A black and white photo of a writing material called a pencil.

8 TIPS TO HELP YOU IMPROVE YOUR WRITING.

We probably cannot remember the first time we wrote something – either in the dirt with a stick or a pencil on paper. Either way, we all write in one form or another. But why do you write?

We write to communicate with each other. In today’s world, we also write to communicate with machines. Writing is important because aside from passing on information from one person/thing to another, it helps us commit to record or memory significant occurrences for reference by future generations.

Whether you are writing for work or passion, you want to express your ideas, thoughts and information in ways that can be understood by others. Being an effective writer is not difficult, but it can be. Here are some tips to help you be an effective writer:-

a. A writer WRITES.

There is no way around this. If you are a writer, you must write. Write something every day of your life. Write fiction, write and experience, write anything, so long as you write. Constant writing allows you to develop the muscle for it. Just like in anything new, it will be difficult in the first few months but gradually, it will become easy.

The other advantage of regular writing is that you develop other skills such as research, thought organisation, it improves your knowledge and ability to speak on diverse topics, and it also gives you the ability to merge various topics making your content rich.

An image of a girl holding a pen while writing on a notebook

An image of a girl holding a pen while writing on a notebook

An image of a girl holding a pen while writing on a notebook

b. Jot Down All Ideas.

Ideas form the basis of writing. Whether it is a ‘crazy’ idea or a brilliant idea. It all starts with that interesting concept that pops into your mind. In this busy world where we are continually bombarded with information left right and centre it is easy to forget that tiny spark. It is even easier to think that your idea is not good enough.

Always have something to write on. Whether a paper or Google Keep, capture that thought before it evaporates. Write it as it occurs: do not overthink it. The habit of writing down every idea that comes up gives many ideas to write about, and the more ideas you have to write about the more you will write.

c. Set Writing Goals and Schedules.

Set writing goals to give you direction and purpose for writing. Having something to work towards helps even with morale. Decide how often you will write and stick to this decision. It could be to post on a blog thrice a week or to a local publication twice a month. Create a writing calendar that indicates a schedule of what you need to do to make sure that you meet your goals.

In all this, motivate yourself. You may even decide to reward yourself monthly for publishing “X” blog posts. Doing all this ensures that you are consistently pushig out content as you develop muscle.

d. Write on Topics that Interest you.

You will lose momentum and psych if you decide to take on a topic that you do not enjoy – at least in the initial stages. It is important to start writing on things that interest you as you build up into writing on anything and everything.

However, while you write something that you are comfortable with, make your articles different from the norm. Develop your own unique style that distinguishes you from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Give people a taste that is uniquely acquired and chiefly developed, an experience that would see them not jump into conclusions and judgments based on their knowledge.

e. Write through Creative Blocks.

All writers go through creative blocks. This is when ideas and words don’t seem to flow as easily. When this happens, do not despair – you are not the first and neither will you be the last to go through a block.

To overcome a writer’s block, get yourself out of your routine and do something new. Listen to a new kind of music, read different kinds of literary works, play new games and read articles like this one.

If this doesn’t work find another creative pursuit such as photography to take up your time as you process your thoughts in your subconscious.

A person writing by typing on a laptop’s keyboard.

A photo of a person writing an article by typing on a laptop.

A photo of a person writing an article by typing on a laptop.

f. BE REAL.

A good writer invests in originality. They create their own stuff. There is also no harm in doing something similar to someone else, just ensure that you add on to it by giving your perspective. On any topic that you would be writing on, give it the best of your knowledge by using words that would keep a reader on your article. Give them a reason to continue reading; express your feelings, emotions, thoughts, and ideas fully in every word.

 

Also Read: Embrace Video, Communication Is Headed That Way.

 

g. Learn from Professional Articles.

Subscribe to blogs and read books. The likes of Vanity Fair, Times Magazine, Medium etc will help you get to familiarise yourself with world-class writing. If not, walk by a street vendor who stocks old magazines and grab something – as good writing never goes out of style. Use the materials to take into account their deliberate use and mastery of words in every sentence, the flow and descriptions throughout the piece(s). You are sure to learn one or two things from them to improve your writing.

h. Test your skills and Be Open To Criticism.

Whether a beginner or a seasoned writer, it is not easy to have your articles negatively reviewed or badly rated. Engage a mentor or someone you trust to give you honest feedback. Let them read your articles and give you feedback on what to improve on and what to avoid.

Have an open mind to change, ask what you could have done better and constantly learn. It is possible the platforms you submitted or published on were not the best ones for your articles, so publish in different others. Be receptive of new ideas, adopt new trends, change your styling, your themes, your voice and keep up with the ever-evolving societal needs.

Finally, go through your work at every point check for spelling mistakes, avoid pointed phrases, and correctly use expressions. There are many digital apps that can help you do this, so don’t be averse to them. They can also help you improve your spelling, grammar and writing skills ensuring that you will not repeat in follow up articles.

There are many more ideas and ways to improve as a writer, if we happen to have missed out on any share with us in the comments below which one works best for you.

Census

The 2019 Census Exercise

Census is the process of collecting, evaluating, analyzing, compiling and publishing demographic, economic and social information concerning the entire or part of a country’s population at a particular time. The process of gathering census information is known as enumeration. The data provides information on the age, sex, population distribution, the mortality trend, employment status among other critical information. The government then uses the data collected to make evidence-based planning for policy formulation and development. 

Every ten years, the census is conducted, enumerating all citizens and residents in the country and abroad. The 2019 census exercise was the 8th one to be conducted in the country since 1948 and it commenced on Saturday the 24th and ended on the 31st of August.  It was the first digitally recorded census in Kenya’s history, at a time when the country’s citizens are debating and formulating laws and practices around data privacy & protection. 

In a pre-enumeration exercise conducted in 2018, it was estimated that 1 enumerator was to serve a minimum of 100 households. The enumerators were also trained on how to use the kits prior to the commencement of the exercise. To avoid repetition, they marked houses that they had already visited with special codes.  

In the run-up to the census, the government informed the citizens that the process was to be malice free and effectively carried out, the data would be electronically recorded and everyone was free to answer questions at their own will. 

Citizens were informed that the enumerators would be wearing yellow light jackets to authenticate their work, along with a badge and a village or area representative. This prior communication was effective and assured the people of the good intentions of the process.

In the past, census exercises have been somewhat uneventful, factual activities. However, historically, Kenyan political leaders have used the results for their personal gain. The highlight of the 2009 census was Kenyans debating on the tribal question and why it was necessary. Later, the information was used to conjure up the concept of “Tyranny of numbers” that later greatly influenced the discussions in and around the 2013 elections.

The Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, in his statement, informed the public that an awareness campaign was going to take place to delineate the pertinent misconceptions and concerns the public had regarding the Census exercise. In the weeks preceding the 24th of August, media stations talked about the exercise, brochures were issued, and stickers could be seen in matatus and other public transportation means. The communication urged citizens to get up and be counted. 

Yet despite the seemingly straightforward communication, the 2019 census already had the makings of some drama due to the Huduma Namba registration exercise that happened a few months before it. Citizens were wary of the census, in part, because the prior exercise to issue them with a single identification document was done outside of the constitution i.e. with no Data Protection Bill in place. Instead, it was only after the exercise that a Huduma Bill was introduced and hurried public participation allowed.

The day before the census, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) government spokesman informed the public that the enumerators would request personal identification information including National ID, passport numbers and, unfavorably, one’s Huduma Namba enrollment status. 

Noting that a census is an exercise that seeks to collect anonymous data, the sudden and uninformed addition of personal identifiers coupled with geographical data (all citizens were to be home on the night of the 24th and 25th of August) it seemed as if the government was set on bypassing court orders barring them from having citizen specific data linked to Huduma Namba.

The initial government communication stated that false information would not be tolerated, which was controversial since they had no means of verifying the information unless they linked it up with information given at Huduma Namba registrations.

Citizens were given the impression that sharing of information was not mandatory, however, the first respondents to the census, especially on the 1st Saturday evening, were given no such option. Instead, the enumerators indicated that if one did not answer certain questions their count would be null and void. Citizens, took to social media to air their grievances, and at the tail end of the count, they were given the option to not answer certain questions namely one’s tribe, Huduma Namba status among others that brought discomfort.

A more transparent way of conducting the 2019 census would have included informing the public ahead of time about the request for personal identifying information, and not just pounce such intentions the day before. It would have allowed for public debate and/or preparation, instead of catching citizens off guard and giving them no option to refuse to answer questions. 

Similarly, the government should have collected views from the citizens sourcing their opinions on the best questions to ask such as access to healthcare, medical cover, type of transportation used, financial status among others. The missing questions would have given citizens confidence that the government was truly interested in bettering their lives. Instead, the census came across as a data hunt akin to that of Huduma Namba and reminiscence of the tribal count that happened in 2009. 

Kenyan citizens will one day come to know the true purpose of the 2019 census, for now, we await the undoctored numbers in a few weeks and hopefully, the data used will be of benefit not division of Kenyans. 

Bloggers Breakfast 2

TALKING TECH OVER BREAKFAST

In a bid to continually provide our client’s with communications solutions, we hosted a focus group dubbed Bloggers Breakfast with the aim of talking tech with Kenya’s top bloggers and freelance writers. Our aim was to gain some valuable insights, the latter of which is life’s blood of our line of work; because not only are we in the business of creating solutions but we are also meant to ensure that those solutions are based on deep insights otherwise they will not achieve client’s agenda and/or resonate with target audiences.

Incidentally, you might think that our work involves writing press releases, organising press conference events, engaging media, providing photography & video coverage, posting designed memes on social media, and you would not be entirely wrong. However, more of the work we do is invisible and takes up a majority of our time.  This kind of work revolves around reading page upon page of long, jargon filled strategic and policy documents from which we extract context and content. It involves spending late nights going through tonnes of image and video footage, shot over weeks and months, to extract less than 3min of compelling content that best captures the client’s agenda. It also means connecting and managing relationships with media contacts across the continent, which is actually a vital part of our mandate, considering that we are now in the age of a revamped modern day Pan African movement, it is important to talk about what our clients are doing in the African context. 

Yet while we seek to play in the continental landscape, it dawned on us that there remain smaller but more impactful media players who are very critical in addressing the communications needs for both our clients and the audiences that follow them. They might not belong to the big, well known media houses, you might not find them on the list of top media personalities, and they might not be doing this as their full time job but at the end of the day they run channels and platforms that can be used to educate and engage a larger demographic of people who are interested in content that matters and has a direct impact on them as individuals. The era of mass broadcasting without catering to the individual needs of the viewer/reader/listener is fast fading.

In our realisation of this, we invited bloggers and freelance writers interested in the areas of Tech, ICT Policy, Data Privacy & Protection, Online Security, Digital ID, Social Media Taxation among other topics for a breakfast meet and greet. The agenda was to familiarise ourselves with what our guests were interested in and also to brief them about a client that we wanted to work with them on. The breakfast event was hosted at Lava Latte, one of Nairobi’s newest IG ready spaces but with great food to boot.

Eight attendees graced us with their presence and most importantly their thoughts. As you would expect from any ‘coming-together’ of young creative minds, 70% of the time was spent discussing and trying to solve world problems while 30% was spent on the topics set in the agenda. Overall, the discussion extended from the 2 hours planned, but apart from having prior commitments to attend to, it didn’t seem to curtail the vested interest in the ongoing discussion.

In our view, after the informative morning spent, we got to understand that topics related to Tech, ICT Policy, Data Privacy & Protection, Online Security, Digital ID and Social Media Taxation will not have ready uptake from writers and their platforms because they are viewed as not juicy or relevant enough for their readers. It was pointed out that a majority of Kenyans do not seem to care about their online safety or on matters related to data privacy and protection, in the same way their Western counterparts do. It might be in large part because it was felt that people don’t experience data breaches/online insecurities as individuals, the way a street robbery would, but that it affects a large group of people in one amorphous geo-location. In any case, considering the state of the economy, people would rather worry about more pressing issues. 

In the wake of Facebook and their Cambridge Analytica issue, there has been growing skepticism about the true intentions of organisations that purport to push agendas such as cyber security, data protection and privacy. We were asked questions like, What’s their catch and end goal of those putting out their stories and information? Isn’t everyone collecting data anyway and doesn’t that data make our online experiences better? Can we instead talk about how Tech is widening socio-economic gaps rather than making them better? Despite these tough questions, there remained strong optimism that organisations, through their agencies, would come clean about their true intentions of putting out certain information to the public. A suggestion was made to provide raw data/information alongside press releases/statements so that the bloggers and writers could decipher for their readers what would be of importance and relevance to them.

We got to understand that the bloggers and writers know their audiences and are keen on not having them lose interest. They shared simple filters asking if the story takes their readers through a real experience or if the information shared is factual. They all  agreed that in the era of fake news it would be detrimental to them and their platforms. Simply put anything unverified does not get published. 

Finally, we also got to appreciate that despite their interest in tech and related topics, each platform retains their own strong focus ranging from social justice, creative writing, lifestyle, education, experiential and analysis. Our job as an agency representing organisations is to give the bloggers and writers verified information, and give them leeway to take an angle of their liking to tell the story.

 

delete-button-f

Delete After Use, A Lean Data Practise.

Do you ever read the Terms of Use, Privacy & Cookies Policies on websites you visit or software apps that you download? Would you happen to know how many apps you have installed that did not have any Policies on the platform? In the event you read through these legal documents, are there any policies that you did not agree with in part or entirely? Finally, have you ever been in a position where you clearly did not agree with the Legal Policies but you still give your consent because you really needed to use that service, and you not having agreed to locks you out of the service?

Let’s go down this rabbit hole a little further and talk about that time you installed an app but were left a little disconcerted about the details you were being asked for. Did you, despite your confusion, go ahead to fill your first name, surname, email address, telephone number among other fields that felt a little too much? All these you do even before you use the app. Then once you gained access you realised that the app was not giving you the desired service or information you require, so you deleted it to find a better app or to free up space on your device.

The thing you might not know is that, when you uninstall an app, it is only the app on your device that you deleted but not the information that you provided. The app still retained your details or data and continues to use or distribute it to third parties as declared in the many pages of their legal policies that you did not read through.

I’ll share an example of a friend’s experience with a local app called MyDawa. The app promotes itself as Kenya’s most trusted online pharmacy for affordable and genuine medicine. It is used by its users to order for over the counter medicines and supplements, which get delivered right to their doorsteps. My friend recently installed the app and discovered something interesting. In the installation process, they asked for a number of personal details and for them to state whether they were 18 years and over. After using the app for some time, they were asked to add information on their dependents.

To cut the story short, my friend uninstalled the app to free up space on their device but a month later, they began receiving promotional messages about various products such as diapers, credit facilities, insurance among others. Considering my friend belongs in the legal fraternity, it was only natural that they reverted to the website to seek out their Privacy policy but found that it was not readily available on the platform. They then went further ahead to request it from the MyDawa team and they were shocked to find out that there was a statement giving the platform liberties to share my data with 3rd parties.

It’s easy to connect the dots if you’re really looking for something, once my friend shared their family details, the data showed that one of them was still of diaper wearing age. Clearly, the information was sold to manufacturers of diapers along with insurance and financial solutions firms. It’s honestly rather unfortunate because once my friend shared the story I lost all trust in a brand I was yet to interact with. Such a scenario does more damage rather than good to a brand.

 I attended a Lean Data Practices (LDP) Capacity Workshop hosted by TESPOK and Mozilla where I learned that LDP is about promoting good data handling practises that boost good corporate values and trust among its staff and customers. LDP’s mantra is simple, once you have finished using the data you have collected, delete it. It also advocates that Legal policies be made available in a language that’s simple to understand to the user. and accessible. Do not put out a multi-paged document filled with jargon designed to tire and confuse the user.

You may think that Lean Data Practise is only for Governments (read Huduma Namba) and Corporates but it’s also for the individual such as you & I. We have multiple emails that we keep in our inboxes, both read and unread, that we truly don’t need. We have subscribed to websites, blogs, online services, newsletters, done surveys that have over the years collected our data and keep pushing content to us that we honestly do not need.

Additional data in cyberspace simply means more risk to your online identity. It’s time to declutter Data: don’t keep it if you are not using it.

Oliver with Maina

Embrace Video – Communication Is Headed That Way.

We believe that video is an important element of future of communication. In the last couple of years, we have seen social media sites begin to embrace the video more than ever before. We saw WhatsApp come and with it came WhatsApp videos (which were the thing of the day). The later WhatsApp brought to us WhatsApp status – which is really a platform where you can not only send photos and written content, but also videos and live videos. Then Facebook and IG joined the wagon. Later on, Facebook started Facebook live and Twitter brought twitter live. IG then came with IG tv. Even Youtube started a ‘live’ functionality. Most social apps nowadays also have video calls. Video is everywhere. Note that I did not even mention apps like Skype, Hangouts, Snapchat, Behance, Musically, Reddit, Tumbler etc.

We have seen nowadays that even buildings are being used to communicate. A quick example is the launch of the Note 9 on Burj Khalifa. Schools have also started embracing the use of videos in learning. Most people nowadays don’t do presentations without a short clip included. NGO’s use videos to highlight the impacts of the projects that donors have funded. When you see something that interests you, the 1st instinct that comes is for your to pull out your phone and start recording. Video is encoded in our DNA, and people are mass producing them.

But in a world where 5 Billion videos are uploaded onto Youtube every day and over 300 hours of videos uploaded every minute, how do you make your video content stand out? How do you make your videos be among the ones that people will want to watch again and to re-share? Videos that stick in the memories of your audience? Well we were thinking about it and here are few tips that we found would help you achieve ‘stickiness‘.

a. Keep it Simple – Less is more. An example of a simple video is this ad. Apple compared its Mac Book Air to an envelop in a video 30 seconds long. The take home point in this video is that a Mac Book Air is a portable computer. So thin that it fits in an envelop. A different version of the same video would have  mentioned things like inches, octa-core, chipsets, memory and all those things that just confuse someone. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Be wary of information overload otherwise you loose your viewer. A famous quote goes like ‘Tell people 10 things and they remember none. Tell them one thing and they will remember it.”

One of the methods which one may use to keep it simple while still maintaining interest is using analogies (a comparison between one thing and another for the purpose of explanation or clarification). Analogies don’t tell everything about a thing but they get you to as close as you can get to the thing. It is essentially comparing something you know with what you don’t – like using X to find Y. In the case of that ad they compared an envelop to laptop. So one is left with a desire to find out more about this laptop that can fit in an envelop.

b. Introduce the Unexpected/Unknown – Make your messages unique. People usually have a predefined sequence of events in their minds. It is a sequence that forms because they have been exposed to similar pattern before, until now they are able to predict how it follows. Breaking this pattern by introducing an element of surprise is a sure way of capturing attention. But to get videos to stick you need more than that; you need to create surprise and maintain it. By violating expectations and breaking the pattern, you open a curiosity gap that keeps people hooked because they want to find out the answer. In this commercial, they couldn’t have validated this point better. It is also important to ensure that you are not too repetitive because repetition bores people.

c. Show, don’t tell. – If you want your audience to hear (not just listen) to your content, use concrete words and definitions. For example, read the following sentences: (i). Climate change (ii). Global warming. Which of the two forms a visual in your mind? Which one can you see? Things that can be visualised last longer in memory. So if you create videos, try and make them as visual as possible, by being deliberate even with the words that you use. If people can’t see what you are saying, they are not getting it.

d. Tell Emotional Stories – Anything that touches our emotions tends to last longer in our memories. Emotions get people to care about a thing. Our CEO always says that “you can never be on the wrong side of people’s emotions and win.” Create and tell stories that relate with people’s daily lives. Decide on an emotion that you want to inspire then build your story around it.

You can arrive at emotion by asking ‘why, why and why again’. Why do people buy expensive watches while there are cheaper ones? Because they want to look a certain way. Why do they want to look a certain way? Because it makes them feel better and makes them confident. Why do they care about confidence? Because without confidence they would not be able to behave a certain way, say certain things and be in certain places. Why does that matter? Because they probably would not make money to live the life they live? Why does this matter? Because they would be poor. Why are they afraid of being poor? and the questions go on and on.

The ability of videos to be more personalised than any other means of communication gives them the advantage. People love to see things and they love to feel that personal touch to things. It is time that organisations begin to appreciate that video is where the world is headed.

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