Don’t let the little ones get away

February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Watch out for the tiddlers

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:

  • is
  • it
  • if
  • in
  • up
  • us
  • of
  • off
  • on
  • to
  • too
  • he
  • her
  • here
  • you
  • your
  • for
  • four

To name a very few…

Don’t ever rely on your spellcheck

November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I’m surprised I even had to write that headline – I thought everyone knew. Spellchecks are helpful – I use them as a guide – but if I left it at that, it would be corporate suicide.

I was chatting to a friend about this the other day and her reaction was: “Yes, you couldn’t afford any errors – being in the ‘words’ game.” That’s true. If I made mistakes people would be quick to point them out.

On the other hand she’s a gift retailer and her communications output is critical to her business, particularly at this time of the year when customers will be looking for Christmas presents.

She always sends an invite to a list of her customers with a message that says something like:

  • Come along for an evening of wine, mince ties and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, hopping at leisure.

Although only something like that because it actually reads:

  • Come along for an evening of wine, mince pies and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, shopping at leisure.

The point I’m making, is that a spellcheck wouldn’t have picked up any spelling mistakes in the first sentence because there aren’t any. The sentence just doesn’t make sense and it takes a human brain to work that out, not a computer.

In short, a spellcheck can tell you when a word is spelt incorrectly but not when it’s used incorrectly. Use it but know its limitations.

I lost faith in the offer because the copy was spelt so badly

October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I want to do yoga – frankly I need to do yoga – so when a Winter sun/yoga offer plopped into my inbox it looked just ‘the thing’. I was nearly on my way to find my leggings and book my place. And then I read the copy.

Seriously?

They wanted me to believe that there were professionals at the end of this venture into yoga which, they explained, means union of “body, mint and spirit.” (Please note: this is the sort of mistake your spellcheck can never pick up because although the word’s completely wrong, the spelling’s entirely right so there’s no reason for the spellcheck to question it.)

‘Whether’ was spelt ‘Wether’, sentences were constructed inside-out and back-to-front and the punctuation thrown randomly at the copy like confetti.

This was a three-paragraph email. It’s not hard to get that right – language/writing clearly wasn’t their strength, and they should have given the job to someone who could have polished it up properly. Then more people would have actually followed through, found their leggings and booked a slot.

When I see a company can’t be bothered to spell properly, I wonder what other corners they’re cutting.

Mind your language – would-be customers will doubt your professionalism if you don’t – and you’ll do nothing for your reputation.

Are our minds turning to mush?

April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Back in the day we knew telephone numbers. Lots of them.

I still remember the number of my childhood home – and next door’s where my parents might be if I had to call to say I was going to be late.

Sitting with friends at the weekend, we all admitted that there’d been times of late when we’d had trouble remembering our OWN numbers and that had nothing to do with age but everything to do with the fact that contacts are all plugged into mobile phones. Rarely are we repeating our numbers and when we phone someone these days we just have to remember their name!

So we’re getting flabbier upstairs as far as phoning is concerned.

And now if we don’t know something or remember it, we don’t try to work it out anymore – we Google it, of course. Google can tell you everything. It’s surprising the sort of information we turn to Google for. I took a random (very random, I thought) question and searched ‘Can you fix a burnt sausage?’ It transpires Aunty Google has the answer and we can ditch common sense or trial and error.

Map-reading skills are being overtaken by Sat Nav and as much as we might moan about the woman’s voice that shows us the way or the ridiculous bell tones that warn us of speed cameras, the Sat Nav gives a much easier life than a map ever did. Map-reading is particularly difficult if you’re driving alone although we managed in the past.

Spelling is something we think we can hand over to a spellcheck – it doesn’t work though. If I write  ‘He complemented me on my blog,’  the spellcheck’s going to like that, but it’s wrong. And calculators are taking the place of mental arithmetic.

I don’t remember any ready-meals in my childhood nor sauces coming out of jars or packets but the art of cooking is also disappearing. A huge ‘convenience’ industry has grown up around us and unless we choose not to let it overtake us, our minds won’t be the bouncy, pliable matter they once were – but heaps of mush!

I can’t buy from you if you can’t spell!

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.

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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!

I want to talk to a PERSON!!!!

August 6, 2014 § 2 Comments

a9bc68e5eIf anyone has a query or a problem they can call me and I speak to them. When Bowler Hat gets a billion times bigger I’ll employ tons of receptionists and we’ll all talk to callers. We’ll be the most communicative communications company in the business.

Never – and I mean, never – will I subject my customers to machines or (and this has to be even worse) deny them telephone contact altogether. If that sounds a little antiquated I don’t care because a helpful person at the end of the phone is going to beat an automated menu of options hands-down, however old you are.

For starters…. people UNDERSTAND you and why you’re calling!!! Their pliable brains can hop all over the shop to fathom, filter and fulfil requests or sort out problems. A good old-fashioned conversation can take place so the caller can fully explain the issue at hand.

Not so with the automated voice system which goes into meltdown if the caller digresses from the menu – or, for goodness sake, hesitates for an instant. Have suffered this week trying to contact a huge and hugely well-known financial institution. The ‘voice’ didn’t know what to do with my query which didn’t slot into Options 1-6 and I didn’t know what to do with my frustration by the fifth attempt of rephrasing the question.

I’d just about recovered from that experience when a couple of days later I came up against the ‘Unfortunately we no longer offer a telephone support system’ sort of company. Would have preferred to speak to someone but, hey, I’m a writer – so took a deep breath and wrote a comprehensive email to said ‘we’d-rather-you-didn’t-contact-us’ company.

Minutes later, far too few minutes later – ping! Company replies. They’d read, it seemed, maybe three pars of the 12-paragraph letter I’d written, completely misunderstood it and explained a outrageously wrong decision with an outrageous explanation.

AAARGH!!!

I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t I put the pertinent points in the first three pars. I did, I did, I did. But it was a complicated issue and needed clarification and details.

I’m reliving the maddeningly wrist-wrenching experience as I type…but I think I’m over it now. I haven’t forgotten about it, though, have I. What this week has proved to me is that no matter the scale of the company, machines just don’t ‘do’ customer service. People do.

What worries me is this seemingly growing trend of companies putting the phone down on customers in favour of automation.

PS. At the time of writing am holding on to speak to someone at O2 and the sickly automated woman’s voice keeps telling me there’s loads of info on their website. I KNOOOOW. That’s where I got the number from but I want to talk to a person!!!!!

Scraping the World Cup barrel!

July 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

World Cup

The World Cup’s been forced on me like never before this year – the new man in my life is football bonkers and has done his utmost to try to interest/educate me in the event.
But I don’t mind. To be honest I find the whole fiasco quite funny – if a bit sad at times – and I could always go and do something useful if I was really that bothered.
Actually it fascinates me: footballers crying because they’ve fallen over, fans crying because the ‘wrong’ team has scored too many goals, commentators getting stupidly excited when a goalkeeper saves a goal (isn’t that the one and only job goalkeepers have to do???)
Anyway, safe to say, I’ve watched a fair bit of the competition which of course has hit news headlines as well as dominated sports pages.
However I think it’s a bit much – and scraping the barrel – when the media looks at the World Cup in terms of fashion! I came across a blog today detailing World Cup kits http://bit.ly/U5jXqc. There were 53 photos in all – captioning AND rating kits. While I didn’t study them, it seems that others may have judging by comments such as ‘I like the Russian one, the French one doesn’t do much though.’ I can just about get my head around people loving the sport but not caring about the kit!
And hot on the heels of seeing that, along comes another blog about World Cup footballers’ tattoos. I skimmed that to see if there were any interesting ones. I’ll give you the link and leave it to you to decide. http://bbc.in/U5kad4
But what’s odd there is that while they headline the piece ‘tattoos of TEN World Cup stars’, they only find NINE. Now that’s what you call a scraping-the-barrel type of feature!

I could of screamed…

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!

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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?

Remember…words can’t smile

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.

‘Less’ clients mean more profit????!!!!

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).

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