Author: Karen

Top 10 topics for Facebook success in one post – can you do better?

food - one of the top 10 Facebook topics

I was fascinated, earlier today, to come across a list of the top 10 topics on Facebook likely to engage readers. Being a foodie, I was rather surprised to note that “food” came in at 10th place – in fact, to be honest I was even rather disappointed, because in my rare leisure hours I also happen to write a food and lifestyle blog!

Another poor performer in the top 10 was “business”, which was malingering at no.9. You’d have thought, given the importance of business (one way or another) to our lives, that this topic might have come in a little higher. What can we take from this? Probably that people don’t always want to read about your business on Facebook – unless you’re offering them a rather attractive deal (and even doing that too often can turn people off!). So what DO people want to read about on Facebook?

Well, here are the topics that ranked above comestibles and commerce in the eyes of the global Facebook fraternity:

1. Music

2. Television

3. Holidays

4. Software

5. Religion

6. Celebrities

7. Film

8. Books

[9. Business

10. Food]

This set me thinking about the perfect Facebook post – surely one that includes the top ten topics. Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be an easy task for someone who rarely watches TV or films and thus has a rather unimpressive knowledge of celebrities. However, I do enjoy a challenge, so here’s the best I could come up with… Could this be the ultimate Facebook post?

“There I was, alternately listening to Céline Dion and watching Poirot on the first night of my annual summer jaunt to San Tropez when suddenly the software on my high-tech media system failed catastrophically. ‘Oh God!’ I shrieked. ‘Now I won’t be able to watch Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge tonight. I guess I’ll just have to resort to reading Duncan Bannatyne’s ‘How to be Smart with your Money’ while munching a bag of Minstrels instead.'”

Now I’m fairly sure you  could do better than this. So sure, in fact, that I’ll post a little packet of Galaxy Minstrels to the writer of what I deem to be the best effort (max. 75 words)  – at a UK address of his or her choice. Just post your offering on the EurowordUK Facebook page and like the page by 5pm on Friday 11th July, and over the weekend I’ll pick the post that this particular reader finds most engaging.

PS: Remember that your post needs to feature all 10 topics (or allude to each of them in some way) and  in the correct order. Over to  you…

 

 

 

 

The age-old question: John and “I” or John and “me”?

delicate grammar points

Mondays can be a delicate time for our grey cells as they gear up for the week ahead, so here’s a little “gramm-ercise” to ease us in gently…

“John and I…” or “John and me…”? Well, it all depends on whether John and you are the subject or the object of the clause or sentence. Here are a couple of examples to help you decide next time you’re torn.

John and I are going to eat fish pie at home this evening.”

Using “I” is perfectly correct here, as John and I are the people who “are going to eat” – in other words, we are the subjects of the sentence.

It would not, however, be correct to say, “John and me are going to eat fish pie at home this evening”.

And why is that?

Simple: because “me” is the pronoun that we use when the “I” (whoever “I” may be) is not the subject of the sentence, i.e. not the person who is (in this case) going to eat the fish pie. Let’s look at an example where “me” would be correct:

“My aunt is not a kind person. She and my uncle do not like my brother and me.”

Here “me” is the right choice – not “I” – as the people doing the liking (i.e. the subjects of the sentence) are “She (aka my aunt) and my uncle”, whereas the writer’s brother and the writer are the people who are on the receiving end of the dislike (so they are the objects of the sentence).

One quick way to check whether you should use “I” or “me” in a sentence is to remove the other person from the equation. Let’s try that with the first example. If we were to tell John to leave the house and were planning to eat on our own, we’d say, “I am going to eat alone.”

If English is our mother tongue, we would somehow know instinctively not to say “Me am going to eat alone.” Of course, you could still use that version if you wished, but there’s a distinct risk you might sound like a two-year-old… You’d know it sounded better to say “I” when you are the subject of the sentence, and you are still a subject of that sentence if we add John back into the equation – hence “John and I are going to eat…”

Next, let’s try the same technique with the second example. If the writer didn’t have a brother, with the result that the aunt and uncle had only one person to dislike, it would sound rather odd for the writer to claim, “She and my uncle do not like I” – we would instinctively know to use “me”. So all we need to remember is that we still need to use “me” if our brother is also one of the objects of the sentence – hence “(they) do not like my brother and me”!

A new addition vs a new edition

photo of ewe nuzzling new lamb

Put simply: one bleats and the other is published

When I’m wearing my private tutor’s hat, I always advise my pupils that if they hear a word they don’t know the meaning of three times within a week, it’s definitely time to look it up. My theory is that if they’ve heard a word that frequently, it could easily rise spectre-like from a Higher English close reading paper to haunt them.

Being a consistent soul, I feel duty-bound to extend my vocabulary rule of thumb to editing advice as well, and that’s what has prompted this quick “heads-up” post. The phrase I’ve seen used incorrectly three times in the past week is “a new edition to the family”, whereas what the writer almost certainly meant was “a new addition to the family” (i.e. a baby or a pet).

So I thought it might be helpful to clarify the difference between these two, albeit similar-sounding, words…

Addition (noun): The act or process of adding OR something that has been added to something else, e.g. The black  lamb was a new ADDITION to our flock.

Not to be confused with…

Edition (noun): a specific form or version of a published text, e.g. I prefer the previous EDITION of this book.

Dictionary in library

Spellcheckers – the proofreader’s friend or foe?

Find and replace editing icons

You may not be a trained writer, but you’ve still laboured valiantly to the end of a marathon 26-page marketing report for an important client – an epic feat of writing endeavour, which has caused you to sacrifice numerous social engagements (not to mention the odd rainforest…).

At this point, the perfect scenario would be for you to send your lovingly crafted document off to a professional proofreader or editor and await their corrected version, before firing it off through cyberspace to your client’s waiting inbox…

Realistically, however, companies may not have a budget for professional proofreading or editing, so it’s far more likely that you’ll skim through the document on screen (a method, by the way, that has been proven to be significantly less accurate) and then take a few minutes to run a final “spellcheck”.

At this point, you would be well advised to exercise more than a smidgen of caution. Spellcheckers are not always the most reliable of assistants, so it’s dangerous – verging on syntactically suicidal – to blithely “accept” every suggestion that your friendly spellchecker proffers.

Certain typos still count as recognised English words, which means they will not necessarily show up as errors. Let’s look at just a few examples:

  • Form – instead of “from”, or vice versa.
  • Out – instead of “our”, or vice versa.
  • Assess – instead of “access”, or vice versa.
  • Of – instead of “or”, or vice versa.
  • If – instead of “is”, or vice versa.
  • Lead – instead of “led” (the former is part of the present tense of the verb “to lead” or is a noun that denotes a heavy metal; the second is the past participle of the verb “to lead”, e.g. “I have led”).
  • Manger – instead of “manager”.
  • Change – instead of “chance”, or vice versa.

Likewise, never do a blanket “find and replace” unless you are 100% certain that there is no margin for error.

For example, if you want to change the word “rot” to “rota”, unless you ensured that you entered a space before and after “rot” in the “search” box, you could end up changing phrases such as “he wrote” and “it was a really grotty day” to “he wrotae” and “it was a really grotaty day.”

Similarly, if you want to change the word “son” to “daughter” and to apply this change blanket-fashion, watch out! This could lead to a phrase such as “his impersonations…” becoming “his imperdaughterations”…. Which is a very good reason indeed for remembering to run a “final final spellcheck after you’ve executed any “find and replace” operation. Of course, a spellchecker should then pick this up, but you don’t want to take any risks!

Another risk with a “blanket” find and replace comes if you’ve been writing about a company called “Derek Smith Limited” and you find that they’ve recently changed their name to “Derek Smith Incorporated”.

For reasons of speed, it might be tempting simply to search for the word Limited” and press “replace all” to substitute the word “Incorporated” with the word “Limited” in each instance.

However, somewhere in the text, the word “limited” might occur in a sentence such as “He agreed to try this for a limited period of time”. The result of a blanket substitution would then be the rather nonsensical “He agreed to try this for a incorporated period of time”…

Which brings me neatly to another point. If you are replacing a word that begins with a consonant by one that starts with a vowel, remember that before you search for the word “motor”, for example, with a view to changing it to “engine”, you need to search for any instances where the indefinite article is used before the word, i.e. “a motor” and change this to “an engine”.  Otherwise, if you simply dive in and change all instances of the word “motor” to “engine”, you could end up with “a engine” appearing in your text.

All these examples highlight the importance of reviewing substitutions one at a time. Use the humble “next” button and don’t be tempted by the speedy “replace all” approach.

Obviously, spellcheckers and find/replace tools do have their uses; however, it’s wise to bear in mind that while they are certainly very helpful when it comes to avoiding basic typos and for saving time, they are anything but foolproof!


letters

The secret behind successful copywriting…

My writing resolution for 2014: never use three words when one will do

In the first week or so of any New Year, TV and the written press bombard us lesser mortals with talk of New Year’s resolutions. If you haven’t yet come up with a resolution for your business or organisation, here’s a suggestion to make your marketing and social media campaigns more engaging. It’s very simple: be brief.

As an eager journalism student years ago, I have vivid memories of receiving my first assignment back from our lecturer – an articulate, erudite lady with an impeccable track record in lexical manipulation.

To my horror, I noted that more of my precious words seemed to have been deleted than actually remained on the page – and, judging by the reaction of my classmates, my experience was not unique. They, too, had suffered a savage and apparently unprovoked attack on their verbosity.

Our lecturer’s writing mantra, she explained, was to remove every word that was not doing a job.

When I reread the offensively red text she’d handed me, I realised that she hadn’t changed the meaning of my writing one whit: she had simply removed the parts she deemed “redundant”. And what was the result of her interventions? Precisely the same message was conveyed in around 30% fewer words…

This baptism of fire at the hands of an editor who wielded a red pen like a scalpel was a stark reminder that in copywriting, as in so many other aspects of life, it is quality – not quantity – that matters.

Take slogans. They’re an excellent example of writers making words work hard for a living – in just three words, companies such as Nike (“Just do it”), Coke (“Coke is it”) and Audi (“Vorsprung durch Technik”) promoted their brands memorably.

It probably took their marketing teams days (perhaps even weeks) to develop these short, yet highly successful, slogans – an apparent paradox which was neatly summed up by American writer Mark Twain. He is quoted as saying, “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”

As for how long it took to translate (or “localise”) the three aforementioned advertising slogans phrases into a host of other languages in such a way as to achieve a similar effect across both cultures and continents, well that’s another story entirely (and the subject of a blog later this year)!

Twain wasn’t the first writer, by a long way, to identify the difficulty of being concise with words. In Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy Hamlet, Polonius declares:

“Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.”

Even before that, Roman philosopher and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

These three men understood the importance of being succinct.  Having spent the first 20 years of my professional life being paid by the volume of words I translated, it’s perhaps ironic that I now regularly advocate brevity. But I do.