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Digital life tips: Three great skills you can learn in minutes

With the growth of the digital world, we live more than ever in a world of words and images.

And no doubt you use both in your everyday life – perhaps at work, at home for a blog, or simply when sharing your news with your nearest and dearest.

Being more comfortable with some key ideas can help make a real impression. Here’s some ways to sharpen up your skills.

Write better for the web

From writing for your business, to selling personal triumphs in your family’s Christmas newsletter, get your message over quicker and more persuasively with these tips.

Plan first

Think about your key points. What’s the overall idea you’re trying to get across? Break it up into smaller chunks with one argument per paragraph – keep things simple and relatable for readers.

Help the reader

Whatever you’re writing, you’ll want people to read – to the end. Ask yourself: what’s in this for my readers? Then make sure you’ve given them that benefit by the final sentence. Think of your writing as a journey, with you as the guide.

Write with promise

Draw them in with the headline. Put a little promise in there: try to arouse curiosity, or ask a question. Summarise the article in the first paragraph – maybe even start with the conclusion. Then write the body, adding details as you go. Every sentence you write should make you want to read the next one, and the next one, and so on.

Keep it clear

Steer clear of ‘clever’ words – they only draw attention to themselves, and detract from your message. But don’t be afraid to mix things like sentence length up, or break ‘rules’ by starting with an ‘and’, or ‘but’. Use subheadings to signpost to readers what’s coming next – and to tantalise them.

Say it again

Got to the end? Summarise your message again, and remind readers of the journey they took with you.

Typography

Typography takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master, but with just the basics you can improve the quality and design of your own writing.

Here are the key things you ought to know about typography:

Serif vs sans serif

There’s a very simple difference between these two typefaces. Serifs have serifs, sans serifs don’t (of course). A serif is simply a small line found at the end of the strokes on a letter. Compare, for instance, Times New Roman (a serif typeface) to Arial (a sans serif typeface). Which one you use is a matter of taste, though some typographers claim long chunks of text are more legible when written in serif.

Display typefaces

Some typefaces are simply not built for writing. They look great when they’re blown up – but you wouldn’t want to write a book with them. These are called display typefaces. Typographers use display typefaces to experiment with interesting designs. These can be big, bold and chunky, be calligraphic script fonts with lots of swooshes and flourishes, and anything in between. Be careful with display typefaces – use them only for text that needs to stand out.

The anatomy of a typeface

It’s simple to deconstruct a typeface. Once you can, picking the best one for any job becomes more natural. Here’s what to look out for:

Digital Typography
  • Ascender line and cap height - ascending lower-case letters typically go higher than capital letters
  • X-height – the height of lower-case letters
  • Baseline – the line that the main letter body sits on
  • Descender line - a separate baseline for characters with descenders
  • Serif – the ‘flourishes’ at the end of a stroke
  • Terminal – the end of a curve, it may have a distinct shape, but it won’t have a serif
  • Counter – a space completely surrounded by a stroke, such as the inside of an O
  • Bowl – the curve that encloses a counter
  • Ear – the swoop of a lower-case r, or a flourish on a lower-case g
  • Stem – a vertical stroke that takes up the entire x-height
  • Ascender – a stroke that goes above the x-height
  • Descender – a stroke that goes below the x-height
Digital Life Tips

Photography

Photography is a rewarding hobby and getting started is as easy as picking up a camera. Many DSLR manufacturers even make taking professional-looking shots easy by including ‘Creative Auto’ settings.

But if you really want to take great shots, you’ll need to take the training wheels off. It’s not as hard as you think, and the first step towards becoming a great photographer is to understand ISO, aperture and shutter speeds:

ISO

ISO is the measure of your camera’s sensitivity to light. A lower setting makes the camera less sensitive. A higher setting makes it more sensitive. Images shot with higher ISO will typically have a lot of ‘noise’ – the image will be grainier, with details appearing less sharp and washed out. So, as a general rule, the lower you can get the ISO the better.

But you’ll need to correlate ISO with shutter speed. If you’re shooting something that’s moving – and so need to use a higher shutter speed – you’ll also want to bump up the ISO.

Shutter speed

This dictates how long the shutter is open for. The longer it’s open, the more light gets in. In a bright environment, letting too much light in will leave the photo overexposed. But in a dark environment, leaving the shutter open allows the camera to adjust to the environment, and you’ll be able to capture more than even your eyes can see. If you shoot at a low shutter speed, any moving objects you capture will appear blurred – not great if you’re trying to capture a sprinter in full detail, but fantastic if you want to create light trail effects. Before you start playing with long exposures, it’s good to invest in a tripod, as you’ll need to keep the camera still while the shutter is open.

Aperture

Aperture measures depth of field, or how ‘open’ the lens is. To visualise it, imagine your lens has a circle in the middle. That circle can get bigger, so that it fills the whole lens, or smaller, to be the size of a penny. Whatever is inside that circle will appear sharp and focused; whatever’s outside will be a bit blurry. A small aperture focuses on just one thing, while a wide aperture brings in more detail from the surroundings. Small (shallow) apertures are great for portrait shots. Large (deep) apertures are better for wide-angle shots, where every detail in the frame wants to be in focus.

So, next time you want to make an impact, try these tips to really connect with those you want to pay attention.

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Published 19/01/16