One of the disadvantages of being a copywriter is having to wade through so much material to produce a piece of writing that means something and which people will want to read. I’m doing some research at the moment and whatever I read seems to take far too long to get to the point. It’s not as if I’m reading a novel where the scene has to be set or a play where the atmosphere has to be created: this is business.
There is a temptation, especially when an argument is a bit shaky and there is not sufficient evidence to back a point, to write more words in the hope that repeating it will convince the reader. It’s a bit like repeatedly shouting the same words at someone who does not speak your language in the futile hope that repetition and volume will force them to understand.
For busy people who are looking for information fast, clear and simple is best.
Of course, this can be complicated by the needs of internet search engine optimisation which can require keywords to be included in online content for the sake of technology, not the reader. There are also techniques to increase recognition of a brand or an argument through using repetition.
Such writing techniques require balance. Text written purely in keywords will sound like someone who’s swallowed a product catalogue, while aimless repetition of a point will sound like the cries of a market trader. Crude use of these techniques will turn readers away as the text won’t sound natural.
However clever a writer wants to be, if there are too many unnecessary words, the reader will tire and stop reading.
After yesterday’s blog, what have you done to progress your marketing and communications today?
z2zine tomorrow: public sector dehumanising language
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Many people put off writing because it worries them. This is understandable if you don’t feel you’re a natural writer, but there really is nothing to worry about. If you don’t like what you’ve written, you can tear up your sheet of paper or delete your word processing file: it can’t actually hurt you.
Even experienced writers sometimes find it difficult to write, while on other days they find the words flow easily.
If you do worry about writing, especially for business, remember that you don’t have to publish anything until you’re happy with it. This means you can write as many versions as you want and ask as many people as you like to check it and proofread it before your readers see it.
If you don’t like what you’ve written, ask yourself why you don’t like it and how you can change it. Read it to a colleague and ask for their opinion. It can be easy to be too critical of your own writing and other people sometimes have a more balanced view. When you’re reading material written by other people, think about what you like and what you don’t like about how they write.
What’s important is to make a start and put some words down on a blank sheet of paper or type something on to the screen so that you have text to work on and can start building your confidence.
After our last blog, do you know what and why you need to communicate?
z2zine tomorrow: Moving your plan forward
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We’ve been doing a lot of proofreading lately, which brings to mind just how useful a corporate style guide for writers can be.
It’s quite common for businesses and other organisations to have visual style guides, but the actual content is often forgotten until a proofreader points out all the inconsistencies.
A style guide can be as simple or as complex as you want: covering basics from always writing brand names in capitals – or not – to whether specific words are hyphenated.
Once simple rules are written down, it’s much easier to remember them when you come to write a word and think “company policy is to hyphenate this word” or “we write that with a capital”.
The result is greater consistency, more effective communication and less time spent ironing out inconsistencies every time you want to publish a brochure or web site content.
This morning I was surprised to see that I was the writer of the star letter in MacUser magazine. Not bad, considering I had drafted the letter in a hurry on a Sunday morning, emailed it and forgotten about it.
It’s a reminder that a well-written letter on a topic of interest can catch an editor’s attention and achieve exposure for you, your views or expertise.
This demonstrates the power of words and the value of using them effectively.
Many businesses or organisations decided to publish a newsletter and launch enthusiastically into issue 1 as their first and last effort. Maintaining periodical production is like keeping a train or heavy lorry moving: it takes a tremendous amount of effort at first, but as long as you keep it moving it will roll along almost effortlessly. The danger is in letting it stop; then you have to start it moving all over again.
Over the years, I’ve edited newsletters and magazines for companies, business organisations and voluntary groups, and the above applies to all of them.
How do you attract people’s interest and participation? Obviously, producing a publication that is worth reading is important, but I also try to reach out to every area of the company or organisation to represent their interests. The result is that people start to send you contributions or suggest ideas for articles voluntarily.
I’m editing a magazine at the moment and have received a variety of articles ranging from the interesting to the ones where I’ve politely suggested some improvements to the writer. While not everyone is a natural writer, nobody likes to be told that their contribution is too poor to publish, and it’s surprising how some positive suggestions can result in an improved article the next time.
I really enjoy editing magazines because of the enjoyment they can give both to contributors and readers. It’s worth putting in the effort to maintain the momentum and keep interest alive.
Recently, I received a newly printed brochure from a local company.
It looked very good, but unfortunately a glaring error stared out of the text. The spelling was correct, but it was the wrong word.
Watch out for this when checking text using a spell-checker on your PC. It will not alert you to the fact that the wrong word has been used, because it is not clever enough.
Ultimately, ask someone independent of the production process – ie not the writer, designer or you – to proofread text before publishing or going to print. It’s well worth it.
Here are some similar sounding words, which have different meanings – take care when using them:
• their (belonging to them) and there (at that place)
• bear (to carry) and (bare) plain, unclothed
• compliment (to praise) and complement (to make complete)
• discreet (unobtrusive) and discrete (separate)
• dependant (one whoe depends on another) and dependent (depending on)
• principal (first in rank) and principle (fundamental truth)
• programme (plan of proceedings) and program (computer software)
Use the right word, as the wrong one can change the meaning of your text.
A proofreader can spot errors such as these.
Zarywacz managing partner, Robert Zarywacz, has joined the panel of judges for the South East regional finals of the Government’s Information Society Initiative/InterForum E-Commerce Awards 2000.
Representing The Business Magazine – for which he writes on e-commerce, the Internet and technology – Robert participated in the judging and attended the presentation of the South East awards in London on 22 May 2000.
“Writing so frequently on developments in technology and how companies are exploiting them to improve their business has strengthened my specialist knowledge considerably and this has been recognised by the invitation to judge the awards,” Robert commented.
Robert has had hundreds of articles published and contributes regularly to The Business Magazine, which has a readership of 100,000 in the Thames Valley and South Central areas of the UK.
For further details of the South East E-Commerce Award winners, see The Business Magazine web site at www.businessmag.co.uk