardal Ira folded the letter and set it in the middle of the kitchen table. His wife reached for it, but she seemed loathe to touch it. She put her hand back in her lap. There was a long silence. Ardal broke it. 

“So?” It came out as almost a whisper. 

“I’ve never heard of the Iron Crutch corp.” 

“Neither have I. They must be well-off.” 

There was another long silence. Ardal took the letter and folded it into his pants pocket. His wife broke the silence this time. 

“Are you going to go?” 

“I don’t know. I suppose I have a month to decide.” 

“Is there a number you can call to…I dunno, get some information on this?” 

“Doubt it.” 

“Well, I mean…it’s three hundred million dollars. It’s not like we couldn’t use the money.” 

“It’s not like we need that kind of money.” He paused. “Do you think I should go?” 

“I don’t know…maybe. I’m not gonna say I wouldn’t like to have three hundred million dollars.” 

“We don’t need that much money.” 

“Then we can give some away if you want.” 

Ardal rifled through his pocket and pulled out the blue index card. He leaned back against the wall, staring at the address on the card. 

“So…what are you gonna do?” his wife asked. 

Ardal sighed and put the card back in his pocket. 

“I don’t know.” 

My Old Advertising Copy for Gun Safes

So I ran across a Word document on my hard drive that had the following copy I wrote for a gun safe company the other day and thought it would be fun to post on my new blog. I’ve come a long way since I wrote this! I went through and wrote some tips in italics for how it could have been improved – hopefully you find it to be a useful resource!


Say you just finished having new carpeting put in to your house. The workers came and went the living room is much lighter than previously – it’s a job well done! After the workers finished cleaning up and left, you decide to go out to dinner…but when you got home, and turn on the lights…to your horror, the entire living room is in shambles. The open door to the patio swings in the wind. Muddy footprints are tracked across the new carpeting. Your TV, stereo, and laptop are missing – you’ve been burglarized.

I was trying to put the reader in the position of imaging their home getting broken into to make them more likely to buy a safe. Unfortunately the writing is just too clunky to really visualize the situation. I could have been more concise and used more emotionally grabbing words. 

The above story illustrates what is becoming more and more common in the United States. On the average, a burglary occurs once every 15 seconds. In this article, we will look some tips you can use protect your home and valuables and make your home less of an appetizing target to thieves. When we are done, you will have what you need to make your home safe and secure, giving you and your family peace of mind.

Tag and Register Your Belongings
One of the best and most underutilized measures you can take is to engrave an id number or your driver’s license number on high priced items. This can help police identify and return your property to you in the event of loss or theft. Taking pictures of each item of value in your home is easy with your smartphone and makes insurance claims quick and easy. Storing this information on a thumb drive along with your valuable papers in a gun safe or safe deposit box is also a good way to insure reimbursement in event of fire or natural disaster that could destroy your home. I especially prefer the Snap Safe Super Titan XL – its convenience is ideal in my small home.

So here I actually drop the name of the product I’m promoting – and that’s about all I do! I should have expanded on its features, why it is so useful and great, and generally described it much better. On the flip side, I did get paid for this copy, so let this be a lesson to you – you don’t have to be great to get paid! It really is about the connections you make and networking when it comes to freelancing.

Doors
Doors are your first line of defense:

They should all metal with vertical and horizontal locking bolts that lock into an all-metal frame. Many choose to get these kinds of doors with a veneer coating that looks like wood. On standard type doors, an all-steel-knob and latching should be installed, and a heavy-duty deadbolt is your next best choice. The frame of your doors should be reinforced to prevent jimmying and it should have striker plates that are heavy gauge steel.

These security measures can be found either in your local hardware store or at your local locksmith.

Sliding Patio Doors

Patio doors are especially vulnerable to attack. Forget the latches that come with these types of doors, as they are uniformly flimsy and often do not lock properly. A metal bar in the track is your best option. Some use a wooden dowel, but steel gives a better feeling of security. For twin doors, that open inward a locking bar on the middle portion is the only way to go. When you have these types of doors installed, verify they are shatter resistant glass. Ballistic plastics are available as well. Criminals are not shy about breaking the glass of your patio doors, especially if they feel they have time for a quick smash and grab operation.

So for this section the client wanted “helpful” security advice, and to be honest this didn’t really excite me, and I think this comes through. I’ve learned over the years to try to create my own reason – any reason – to find writing articles that don’t really excite me more appealing. One way I’ve done this is to set a timer and see if I can finish before it’s done. I have a little scoreboard where I write the number of words I wrote and the time it took to write them and I try to beat my high scores. LIttle things like that definitely help!

Use Your Neighbors
Your neighbors are one of the best security systems around – and one of the best home security tips is to learn who lives around you and form neighborhood watch groups.

Alarm Systems
In conjugation with exterior and interior lighting, a good security system is also a part of a layered security setup. Wireless webcams with night vision can monitor exteriors and the rooms of your home. Modern systems typically include motion detectors which come in many varieties today such as sonic, infrared, and laser. Sensors are also embedded in each window lets you know if a window has been left open.

Prominent displaying of signs on your property informing would-be thieves that your home is protected is often enough to deter them from trying their luck as easier targets for their trade abound.

My Secret for Improving Vocal Performance – Soft Water

People often think there’s some secret that good vocalists must have. Often enough that’s just not the case – the “secret” is hours of practice and hard work training my voice to do what I want. BUT…that being said…I did notice a marked improvement when I had a water softener installed in my apartment. I’ve told a few people this and gotten looks to indicate they think I’m crazy, and that may be. But even if the improvement is due to the placebo effect, it’s still something! I didn’t have much room in the apartment so I had an electronic unit installed, even though most water softener review sites recommend against them!

The question seldom is whether or not you need to have the hard water in your house softened. Anyone who has had to live the their horrible hair, spotty dishes and replace their coffee maker all the time because hard water residue left behind, knows they need to so something . Electric water softeners and other no-salt systems have become a more popular option since they take up no space, require no salt bags and can be installed without a plumber! As with any major appliance, you need to do your homework when it comes to choosing an electric water softener and make sure this type is what will work best for your house.

The most important thing you must analyze before purchasing an electric water softener system is matching water hardness levels to the capacity the system can handle. What you have to do is find out about the “grains” in your water. A simple test kit from a local home improvement center is all that is needed. This will tell you how many “grains” per gallon your water has. This is considered your hardness level. Then you look at the specs of the electric water softeners you are considering and make sure it can handle that grain count. For instance, one brand of electric water softener works from 3 grains up to 25 grains. If your hardness count is over 25 grains, then that electric water softener will not be for you.

Energy efficiency is another importation area to analyze. You really should be sticking to Energy Star appliances. If you are looking at a water softener that is not an electric water softener, be sure to look beyond the kilowatt usage, but whether there are other requirements that will end up up using extra electricity. For some, have weekly backwashing, that literally runs for a half and hour and sends piles of water down the drain. This is another reason to pursue the no salt style that an electric water softener will give you: no need to one time cost, and little maintenance.

Finally, cost is always something that must be considered. The electric water softener is no exception. Brand reputation when it comes to appliances is one thing that is well documented and easy to monitor with independent consumer ratings. The stronger the reputation of an electric water softener brand, the higher the cost. Discounts on the top of the line appliances can be found, and that will not affect performance quality ratings. With electric water softeners you will find new businesses who have high quality standards, but are not main line appliance sellers. With the popularity of energy efficient green technology, there will be more and more. Some of these produce top of the line products and you will find many in the no-salt line, including the electric water softener, products there.

Ultrasound Nursing Article

Here’s an article I wrote a long time ago that combined helpful information with some art (I think!).


 

After (finally) deciding on a career path – and after reviewing the types of salaries you can expect , you decide you would like to be an ultrasound technician and work in a hospital setting.  However, while interviewing prospective employers, you notice each hospital informs you what Trauma Level they are. Before dismissing this information, take note and in fact, learn more!  Trauma Levels indicate many things about each hospital and could, therefore, help determine what your job might be like working there.

Each hospital has a trauma level determination, and can range from level one to level four. To qualify at a certain level, the hospital must meet the standards set by the American College of Surgeons. Some of the factors include available specialty services and patient volume (how many patients the hospital treats annually).

Level One hospital – has the care and equipment to handle critically injured patients. These hospitals are leaders in the field of trauma and injury. They maintain research programs and surgical residency programs. An example of a Level One hospital would be a large university hospital, such as Ohio State University, in Ohio.

Level Two hospital – works closely with a Level One hospital. As well as providing outstanding care, these hospitals provide supportive and supplemental care for the Level One hospital. These hospitals have specialty services as well, but only essential ones, and are not required have research programs.

Level Three hospital – can handle most trauma patients, including ICU patients. These hospitals have transfer agreements with a higher Trauma level hospital (either Level 1 or 2) to transfer care if there is need. For instance, in a multiple car accident or a fire where many victims will need to be treated, transfer to a Level 1 or 2 is typically done.

Level Four hospital – can stabilize and treat a patient. These hospitals are typically in remote areas and no alternatives are available.

You have chosen to work in a Level Three hospital. You will enjoy working in the close-knit community within the hospital. Many employees know each other, and work together to provide the best possible care to the patient. You may notice wonderful employee- started programs in a Level Three hospital such as weight-watchers, share-a-ride, as well smoking cessation groups.

Because the hospital is smaller, you will soon become familiar with ‘regular’ patients, those who are elderly residents in the community. While a Level 3 hospital is smaller, in terms of how many patients are seen per year, these hospitals can typically see a wide variety of medical conditions, illnesses and diseases. This is due, in part, to the rather large service area some of the smaller hospitals cover. In more of a rural setting, because of the farming influence, some Level 3 hospitals see quite a bit of trauma.

Your day will begin clocking in for your seven to three shift. At your hospital, there are two Ultrasound Techs that work the day and evening shifts, from three until nine. There is one night shift Ultrasound Tech.

You start your day dressed smartly in your hospital scrubs. Using your hospital identification tag, you clock in. Your hospital id tag must be visibly worn at all times, and you are proud yours says Ultrasound Tech.

After speaking with the night shift, you review the days’ schedule. You see that the first patient you will see is located on the Medical / Surgical wing of the hospital. You read the patients’ chart. The patient is having pains in her lower abdomen. Her Physician has ordered an abdominal ultrasound.

You walk to the Medical /Surgical wing, notify her nurse and enter the patient’s room. Each facility has procedures to properly verify a patient, usually by verbal confirmation as well as bracelet (hospital i.d.) You identify yourself with a smile and explain why you are taking her for an ultrasound. The patient is bed-ridden, so you unlock her bed. After assuring all bed rails are up you wheel her down the hall. It is kind to ask the patient before this journey if she would like an extra blanket, and to prudently check that her body is covered well.

Once back to the ultrasound area, you take the patient’s history. Before the abdominal ultrasound can begin, the patient must be placed in a prone (lying down) position so the best images can be obtained. Typically, you will now sit on a stool next to the patient, adjusting the screen if needed for proper view.

After explaining the gel may be a bit cool, you place the clear, water-based gel to the abdominal area as indicated on the patient’s history of complaint. Using a hand-held transducer, you will slowly move the transducer around the abdomen. You may, from time to time, instruct the patient to hold very still or to hold their breath for a moment. After obtaining the best possible images, you inform the patient she is all done with the test.

Once the procedure is done, the patient’s abdominal area is wiped clean of the gel. The patient is properly covered, bed rails are locked upright, and she is transported back to the Medical / Surgical wing to her room. Any part of the ultrasound area that came into contact with a patient must be properly cleaned before each new patient.

During the day, you enjoy seeing patients from the hospital, transporting them to and fro, performing ultrasound tests as well as those that are scheduled (outpatient). In a typical eight-hour shirt, you may perform ultrasound tests on eight patients. Along with patients, you will be responsible for completing paperwork as necessary. Along with patient charts, there are logs, records, supplies that need tracked and ordered, as well as regular machine servicing and cleaning. Each facility has its own procedures and practices to track the daily activity in your department. Patients may call in to schedule appointments, or to ask questions about their upcoming tests.

Suddenly, the Emergency Department notifies you by telephone there is a patient that will need an urgent ultrasound of the abdomen. This patient has suspected kidney stones and is in a lot of pain. He is currently sedated and comfortable enough to have the test performed.

You walk quickly to the Emergency Department to collect the patient. After bringing them back to your department, you begin to efficiently perform an ultrasound. You begin to notice the patient is quickly becoming more and more agitated. His brow begins to sweat and his face contorts in pain.

As an Ultrasound Tech, you are trained to recognize the patient’s pain level has returned. He must be made comfortable in order to complete the ultrasound process. After summoning his nurse by telephone, the patient is made comfortable and the testing is completed.

Once you have completed your shift, you give ‘report’ to the next shift. This can be done in writing, or verbally, depending on the hospital. A report is simply an outline of your shift to the next, highlighting any necessary changes or tasks that may need to be performed.

A bit tired after a full shift, but pleased at the satisfying day you have had, you clock out and go home.