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…
March 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
Here’s a piece of text with 10 typos. See if you can spot them all.
How to complain with class
There are some people who are never satisfied and who kick off at every opportunity. Then there are those who are as silent as a stealth bomber but when they blow, they really loose their rage.
Always try to be the latter. If you cry wolf to often people won’t listen when theres a real emergency. First stop and count to 10. Do you have ground for complaint? Be very friendly, present the problem and ask what they can do to assist you. You don’t want to alienate your target. Get them to empathize.
Complain in a slow, low voice. If you start at a screach you’ll have nothing to work up to. Never get too irate and don’t lose the sight of the fact that your the victim. Always get the name of the person who is not assisting you and ensure them you will be contacting their boss.
When you’ve noted down your answers, you can check them here
November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
That may sound a bit (outrageously even) harsh but I’ve just had an email that’s prompted this outpouring. I haven’t even checked the supplier’s work – it may be fabulous and well-priced. But since they couldn’t manage to spell their introductory email to me properly, I’m not going to be able to find respect for them.
‘Words’ is an area I understand so I can spot their mistakes but they’re offering a data provision service that is much more difficult to check and I would only buy from a supplier who had earned my respect. They managed to trash that in their first sentence.
I know people think I bang on about stuff that isn’t critical in the ‘real world’ of commerce (where do they think I live, by the way…) but how you say what you say speaks volumes about you.
I don’t confine my rants to grammar – but that message is spot-on
So let’s clear up some myths:
- If you’re in sales/ recruitment/ finance/data provision…should you also be expected to produce word-perfect marketing copy or client communication?
- Answer: Absolutely yes, if you want to be seen as a professional and top of your game. Children can be forgiven spelling mistakes, you can’t.
- What if the error has no direct bearing on your offer? Say, the price and other info are essentially right but spelt wrong.
- Answer: Would you visit a client if you were looking scruffy? Obviously not so don’t send them sloppy communication that suggests you overlook detail.
And the persistent offenders:
- There (place); they’re (they are); their (belonging to them);
- It’s (it is); its (belonging to it);
- You’re (you are); your (belonging to you);
Apostrophes have nothing to do with plurals, for example:
- More than one RT are RTs (not RT’s)
- If there are four Emmas in a class, that’s how you write it;
- The 20s, 30s, 40s etc. simply take an ‘s’ and don’t also need an apostrophe;
The tone of your communication is also really important because if people find it easy to read they are much more likely to do so. If it’s full of jargon and goes over their heads they’re unlikely to invest much time trying to work out what you’re saying. Often you’re too ‘close’ to your company to read what you write objectively and you need feedback from people outside of the business before you sign off any written word about it.
And – probably this sounds politically incorrect but it’s worth saying – if you outsource any part of your work to overseas companies or any of your staff have English as a second language, make sure you have a good look at the language they’re using when they’re writing to your customers. Non-native speakers have turns of phrases that don’t really work. As customers, we worry that you’re looking after the detail.
To some extent, corporate literature and websites can be the easier pieces of communication to get right because you’ll invest time and, almost certainly, money in getting them together. Watch out for the emails that are fired out from your company or the text messages that staff are sending to customers.
Next time I receive a ‘Hope your ok’ message I’m going to name and shame!
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?
September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
If you’re ever tempted to send a jokey email to a customer – thinking a light-hearted message is going to be welcomed among the masses of corporate nonsense they receive, remember…your words may be taken at face value. Words can’t smile; they don’t have a tone of voice and they can’t see if the recipient is taking the message too seriously when it was only intended to be a bit of fun.
The reason I’m prompted to write this post is because I received one such ‘jokey’ email today and it sent me into panic mode because I thought I’d upset the client. I called immediately and asked if the copy wasn’t quite what the company had expected?
Of course it was, I was told – why?
Err..because they’d asked if I needed a bit more time to think about the wording before sending it over. That seemed a fair indication that they wanted something slightly different.
Oh no – they’d written that because they’d received the copy more quickly than anticipated and they were actually trying to compliment me.
Ah, I see. But.. joke ruined. Compliment ruined. Down to me now to salvage the working relationship. (It’s ok – I have. That’s why I feel comfortable writing about the incident!)
Anyway, it’s a good illustration of how, with the best will in the world, your joke can bomb because it’s written and the written word is completely unhelpful when it comes to delivering humour. That’s why ‘Smileys’ and other similar emoticons were invented, I presume, or why we have to say ‘haha’ at the beginning of a sentence we intend to be amusing.
Of course there are novels that are written with humour (we know that because we’re told in the blurb on the jacket, so we’re prepared) but when a business email comes and out-of-the-blue tries to be funny, it takes a very skilled writer to be able to pull that one off.
The answer? Be friendly and cut out corporate speak if you want to make good contact with you client but leave jokes/humour for face-to-face times. The written word can be so unforgiving.
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!!!!!
October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
Whether or not you agree with the sentiment of the headline, the statement ‘less clients mean more profit’ is just plain wrong!
What’s even worse, though, is that I just spotted that statement on a copywriter’s website – he was selling a course of copywriting tips and the above was the headline of one of them. I’m telling you (for free) that ‘fewer’ clients may, indeed, make you more profit – almost definitely if one of them is a Coca-Cola or McDonald’s type giant. But I’m not-so-secretly hoping that copywriters, who don’t know that ‘less’ is used to measure a volume of matter and ‘fewer’ is correct when you’re referring to numbers, profit accordingly.
Continuing on my rounds as a self-appointed member of the Word Police, let me now draw your attention to verbs that are misused:
- Try and do (something) = wrong
- Try to do (something) = RIGHT
I see and hear that one often – and why does it really matter, you might ask, because everyone will understand what you mean even if you make the mistake. That’s true. But like it or not, we’re judged on how professionally we present ourselves. Your business may have nothing to do with words but if you don’t use them correctly to explain what you do, the impression you’re giving is less polished than the company that makes the extra effort to get the words right.
Since I mentioned the word in the last par: you’re or your? Stop and think before you decide which version you’re (you are) going to use because your company literature looks amateurish if you plump for the wrong one:
- You’re = you are
- Your = belonging to you
The point is, you can affect (influence) the way people view your business by the way your corporate copy is written. The effect (result) of good copywriting shows you means business.
Have you been in business for ‘over X years’ or ‘more than X years’? Answer: it’s more than x years. ‘Over’ denotes the position of something (over the road) and ‘more than’ relates to numbers. Yes, again, meaning will be understood even if you slip up but your writing will shine out if your corporate literature and website demonstrate a full understanding of your own language.
To recap, use:
- fewer (when referring to numbers), less (when referring to volume);
- try to, NOT try and ;
- you’re (for you are), your (for belonging to you);
- affect (when you mean influence), effect (when you mean result);
- over (when referring to position), more than (when referring to numbers).