It’s now so common to express your ideas through a quote borrowed from a prominent writer or expert that we’ve decided to give in and join the practice, starting with:
“People who like quotations love meaningless generalizations.”
Graham Greene, Travels with my Aunt
A great question for an essay or maybe to discuss over a drink in the pub, but sadly too many people take the lazy way out and quote away with very little accompanying original thought.
I enjoy reading the work of Jerome K Jerome, but if you search for him on twitter there are two specific quotations tweeted so many times daily that you wonder whether these people have actually read anything by him. (You’ll have to search yourself as I won’t include them here.)
Quotations can be very powerful when used sparingly. After all, how many of us can better the words of the greatest thinkers and writers? But if we communicate our ideas solely through someone else’s language we end up sounding like receptacles for soundbites with no ability to think for ourselves.
I imagine that a lot of people who issue their daily quote quotas don’t think deeply, while some can but don’t feel confident enough to express themselves effectively. Perhaps they think their ideas will carry more weight when shored up by the words of a well-known figure, even though the genius of a great writer is more likely to overshadow their message.
My own preference is to hear someone express their thoughts in their own words.
One of the skills needed in any creative marketing role is to be able to see the world from the client’s point of view so that you can produce work that achieves their vision.
Last week Simon and I were discussing various briefs – the specifications for a copywriting or other creative project – provided by clients and how minimal some can be. Often a client can want something, but not know what that something is. Our response is to ask questions to identify what they want to help us create it.
Now, we wouldn’t expect everyone to specify a precise word count for an article or list technical production details, but what is important in a brief is to have a reason for the project. Even before any creative aspects are considered, what is the business aim of the project: to sell an identified product, to increase company awareness, to advertise an event, to attract visitors to a web site?
Identifying this reason, the target audience and required result is the starting point for any creative activity. From there we can establish the best way to achieve what the client requires. Whenever starting a project, we always ask what the client is looking to achieve: some can tell us precisely, while others have to be helped to define it.
We include it as part of our service to ask these questions so that we fully understand the client, their needs and the projects they commission us to complete, but it makes good sense for any business to know what it’s looking to achieve at all times.
Doing this doesn’t just mean we receive fewer flimsy briefs, but ensures businesses focus sharply on their commercial objectives. And if their commercial objectives are clearly defined, we think they’re more likely to achieve them.
I’ve been working on a few longer documents recently, which has reminded me how important it is to structure texts.
If writing a book or booklet, a structure helps to keep the reader’s mind focused, whereas text that meanders from one subject to the next without really knowing where it’s going can lose the reader fast. A reader who doesn’t find content useful or entertaining is more likely to just give up.
Creating a structure is not difficult, especially for business or reference works. Start by listing the topics to be covered and arrange these into chapter headings and sub-sections. This not only helps readers, who can find what they’re looking for more easily, but helps when writing, as you will know where to put specific material and will be more aware of wandering off topic.
Very few business books are likely to be read from cover to cover with many people dipping in and out or looking up specific topics, so chapters, effective headings and sub-sections provide useful signposts for readers searching for information or answers.
What are the criteria for deciding how to use this word?
Criterion, the singular form of the noun, means:
- a standard or principle used to judge something or make a decision
Criteria is the plural form of the noun.
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Don’t get tied up by the red tape of this B when tangling with a bureaucrat.
Bureaucrat – the noun can mean:
- official usually employed by a government or public body (especially one determined to stick as closely as possible to set procedures)
Bureaucracy – the noun can mean:
- over-complicated administrative procedures
- government dominated by state officials
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It’s helpful to remember that both verb and noun forms accommodate two cs and two ms.
Accommodate – the verb can mean:
- to provide housing or space
- to oblige
- to adapt to
Accommodation – the noun can mean:
- rooms, lodging or building where someone can live or stay
- convenient arrangement
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What is the point of communicating?
It’s all right, we’re not in a huff, but are asking a serious question: why communicate?
Just like any other business activity, the purpose is to achieve an objective.
At the moment, we’re considering the business objectives of a number of clients. How does a new travel company reach a mass audience in its area on a regular basis without bankrupting itself on adverts? How does an established manufacturer strengthen its position when newcomers claim to offer a fresher, more innovative and responsive service? How does an IT company market a product that is so easy-to-use and effective that many target users just can’t believe how it answers all their dreams?
It’s not just a case of writing down what each business does, how committed their people are and what great service they give, but about trying to think like each of their target audiences, what they need and what will make them respond.
Sometimes the act of writing is quick and easy, because all the necessary preparation – the thinking and planning – has been done before. Whether we’re copywriting for a brochure or web site or putting together a public relations programme with press releases and case studies, the business objective has to remain the focus at all times.
And doing it thoroughly takes time: thinking through the issues; considering readers’ potential objections; identifying what will attract their interest; developing the drivers that will lead them to take the desired action.
The result we aim for is interesting, lively copy that grabs readers’ attention and steers them towards actions that will achieve each client’s specific business objectives.
As well as aiming to write well, we work to understand our clients as businesses and what they aim to achieve.
And that is why and how we know the point of any communication we produce for our clients.
When writing for business, we usually like to impress our readers, who are likely to be potential customers, employers, employees or industry peers.
Long words with many syllables can make us appear knowledgeable and experts in our chosen field, but how do readers know that we understand them? Also, they can intimidate readers who don’t know what they mean or mark us out as show-offs to those who do.
Using short, everyday words can make our writing more accessible and easier to understand. Using long words and difficult language can actually create a barrier which readers have to break down before they can understand what we are trying to say to them.
If it’s too much of an effort, many people will just give up and not read over-complicated writing.
There will always be occasions when it is appropriate to use certain long words, but where there are two words of equal suitability, the shorter one could be the better choice.
Their or there or they’re?
They sound and look similar, but their meanings are different, so how do you know which one to use?
Their (adjective) means belonging to them.
There (adverb) means in or at a place.
They’re (verb) is a shortened version of “they are”.
So you could say, “They’re putting their things over there.”
For spelling, grammar and punctuation tips and advice on copywriting, editing and proofreading, please visit our www.z2zine.co.uk blog regularly.
When writing a press release, article or other material, it’s a good idea to decide how you want to refer to your business or organisation.
Do you say “the company is a leader in its field” or “the company are leaders in their field”?
The first one is preferable and grammatically correct, because a company is a single entity and can only be a leader, not many leaders. It requires the singular form of the verb (is) rather than the plural form (are) used in the second version.
So when referring to the company, write about “it” operating throughout the UK.
If a number of people work for the company, you may want to write about them collectively, eg “we work together.” In this case, the plural form is correct, because you are talking about the people in the company, not the organisation itself.
If you stick to these guidelines, you should be able to write consistenly about your organisation and your colleagues.
For more business copywriting and proofreading tips, please visit www.z2zine.co.uk regularly.