National Stationery Week 2016 is Coming!

National Stationery Week 2016 will soon be upon us and I’ve been reviewing a bundle of great goodies from NSWs official sponsors lately.

NSW is all about promoting writing this year, with opportunities to get involved, and promotions and events to get us all thinking about why writing matters.

This is quite a personal theme for me, as a researcher I spend much of my time coding data, making sense of complex themes and theories and trying to manage large swathes of qualitative data. Coding for me means colour coding and mind mapping, so I prefer to work with paper and pen and put the laptop to one side; working with coloured pens, highlighters and pencils to help me map out ideas.

NSW is a great opportunity to get back into writing, whether at work or play, or in encouraging your children to get writing too. Perhaps you’ll spot something you like in this review post, there’s something for everyone!

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I am mad on grown up colouring books, they fit so well with my mindfulness practice that I always have a book on the go.  These Staedtler Noris colouring pencils are superb, I have to say I was very happy to receive two packs of these because I had my suspicions that little miss might have her eye on them and lo and behold I lost a pack to her pencil case!  Great for young and old they’re lovely quality, vibrant and very soft, I’m really pleased by how rich the colours come out.

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BIC pens are the ultimate convenience pen for me, quality ink, they dry fast and I see them as a ‘scribbler’ – great for when I’m writing up an interview or minuting meetings. At the moment I both chair and take notes for some quite long meetings so I like to colour code actions and my own actions particularly. Speed and convenience is key so the new BIC 4 colour pens are perfect for quickly switching colours. I think colour switchers still feel very 80s, so I like the retro colours too!

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A Sheaffer Sentinel is always gratefully received by me, I was given one when I left a job a few years ago, weighty but still great value at less than a tenner this is a brilliant everyday pen for in my work bag, that bit more special than a workhorse biro it’s a great value rollerball and would make a lovely gift especially with the colour choices now available; there’s something for everyone.

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Next up the Maped twin tip, source of much fun this week, I could not get the hang of this at all, but it was good fun and writes beautifully! Essentially the colour switches are at each end of the pen so it writes from both ends, I’m giving this the thumbs up because it does write really nicely, a lovely flow and great grip, I think I’ll grow to love it for coding research papers but it might take another week or two to understand which colour is connected to which end of the pen, it just didnt come intuitively to me!

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NuCo Notebooks are a staple of mine now, I like the tactile covers and perforated sheets, a great workhorse notebook, compact but chunky for lots of use and the elastic close handily keeps everything together. I have these in different colours for different projects, the paper is great quality 120gsm and at roughly a fiver these are great value too.

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Finally the Maped Kidy Board, truly one to help get kids writing, J absolutely loves this and I do too, it’s really innovative and fits so well with her current learning phase. At preschool she’s learning to write numbers and letters, the Kidy Board has a great grid for helping to keep writing straight and there are printables available for download to slip under the frame to practice writing and drawing. The soft non slip frame helps encourage a steady hand and it’s also come in handy for me to write up the odd shopping list too! Creative, fun, and educational, this is a brilliant addition to the home of any young budding writer!

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I’d love it if you’d consider voting for this blog in the NSW Blogger of the Year awards!

What are your plans for National Stationery Week? There are some great ideas to help you get involved here!
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Five blog photo design tips for non-artistic types!

I wish I was artistic, I like to think I’m creative and have a good eye for design and colour, but I can’t draw for toffee and struggle in the execution of the masterpiece ideas I visualise in my head.

I bring you fellow non-artists five blog photo design tips — disclaimer — I am no expert but I have spent a month messing about with some failures but some successes too – just see this as something to get you thinking!

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  •  Inspiration

Take inspiration from setups that you really like. I absolutely adore flowers and this Red Magazine floral splash really caught my eye. Lots of rich colours, carefully chosen textures and playful shapes! This is my What’s The Story photo for this week, as I can’t stop looking at these two pages of this magazine!

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  • Design cheats

So this is what you see…gosh doesn’t Ang have some cool wallpaper?!

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…and what you don’t see!  Just a big old piece of plywood and some cheap wrapping paper!

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  • Colour

Create mood boards to experiment with colours, textures, backdrops and more, see how clashing colours work, pile stuff together, break them up, having that big bit of plywood helps as a base!

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  • Themes

I love a nautical theme and it often creeps into my craft, I like to use props that reflect this theme, and we’ve a lot of beachy stuff around the house!

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Look out for small bits and bobs from nature to add interest to your photos, like this little whale eraser that cost me a quid and often crops up in photos!

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  • Props

Props can be anything, stuff you have around the house repurposed to add interest to your shots.  Mix textures, colours, shapes and shade, here’s a selection that I use:

1) Huge fabric flower 2) LOVE lettering from our master bedroom 3) Dried craspedia heads 4) A noticeboard 5) Crochet cloths to add colour and texture just a quid each on Ebay 6) A string of vintage beads

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This is a little setup in Joss’ room

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And that wreath from our wedding day…

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Frequently crops up in blog pics!

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And finally, take your lead from the experts, check out magazines that you like and blogs that you like, and really look at their styling!



Research Skills for Bloggers

As you know in my work and studying a big part of what I do is social research. I find the relationship between research and blogging to be a close one; research helps my blogging and blogging helps my research. I find new topics, organise my thinking and plan using my research skills, and in my work I find blogging forces me to give my personal opinion, to work fast and be reactive to key issues that might increase my influence in the blogosphere.

Research skills relevant to blogging are about:

  • Systematising
  • Defining a question
  • Analysing data (anything can be data, we’re not just talking statistics here)
  • Unpacking complex issues
  • Observing and
  • Arriving at conclusions and understanding their limitations

Five research tips for bloggers

  • Make media alerts work for you

This is something I’ve always done for work but didn’t think about doing for my blog until recently. So my blog focus is a) parenting, but more specifically parental mental health, eco-parenting and child development. Once you can narrow the focus of your interest in this way and understand keywords in these areas you can bring new blog post ideas directly to your inbox by harnessing the power of alerts. I use google alerts but there are lots of tools out there. I have alerts set up for mothering and mental health and working parents. This week these alerts brought a story from the media directly to me, the headline that ‘Working Mother’s no longer Feel Guilty’ so within an hour I had a ‘hot topic’ at my fingertips and could blog in time to join in with the discussions across social media. Alerts help me to be reactive and drive interesting content relevant to my readership. If you’re interested in policy and commenting on institutional approaches to your blog interests you could set up alerts from relevant government departments. I like to get Department of Health alerts in the area of mental health for example. Getting the keywords right can involve a bit of trial and error but once you get it right you have live issues arriving straight to your inbox saving you research time and maximizing the effectiveness of your reading time.

  • Ask questions of data and stories

Ever see a media headline and just run with it? I am really interested in media literacy, asking the right questions of what we’re told rather than accept the journalist’s interpretation. This was highlighted really nicely this week.

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My quick view of this graph told me that gun crimes fell following the introduction of the ‘stand your ground’ law. But take a closer look, the Y axis has been flipped so what looked like a sharp fall actually represents a sharp rise.

Don’t forget to ask:

  1. Who created the message?
  2. What opinions or biases might they have?
  3. Why this headline? What is it trying to achieve?
  4. Might others understand this differently than me?
  5. Is there anything that is omitted from the article? Could I do some more reading around this to see what’s missing?
    • Find new sources in untapped areas

So you usually read fellow bloggers, mainstream news and online magazines. What are you missing? How about reading new sources to find ideas for new material, what about an online journal in your area of interest? It might be quite academic or heavy but have a message you could write in a way your readers might like. I am really interested in motherhood and there’s a great free academic resource called Mamsie an online journal with a lot to say about my area of interest, an untapped resource that I now love to browse for new ideas.

    • Define your question

This is all about critical thinking, so you want to write an engaging blog piece, how can you unpack your topic for your reader? Do you need to define the issue for them? Maybe you need to explain the history of the issue, what is the main idea you want to bring across? Are you wanting to open up a debate, start a conversation or convince someone of your argument? Do you have enough evidence to back up your argument, or a new idea that hasn’t been talked about yet? If you’re writing a piece you think you’re going to want to promote then defining your research question can be a useful starting point.

    • Draft and restructure

Though scientific in its approach I actually see research as a craft, refining and redefining, drafting and restructuring to help the flow of an argument I see a lot of potential for creativity. Mindmapping is my favoured way of looking at an issue, of drafting and then restructuring my points. This mindmap came out of my prep for my recent post on working parents, it didn’t take long but cut my drafting time as I knew what I was going to say before I started blogging:
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What about you, do you apply non-traditional blogging skills to your blogs?