How to Critique Someone’s Writing

As a person who makes my living with words, I’m regularly asked to read people’s writing and give feedback. A business plan. A resume. Website copy. A grad school application essay. A profile for an online dating site.

I usually say some variation of yes to the request. But giving feedback is complex. Sometimes the person really wants me re-write the piece, not just give feedback, which makes me feel uncomfortable. People are also vulnerable when they ask for feedback. So I have learned to tread the line between honesty and brutality.

Writers aren’t the only ones who are asked to give this kind of feedback. Everyone gets to play editor from time to time. As friends look for jobs, they need help with resumes and cover letters; children ask for help with essays and papers; bosses and colleagues need to know if a speech or report is up to snuff.

When I’m asked to give feedback, I try to follow the following few ground rules. These guidelines have helped me to be honest yet mindful of people’s feelings. They have also set up some useful boundaries and to create the best environment for helping people.

1. All feedback should include something constructive. When I started teaching seminars for The OpEd Project, the advice I got for reviewing student work was to start with two positive pieces of feedback because people hear constructive/critical feedback better after positive engagement is established. This is probably because of the negativity bias, a psychological phenomenon which causes people to place more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


When a work fix-up works

I just finished a marathon week answering questions about small business with Kevin Salwen over at the Yahoo! Small Business Center.

We got a slew of interesting questions ranging from how to use social networking to grow a small business, to how to prevent people from stealing your idea, and how a small business can become more socially responsible. You can read all the questions and answers here, under the “See Expert Answers,” tab.

I always enjoy answering reader questions, but this time I also got a cool work experience out of the deal. Though I’d been aware of Salwen from his days at the Wall Street Journal, I’d only met him briefly before Yahoo! asked us to work together on this project.

If that match hadn’t gone so smoothly this week would have been a disaster.  Instead it was one of the smoothest collaborations I’ve ever had. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


When your man (or woman) gets laid off

Since January I’ve been gobbling up the Love in the Time of Layoffs column by Deborah Siegel on Recessionwire. Siegel is an academic-turned-author/consultant (as well as a friend of mine) and the column was born when her newly wedded husband Marco lost his job as a graphic designer (full disclosure: Marco designed the logo on my personal website.)

The column is so readable because it talks stuff few people are talking about. Like what happens to a heterosexual relationship when a woman suddenly becomes the sole breadwinner, what happens when someone who’s used to office culture suddenly gets used to the rhythms of home life, how two people (one of whom is pregnant with twins) can avoid driving each other batty when suddenly confined to a 650 square foot apartment.

Like any good serial narrative, Love in the Time of Layoffs had a major plot twist this month: Marco is back to work, albeit in a freelance gig. Questions abound for interested readers. Will he keep the job? Will the couple inch back into their former patterns again? What will happen once the babies arrive in a few months?

Stepping away from Deborah and Marco and the column, their experience leads to the more general question of how to best support an out-of-work partner. For answers, I spoke to veteran career coach, Belinda Plutz, who speaks not only as a coach but from personal experience since her husband just went through almost year-long period of unemployment himself.

Below are Plutz’s tips (many of which mirror the themes from Deborah’s column): {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


5 simple ways to share articles online

One of the best ways to stay connected to people or to stay on their radar is to send clippings. If you just want to send something to one person, nothing beats old-fashioned snail mail. But if you want to share articles with a wide group of people, there are some fantastic and easy ways to do that online. Each of these lets you easily share articles widely with just a few clicks.

Delicious: Delicious is a service that lets you bookmark articles you’ve read, add a description or editorial observation, and tag them by subject matter. That makes it a useful way to keep track of articles and blog posts you don’t want to lose, in a addition to a way to share what you’re reading with anyone who sees your Delicious tags. Ben Casnocha, one of my favorite bloggers, posts his Delicious Bookmarks and tags on the home page of his blog, creating a public record of what he’s recently read and what he’s thinking about what he’s read. Handy both for him and for anyone who wants to know what’s in his head. Facebook also has an application for Delicious so that every time you bookmark new articles on Delicious,  those links can show up on your Facebook profile.

Twitter: Though people think of Twitter as a place where people answer the prompt “What are you doing,” much of the action on Twitter answers the question, “What are you reading?” If you read something you like anywhere on the Web, posting it on Twitter is a two-step process. First, you’ll need to shorten the URL because if you leave it long, it will use up the 140-characters Twitter allows for a message. (See URL shorteners below). Then you can add some observation about the piece: “Brilliant post from Yahoo! Shine on how to share articles online.” Then you plop in the shrunken URL and hit send. Anyone who follows you will see your articles and because Twitter is public, your posts will also appear in the public timeline. Which means you might even get into conversations with people you don’t know because they are interested in an article you posted. Like Delicious, you can share your recent Tweets on a website or blog (Check out the right-hand column of Jennette Fulda’s blog, PastaQueen, to see how Twitter updates look on a blog. You can also have your Twitter updates show up on Facebook. (Caveat: some people find this annoying.) {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


Do you have trouble saying no?

For a long time I had trouble saying no. I’d get a request, and have a hunch I should say no. But because I generally hate to disappoint people, I’d say yes. And then one of two things would happen. I’d do the thing and resent it. Or I’d realized that I shouldn’t have said yes and have to back-pedal my way out of it. Not anymore. Now I say no. Often.

I’ve been thinking of this lately as I’m in one of those crunch periods where I can’t take on anything else personally or at work. I’m getting married in two weeks and will be taking some time off after that. So I’ve been trotting out my “noes” with increasing frequency. In fact, I did it twice last week. …

Being able to say no has lots of benefits. It helps with time management, reduces stress, and most important, ensures that you can do the things you’ve said yes to….

Here are some rules for figuring out when to say no: {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


How to stay in touch without stalking

Have you ever been in this situation? You meet someone new, have an instant rapport and a feeling that the two of you would be able to help each other. You know you want to stay in touch or at least stay on the other person’s radar. But you have no idea when you’ll run into the person again and don’t want to rely on chance.

This issue comes up all the time. It happens when you want to keep up with people who might be helpful in a job search or when you want to let prior clients that you’re around and available for work.

So how do you stay in touch without looking like a stalker or someone who is just lurking around waiting for something to happen?

Here are a few ideas:

Write a newsletter. This idea works for anyone who wants to reach out to their contacts on a regular or irregular basis without picking up the phone. I send an email newsletter to my mailing list roughly four times a year. And each time I do, I get several inquiries and bookings within a few days of sending it out. I also get a lot of hellos from people I’m happy to hear from. The key to writing a good newsletter is to give your readers something useful rather than using it solely as a self-promotion vehicle. The “Casnocha Beat,” a periodic newsletter sent by Ben Casnocha, a blogger/author/speaker, always leaves me with something juicy to think about. He includes an “estimated read time” at the top, a clever way to convince you it’s only a small investment to read it. Colleen Wainwright, a communications consultant who goes by the name “Communicatrix,” sends a newsletter that does a good job of reminding people of her services while giving volumes of helpful stuff. (It’s no surprise that she wrote an excellent post on how to write a bulletproof newsletter.) {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


Why you should be collecting mentors

Whenever someone refers to “my mentor,” rather than “one of my mentors,” I’m a little baffled. These people talk with reverence about the one person they turn to for counsel, that sage veteran in their field who gives advice and imparts wisdom. I don’t get it because it’s different from my experience with mentors.  My career has been filled with mentors, and yes, in the early parts of it those mentors were older and wiser. But lately, I’m collecting a new kind of mentor who looks more like a peer, where there is mutual support and coaching going on. Often, my mentors are younger than I, since it’s the veterans who are looking to younger folks to demystify the new ways of work.

And rather than the idea of one exalted mentor, I have oodles of them. I have mentors in my writing life, mentors I turn to when I’m negotiating a new work situation, mentors who keep me up to speed on technology, and mentors I confer with when making big life decisions. There are also mentors for a time — like the bloggers who guided me when I was just starting out — who ultimately evolve into colleagues.

I’ve started to see mentors as an ecosystem, filled people I respect and trust in different areas of work and life. It’s not unlike that team of advisors I wrote about a little while ago, where we serve as a mutual support group. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


Do you need a job search buddy?

On Monday morning I met Deborah DiRago because we were both guests on the public radio show, “The Takeaway.”  We were there to talk about DiRago’s efforts to find a “job search buddy” — someone who would help her stay motivated and accountable in her job search.  DiRago has been unemployed since May, when her job in international event planning suddenly disappeared and her company announced it was shutting its doors.

After a while of navigating the job market on her own, DiRago decided that it would help if she found someone to meet with regularly to move along her job search. She says she is looking for the kind of person who’d hold her to task if she said she was going to make 5 career-related contacts in a given week.

So far, the job buddy search has been almost as challenging as the job search. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


How to ask for help

For a long time, I had difficulty asking for help. I felt more comfortable on the giving side of things and feared that if I regularly asked others for help I’d take advantage of their kindness. Then I realized that most successful people know how and when to ask for help. And that most people are inclined to offer help when asked (research backs this up.)

So I started asking, and good things happened as a result of it. I got smart advice. I got support from others. And I probably made a lot of people feel good that I respected them enough to seek their counsel.

Every day I get at least one email or call asking for help with something — a request for an introduction, a recommendation, advice on how to find a job. Some of these requests are easy to answer, and in those cases, I respond quickly, either by doing the thing requested of me or explaining why I can’t. Others leave me frustrated with the questioner. And when I’m frustrated it’s usually for a variation of the same few reasons. The person didn’t ask a proper question; the person didn’t appear to have done any work to solve the problem on her own; or she was coming to me for something that I wasn’t really in a position to help with.

Based on these experiences, I’ve developed some guidelines for how I ask for help: {Read the rest at Yahoo!}


How to break into freelancing

I can’t go a day without talking to someone about how to get started as a freelancer, consultant or entrepreneur. Some folks are going solo by necessity; others are betting on themselves over employers in a market where jobs are no more stable than gigs. I spent the weekend with my cousin and her fiance who had both been laid off from jobs in adventure travel. We brainstormed about how they could build careers as entrepreneurs or consultants.

A few days later I had lunch with a colleague who is in the midst of a negotiation with her boss about moving from employee to consultant because she thinks she’d have more opportunities if she diversified her client base rather than remain at one company.

Those conversations came in handy this morning when I was interviewed by Tory Johnson on how to break into freelancing for a video series promoting her new book, Fired to Hired, which will be published in early August.

Here’s a summary of our chat:

Dip into freelancing while keeping your job. Start by quietly spreading the word that you are available for projects and taking on assignments that don’t present a conflict with your current job. The goal is to test the waters to see whether your services are in demand and to have at least one or two clients lined up once you’re completely out on your own.

{Read the rest at Yahoo!}


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