October 11, 2021 § Leave a comment
The best way of getting copy read is to make it an easy read – and to make it FRIENDLY.
If you and I had a conversation about your product or service, we’d chat about it. You wouldn’t talk like a text book because you know I’d switch off pretty quickly. You’d concentrate on trying to ENGAGE me and interest me and get on with me.
However…put the same conversation into the written word and something strange tends to happen.
Instead of trying to be the reader’s friend – as you absolutely would if you were standing face-to-face with them – the written copy suddenly starts trying to impress them. We’re still talking about the same product/service but instead of chatting away, the written copy uses big words and formal language.
I’m not absolutely sure why this happens and I know I’m not alone at favouring the chatty/friendly approach because many successful companies have tone-of-voice style guides which insist that all copy should follow conversational lines.
For those companies who use posh language, perhaps it’s because they feel that conversational-type writing dumbs down their offering. Written language is a permanent record and possibly companies feel they can’t afford to make their offer seem light-hearted. In my opinion, they can’t afford for the copy NOT to seem relaxed and the company, approachable.
There’s no way you’d be able to get round to have a chat with all your prospective customers. You can get the written word to many of them. Be chatty, be friendly, put yourself in a position to make more sales.
January 15, 2021 § Leave a comment
My husband’s broken back isn’t mending well and he needs to see the orthopaedic consultant again because months after the injury he sometimes can’t walk – at all.
That’s it: the story in a sentence.
Anything else I tell you is detail that you may not need or want to know. It will almost certainly detract from the ‘story’ which is the main issue here. We can get to extra information when I know I’ve got your attention.
The physio who referred him back to hospital clearly didn’t know that trick. He’s not a writer, true, but I would have thought he’d know how to prioritise cases. Face-to-face, he told my OH that it was important he got an appointment as soon as possible because seizing up wasn’t what the back injury should be doing now.
That’s what he SAID but what he WROTE was long and dreary with the most important point dangling at the end of the letter.
It’s a salutary lesson for anyone in any kind of business:
- Put the most important point first.
- Use language you’d use if you were talking to somebody.
That’s it! Get to the point if you want to be heard.
October 7, 2020 § Leave a comment
I tell people time and time again that the worst person to read and check copy for mistakes is the person who wrote it. It’s good advice and I’ll always stand by it.
However it does beg the question that if I’m writing copy – one of several services I offer – who checks it for me?
The quick answer is: nobody.
So do I employ the advice I’m happy to hand out? Honestly…no.
There are reasons for that though
Number One: I wrote this blog the day before I posted it! As random as that sounds, it plays a big part in getting words right. It’s an absolute fact that, as you write, you tend to read what you think you’ve written. However if you take a break and revisit the words an hour or a day later, you’ll spot errors you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Today I didn’t see mistakes in the blog but edited sentences that I realised were unnecessarily long.
Number Two: Writing is my job. It may sound obvious but, of course, it’s true. While you may have spent years training to be, for example, a counsellor, I spent years training to be a journalist and many more years honing my skills to edit other people’s work. The written word, grammar and punctuation is what I’m an expert on. Using the counsellor example again, I may be able to dish out advice but there’s no way I could ask for payment for it in the same way a trained counsellor could.
Number Three: I know (among other stuff!) to check little words. The likes of ‘in/it/is/if/on/has/had’ are some of the tiddlers that often get away. They’ll pass a spellcheck because they’re spelt correctly – it’s up to you to make sure they’re used correctly.
If you’re 18 and starting out you could have a go at Number Two. More helpful to more people will be Number One. Whatever stage of your career you’re at, Number Three is essential.
April 7, 2020 § Leave a comment
In difficult coronavirus times the personal ‘touch’ is more important then ever, although ‘touch’ is almost certainly not the right word. ‘Thought’ is probably better.
Technology is doing a fantastic job of keeping us in contact with family and friends – although not all of us. My elderly uncle is 85 (plonk in the at-risk group) and doesn’t own a computer, smartphone or tablet. He hasn’t a clue what wifi means. My aunt, his late wife, died five years ago and he hasn’t got used to living on his own, let alone given any thought to exploring technological opportunities.
Auntie Elsie was the glue in their marriage and used to invite us all round for the most fantastic roast or high-tea a couple of times a month. Uncle Ben slipped into the shadows after she died and we had to remember to call him – he never thought of phoning us.
The other day my brother and I were talking about buying him a tablet and getting wifi installed so that we could at least FaceTime him. But then we realised he’d need to be shown how it all works – there’s a lot to go through when you’re an absolute beginner – and we can’t visit and explain.
So – we’re continuing with phone calls and he’s happy with that. He likes to hear a friendly voice and, as it happens, we’re making more effort than we used to and are calling more often anyway.
But the whole Uncle Ben issue made me think about how we communicate these days.
Friends can whizz you a message by text, email, Facebook, Instagram and so on…in minutes. They don’t need to send birthday cards, postcards – or even Christmas cards to some extent- because a note on Facebook will do it for them.
I have no choice but to send Uncle Ben a proper birthday card because of the lack of wifi and it’s fun choosing a card that in some way touches on his life or personality.
Then there are letters. It used to be exciting to get a letter – sometimes challenging depending on the handwriting – but exciting all the same. The only letters I receive these days are from companies trying to sell me something and they’re typed, so in every way don’t count. Generally our first thought these days when we want to send a letter is to email it.
For as long as the post manages to keep going in these unsettled, unreal days I’ve decided to revert to letters and phone calls. (Ok – and blog! And Tweet sometimes…and text occasionally – but I am going to build letter-writing back into my life.)
Although I’ve grown up surrounded by electronic communication, I totally believe that the personal thought has to have a positive impact on these negative times.
February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment
A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking – on mobile phones – she got angry and she abruptly and angrily ended the call. But did she actually, literally, physically, slam down the phone on him? Probably not – unless she was also intent on wrecking her mobile.
So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:
- Carbon copy. When I was a young journalist using a manual typewriter I used carbon paper to make a copy of the story I was writing. Carbon paper isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. However…we’re using ‘carbon copy’ often without knowing it. When we cc somebody on an email, we all know that we’re copying them in. We don’t all know (I didn’t) that cc stands for carbon copy.
- Winding down the window (of a car). We don’t do that anymore. In place of the winder-type apparatus that was fitted in old cars, we use a button and the window shoots down.
- Kodak moment. In the days of camera film, we were careful about capturing the moment we wanted to cherish on film – frankly because we had to pay for it to be developed and, in the first place, make the effort to go to the developer. So a Kodak moment, named after popular photographic film, was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
- Nothing to write home about – meaning it’s not big news. Back in the day, before mobile phones, people actually wrote letters to family when they had news – even sent postcards when they were on holiday! But if they didn’t have news or weren’t on holiday they had ‘nothing to write home about’.
- Put somebody through the wringer – to give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. Now machines do the hard work but we’ve carried on using the expression to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
- Snapping a photograph. I just used the ‘snap a picture’ expression in Point 3 – where did we get that from? Simple – old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
- And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!
There must be many more phrases that don’t really make sense any more. Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard please – well, not literally. We don’t need to send postcards when we can whizz over a suggestion via the comments box.
November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.
- You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
- Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. can‘t; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
- So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
- Capital letters. We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
- Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
- Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
- Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
- Could of and could have. This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
- Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
- Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.
February 9, 2018 § Leave a comment
Over the years I’ve come across many a company which makes it difficult to unsubscribe from their emails but Emirates, I think, takes the biscuit.
I’ve written a blog before about this because it takes us all so much time to unsubscribe. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s me being stupid but now I have Twitter to check if I’m alone. When Living Social UK presented me with so many options I really didn’t know exactly how to unsubscribe, I took to the Twittersphere to see if I was the only one with the problem.
@LivingSocialUK Please unsubscribe me from your database. I’ve tried to unsubscribe from your emails but don’t know if I have because you make it too difficult.
Some poor souls had tried six, seven, 10 times but were still receiving emails (before also taking to Twitter and begging to be removed from the database).
What I don’t understand is this: if you’ve decided you don’t want to receive an email from ‘blah’ company, them making it difficult for you to unsubscribe is only going to make you annoyed. You were mildly disinterested in the first place, now you’ve got real raging emotion.
The Emirates course of action is to make you ‘work for it’. I didn’t remember I was a member of its ‘Skywards’ scheme (I can’t even be bothered to tell you what that is – but Emirates told me in detail – in the hope, I suppose, of stopping me from unsubscribing. Of course it didn’t.) I struggled on, trying to log into the site, since at some point I had been a member of the scheme – and then it wanted me to remember the password I had created at the time I signed up for a scheme I couldn’t remember. Noooooooooooo! This is too much.
In the end, guess what I did? You’ve got it….broke my New Year’s resolution and just deleted the email. I’ll tackle it properly next time but I have deadlines and I don’t have time to fight with their unwieldy unsubscribe system. They are, by no means, the only company who makes it hard to unsubscribe but they are the worst I’ve come across this year.
And how will companies like Emirates manage when the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force on 25 May this year. It’s the biggest change to data protection in more than 25 years.
The new General Data Protection Regulation does NOT allow the tacit or implied consent of their clients to be able to proceed with the processing of their personal data.
I may have signed up for their Skywards scheme at some point in the past. I no longer have any interest in it and the company’s making it difficult for me to untangle myself from it.
The likes of Emirates will surely no longer be able to send us information we don’t want with unsubscription puzzles that beat all but the super-patient with a bit of time on their hands.