Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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Tools that Work–Acrobat

Author: ; Published: Apr 16, 2010; Category: Communications Tools; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments

the monkey wrench, like acrobat, is a tool that works

When I first heard about and saw Adobe Acrobat in action, it was love at first sight. For me, it solved a huge problem: how to show clients how their project would look and get their feedback.

In the bad old days, you had to show people a mockup—on paper, in person. Then people would mark things up—in writing you couldn’t read.

It was even worse when they faxed their scribbles to you. The colorful layout fought with the handwriting and all looked like mush in the B&W fax. The markups made no sense, which meant lots of rounds of revisions. So inefficient, so annoying. And since time is money, all those little changes added up to more costs for the client.

Acrobat .pdf (portable document format) files were groundbreaking. I could show people how their brochure, website or ad would look in color, quickly, and have them annotate right on the electronic document. Or even if I made the computer annotations for them, I could organize all their comments for the designers in one place. No more multiple printouts, each with their own set of conflicting notes on them.

The fact that you could type edits into little comment bubbles right on the pdf, pointing out exactly where the edit went was great. Even better, from my point of view, was that I could type the edits and the designer could copy and paste the new text right into place. No rekeying.

Maybe I was just dealing with designers who were not the greatest at typing and proofreading, but wow, that just saved so much time. When anyone rekeys info, there are more chances for errors. When a person who just sees type as a pattern and not as words that need to be spelled properly keys things in, you’re headed for trouble.

And then there were .pdfs as downloadable files on websites. People could download a client’s brochure without being at a tradeshow or sales meeting to hand it to them, or without having to mail it. It was amazing. The biggest challenge in the early days was tutoring all the clients on how to use the program.

Today, many years later, I’m still using Acrobat files. There are so many features, I don’t even use them all. Adobe Acrobat .pdf files have become so common, ubiquitous even; I don’t have to explain them to anyone anymore. I’m just happy Acrobat is still around, and keeps improving.

Word woes–homonym horrors, the sequel

Author: ; Published: Mar 8, 2010; Category: Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , , ; No Comments

Mr. Smiley is appalled at homonym errors

Even the greatest spellchecker is not going to save you from using a word that might seem correct, but just isn’t quite “write.” 

The odds of falling into this trap have increased as word processing programs try to “help” you by inserting  the word they think you want and need.  It’s easy to get lulled into a false feeling of security as the computer assures you that everything has been checked for spelling.  So how can you end up with the wrong word?

Just remember, the machine may help you find some errors, but it’s more than happy to add more. If you use a word that’s spelled correctly, that doesn’t mean it’s the word you want. It could be a homonym, just waiting to inflict horror, right when you least expect it.

Yes, it’s time for another episode of homonym horrors.


  • From a cartoon strip, where a character is reminiscing about her experiences in WWII—I kept seeing Lieutenant Kiesl because the camp was sort of an entrance point, a weigh station for arriving P.O.W.s who were interrogated then sent on to other camps.  Meanwhile…”
    (I think they mean way station.  I doubt if the purpose of the place was to see how much the P.O.W.s weighed)
  • From a high tech magazine article—Subhead:  A device can power indefinitely to wireless censors
     (I doubt they meant censor here, unless this is supposed to be top secret technology. But then they wouldn’t be writing about it in this magazine, would they? Besides the homonym problem, the subhead is badly written. Maybe it should say: Device can provide power indefinitely to wireless sensors.)
  • From a healthcare organization member newsletter—Subhead: A complementary benefit.
    (This is a common mistake. Since this section of the article is about a service that members don’t have to pay any additional fees for, a.k.a. free, they should have used complimentary. There is something called complementary medicine, however, it’s generally not free. 
  • From a dentist’s direct mail piece–We work to educate all our patients so that they can take an active roll in their treatment…
    (Bread rolls are inanimate objects, and I doubt they’re talking about a roll in the hay, so we’ll assume they mean an active role.)
  • From an email—I am in the throws of an RFP deadline and up to my eyeballs in other deadlines.
    (We’re not struggling to throw a ball here. The desired word was throes.)


We all misuse homonyms at one time or another. Sometimes it’s due to careless typing. Other times it’s caused by misunderstandings about the difference in meaning between words that sound the same but are spelled differently.


Do you really want to know?

Author: ; Published: Jan 28, 2010; Category: Business Writing, Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , ; No Comments

painting of angry man

Sometimes people will ask me to critique their existing brochure, website or other marketing materials. Usually they’re happy to hear how they can do better next time. Once in a while I wonder why they’re asking. You see, they really don’t want to know. 

Most people are asking for a critique because they know it’s time to update or improve what they have. There’s a minority though that really just want some sort of validation that what they did in the past is good.

Maybe they paid a lot of money for it. And maybe they themselves were involved in the creative.

In those cases, no matter how diplomatically I phrase it, those people don’t want to hear that there are things that can be better. Even though they’ve asked, and have contracted with me to give them advice, they don’t want to accept that everything isn’t perfect just the way it is.

Once in a while people who are very unlikely to ever become clients ask me for free advice. My policy, especially if the piece is really bad and the person is a relative, is to just say no. Or I suddenly have to go against my nature and become a flaky person who just never gets back to them.

In marketing pieces, many aspects can be subjective. There’s always another way to show or say something.  Maybe the designer used blue and personally, I would have preferred green. Or, in my humble opinion, the tone of the copy is a bit too flowery for the subject matter.

Other things are harder to justify; they’re just bad.

For example: 

  • Type that’s hard to read
  • An illogical order for points
  • Inconsistency with other marketing messages and materials
  • Lots of typos

You get the idea.

I was recently reviewing a client’s ad with them.  We were talking about how it could be improved next time.  In the course of this exercise, we flipped through the trade publication to see what other companies’ ads looked like.

We were discussing the good, bad and ugly when I pointed out a small ad that I felt could be stronger, if only they had focused on one photo instead of the five they included.  My client said that maybe I should contact this company and tell them how their ad can be improved. 

I said, well, maybe not. I know this is a method some people use to get new business. It’s just always a tricky thing offering advice, even when it’s solicited. But in this case, they didn’t ask and more than likely, they don’t really want to know.