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.
June 25, 2020 § Leave a comment
A client gave me an ebook to proofread the other day. In one sense there was NOTHING wrong with it. In another, there was SO MUCH wrong with it.
I could see straight away that it had gone through a spellcheck. There were tons of mistakes but each one, in itself, wasn’t a mistake.
For example, there were THREE Chapter Twos. ‘Chapter Two’ was spelt right every time so the spellcheck had done its job. The spellcheck doesn’t care that you’ve made a massive error, repeating the same chapter title three times. It cares that you’ve spelt Chapter Two properly. The spellcheck isn’t worried that your mistake has made you look amateurish and impacted on the index, knocking all pages out of order.
Customers will make up their own mind about you when they see the quality of your copy – even if writing has nothing to do with your business.
There was a variety of its and it’s, sprinkled throughout the text, randomly used wrongly – but, as far as the spellcheck was concerned, the words were spelt right every time.
Then there were the theres, theirs and they’res and the you’res and yours.
Most plurals were denoted by apostrophes – as in ‘client’s’ when it should have been ‘clients’. An apostrophe never, ever, ever – no exceptions – pluralises a word.
All language was Americanized even though this was a London-based company wanting to appeal to London-based customers. That’s also down to the spellcheck because many people use it without setting it to the right language.
I could go on but let’s just say punctuation and grammar left everything to be desired. There were few spelling errors but words were used in the wrong contest (I know that last word should be ‘context’ but I’m giving you an idea of where the spellcheck says ‘OK’ because it is OK as far as spelling is concerned.)
When I talked to the client about the extent of the damage, he said that it was probably a result of staring at the copy for so long to make sure the message was right.
I get that. The last person you should rely on to check and knock your copy into shape is YOU.
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).