Why write ‘your’ when you mean you’re…

October 9, 2020 § Leave a comment

Why would you do that! Why would you write your when you mean you’re? It’s a grammatical crime and it’s not too difficult a rule of the written language to get right – so get it right!!

Your = belonging to you. You’re = contraction of you are. I’m pretty sure most people know that. I’m aware that a lot of people get it wrong, though. Why? Stuff like that matters to your reputation.

Many of the potential customers of a company will have spent the seconds it takes to learn the difference between the two spellings. So imagine what they feel when they see a company telling customers: ‘Your welcome’.

Your/you’re is a particular bugbear of mine – as is: to, too and two. It annoys me when people get them wrong because we’re hardly talking the subtleties of the written language here. They are regular, everyday words that you can’t be forgiven for getting wrong.

Also, for good measure, I’ll throw in there, they’re and their. ‘Over there, they’re looking at their shopping.’ The words have different meanings, different spellings but just happen to sound the same…

If people see you making sloppy mistakes in your copy, they’ll straight away wonder what sloppy mistakes you make in your business. It’s as simple as that (and not its as simple as that!)

The secret language of the written word

April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

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When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.

When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.

The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.

Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.

It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.

In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.

Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.

The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to julie@bowlerhatmedia.co.uk.

My Top Ten writing howlers

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.

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  1. 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.
  2. Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. cant; 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.’
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
  7. Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
  8. 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.
  9. Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
  10. Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.

Write it like you say it so everyone gets it

January 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

It amazes me how companies use a completely different language when it comes to their written marketing stuff which should be directly connecting with customers. They don’t write the way they talk and people have to work too hard to understand what the company’s offering.

If you see anything on my site that falls foul of what I’m about to say – please pull me up on it. I mean it. I don’t want to write anything I wouldn’t say.

A good example of the ‘different written language’ I’m talking about was nearly used the other day when a friend of mine wanted to complain about the shoddy service she was receiving from a company who was supposed to be supplying some wedding invitations for her. She started writing a flowery email to them and asked my advice, basically about the ‘big’ words she was using. There was nothing wrong with the email but I asked her what she’d say if she was talking to them about the problem. Let’s just say, we got to the point quicker by writing with words of one syllable and her message was all the more powerful for it.

There is a place for formal language – I suppose solicitors still have to use it but not many solicitors read my blog and they’ll ignore what I’m saying anyway. I’m talking to and about the people who are trying to get attention via their marketing and will struggle if they use fancy language.

I know when we’re writing we can be more thoughtful. I know when we’re talking we can often think afterwards ‘I wish I’d said that’. But if we use a mixture of those two elements in down-to-earth language we can get a good formula.

Crafting a direct message that gets to the point and dumps unnecessary frills that the customer doesn’t have time or energy – or will, frankly – to read is a skill. I think it should be a law of marketing.

I suppose a good test is to ask yourself: would ‘I’ read it?

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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…

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.

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.

People may forgive. They won’t forget

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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!!!!!

‘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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