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.
February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
We make the biggest effort to check complicated words that are tricky to spell but so often overlook the little ones that have drifted from, say, ‘or’ to ‘of’. We’ll have been concentrating our proofreading efforts on more challenging words – take something like ‘accommodate’. We’ll make sure we’ve got two ‘ccs’ and two ‘mms’ because we know that’s an easy one to get wrong.
Or if we mention McDonalds, we’ll double-check that spelling, knowing you can buy a Big Mac from the place although there’s never been an ‘a’ in the company’s name. It’s a helpful hint for getting the spelling spot-on.
But…and take it from someone who proofreads every day, the mistake we make time and time again is to forget to check the easy-peasy tiny words we can spell in our sleep/with our eyes shut/without even thinking about them.
And we’re so focused on making sure the body copy reads perfectly the howlers sometimes appear in the headline of the piece. It’s a fact of writing life: people tend to overlook headlines, subheads and captions when they proofread.
Much as I’d like a proofreader to be hired for any job that involves words I can see it isn’t happening. That being the case it’s wise to write your content, save it as a draft, walk away, have a cup of tea and read it again 30 minutes later. You’ll be surprised what you discover and your copy will be all the better for it.
Always – but always – be wide-eyed and alert when you see words like:
To name a very few…
September 11, 2013 § 1 Comment
…when I realised how many people actually thought ‘of’ was the right word to put before ‘screamed’ in that sentence!
We live in a world where there are so many opportunities (texts/Facebook, for example) for people to prove that they didn’t listen much in their English class – where the teacher would have taught them to write ‘have screamed’. Am I sounding a bit old-school? Can’t help it.
Another howler that drivers me bonkers is the mess that’s made with there, their and they’re. I’m not going to insult anyone by explaining what each of them means because I’m sure everyone knows, they just don’t bother to choose the right one and select any old right-sounding ‘there’ in the belief it will ‘do’ Well, it won’t – for me or for many others who are particular about the language. Same muddle goes for too and to – two is stretching the case a bit. Then there’s it’s and its. Why not just spend another nano-second to work out whether ‘it is’ something or possession is involved.
THE most common written error award has to be handed to misuse of the humble apostrophe and, in particular, misuse of the apostrophe to denote plural, eg. photo’s. There’s no logical reason to put an apostrophe there but the poor little mite gets mangled and squished into all sorts of places it has no right to be. I wrote about it in more depth here: Apostrophe Protection Society
Although, weirdly, it’s so often overlooked when it’s really needed – rudely and routinely dumped, for example, by those who want to know what ‘you’re’ doing but chuck a ‘your’ in place of the right word.
What’s your bugbear when it comes to the written word?
June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
We live in a world where we use far too many words in the hope that the more we say, the more likely it is some of our message will ‘stick’.
Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The more succinct we can be, the more chance we have of being remembered.
The plain truth is, so many words are unnecessary our consciousness filters them all out so it’s an entire waste of time to throw a lot of words at a subject.
I was taught this ‘back in the day’ at journalism school when a tutor scratched a headline on the blackboard and asked us which word (or words) was (or were) superfluous. He told us it came from a sign outside a fishmonger and read:
Ok, here we go:
- You don’t need the word ‘fresh’ because a fishmonger selling rotten fish wouldn’t be in business.
- You don’t need the word ‘sold’ because a fishmonger who gave away fish would soon go out of business.
- You don’t need the word ‘here’ because the sign’s right outside the shop – where else would the fish be!
- Oh – and you don’t need the word ‘fish’ because you can smell it a mile off…
I know, in the real world, shop signs much like the ‘fresh fish’ one will always exist in the hope of hooking in some extra consumer interest. But marketing wasn’t the object of the exercise we were given in this instance.
We were forced to examine which words really served a purpose – and out of just four words not one actually did a good job. The exercise certainly made an impact on me and I’ve never written anything since without checking for ‘superfluous frills’ that aren’t going to help my message.
Why don’t you do it for yourself – by having a look at your company website, maybe. Are your words really working for you or could the site be a lot sharper and smarter if you threw out those that are just, frankly, wasting space, clogging up your message and putting some people off from even reading it?
February 1, 2013 § 1 Comment
Have just had a debate with someone who was telling me that he writes his own website copy because he believes that customers will forgive the ‘odd spelling mistake’. After all, he pointed out, he’s not in the ‘words’ business. He’s a life coach.
I don’t get it. Here’s a man who wants us to trust him with our lives and he can’t be bothered to make sure his site’s spelt properly! Or that it’s grammatically correct, for that matter.
“Also, they know what I mean even if I’ve got an apostrophe in the wrong place,” James said. “You’re just being picky because it’s your business.”
I think that’s true – people will understand what his copy is saying. But the same people, in their search for a life coach, without question will be looking at several sites and because James thinks it’s acceptable to present his services complete with spelling and grammatical mistakes, he’s given them the impression that he’s a bit sloppy and not very professional.
They won’t forget that when they come across a site offering a similar level of life-coaching expertise, finished off properly with all apostrophes in the correct places!
“Of course you’d say that – you’re a copywriter,” he said.
No. Come on. Think about it.
There are two messages we (and I’m counting myself as a consumer here) usually get when we come across a badly written piece of marketing copy:
- The company is careless – and if it’s careless when it’s trying to sell itself what’s the rest of the service going to be like?
- The company couldn’t afford to get it right – that doesn’t bode well.
This is how my discussion with James ended: I’ve got a rough idea of what it takes to be a life coach but I wouldn’t attempt to do the job – he, on the other hand, has had serious training and can offer solid skills. I’ve had serious training as a copywriter and offer solid skills.
Your website is your online shop window, people judge you on how you present yourself and a copywriter can help you make the most of your presence. It’s not good enough just to have a website…the content is key.
And it’s corporate suicide if your (sic) getting you’re (sic) message messed up!!!!!