Category : Blog

Worn, shabby shoes

Blogging – and why this writer should practise what she preaches!

As a child, I remember hearing people say that “The cobbler’s bairns are aye the worst shod” – only in those days, I did not fully appreciate what this meant. I hadn’t heard the expression for some time, but it came back to haunt me the other day when I was earnestly explaining to one of my clients the importance of posting regularly on one’s company blog.

“Having a blog on your website is an ideal way of providing useful information for your customers and showing them how your product or service can help them,” I heard myself say enthusiastically.

As soon as these worldly words of wisdom were out of my mouth, a horrible nagging doubt arose in my mind as to how long ago it might be since I had last blogged on my company website. And I suspected (rightly, as it transpired…) that the answer wasn’t one I wanted to hear.

A quick check revealed that I’ve been so busy these past few months writing copy to populate other people’s websites and blogs that I’ve been neglecting my own. That’s what brought to mind the poor shoemaker’s offspring, whose shoes never received any attention because their industrious dad spent all his time repairing his customers’ footwear.

My sudden realisation galvanised me into immediate action and it wasn’t difficult to find inspiration for a relevant post, having only this week come across another host of examples of why it’s dangerous to rely on the Spellchecker function when you’re writing a document in Word.

Some philosopher (possibly the same one who coined the cobbler analogy) once suggested that a picture is worth a thousand words, so to prove my point I’m sharing several photos of real-life examples that highlight words to watch out for when you’re typing your next report or sales pitch.

As you’ll see, just one missing or incorrectly positioned letter can change what you’re saying entirely, and because the words in question here are still recognised dictionary words, such errors have to be spotted by the human rather than the automaton eye – particularly if you’re reading an article that you’ve been slaving over for hours and can hardly focus on any more.

If you come across any other examples of similar words in cunning disguises, feel free to share them on our Euroword Facebook Page. After all, forewarned is forearmed!

euroword-2015-aug-words-trails

euroword-2015-aug-word-whole

EUROWORD-2015-aug-Word-whilst

Euroword-2015-aug-word-silver

EUROWORD-2015-aug-word-possess

EUROWORD-2015-aug-word-from

 

Can of soup with tomatoes

Manage expectations and avoid disappointed clients

My mum’s home-made potato soup is exceedingly tasty – she calls it “Mother’s Brew” and we, her now-very-grown-up children, have been fans of this tattie-based treasure since even before we could hold a spoon. However, one memorable day, when I was eight or nine, mother informed my brother and me (yes, “me” is correct   – see why here) that we would be having tomato soup for lunch. I should explain that, until that point, tomato soup in our house had always meant the familiar Heinz Cream of Tomato: smooth in texture, vibrant orange in colour, and tasting… well, tasting the way I expected tomato soup to taste.

On the fateful day in question, however, our busy mother had valiantly decided to turn her hand to home-made tomato soup. With the benefit of hindsight (and personal experience of cooking for myriad ungrateful offspring!), I now appreciate her taking the time to make the soup from first principles and how authentically “tomatoey” her homemade version was. I also realise she was probably endeavouring to protect  her offspring from any nasty preservatives that might have been lurking in old-fashioned canned soups.

However, on being presented with her lovingly prepared concoction, my brother and I were… unimpressed. Indeed our reaction went well beyond childish disappointment – we were aghast, and we didn’t hesitate to make our displeasure known, bemoaning the unfamiliar lumpy texture and substantially less sweet taste of this imposter, masquerading under the name “tomato soup”.

Why our seemingly unreasonable and hyperbolic reaction? Well, essentially, because it wasn’t what we’d expected.

And, of course, it’s the same with marketing products and services. Your customers’ expectations have to be managed, and one way of doing that is by ensuring that your website and printed promotional materials convey an honest, no-surprises (unless they’re good ones!) account of what your customers can realistically expect. The truth, packaged in an engaging, interesting way, is far more wholesome than unrealistic promises that are destined to disappoint.

Had my mother warned us in advance what to expect from her homemade tomato soup –  for example, that it would have a different texture and flavour from what we’d experienced before, and that it boasted the benefit of being healthier for us – my brother and I would have been better prepared for, and more receptive to, the alien, tart-flavoured, ruby-coloured, chunky broth that appeared in our plates.

So when you’re pondering the wording for your new website or printed promotional materials, make sure your copy does two things:

  • prepare your customers for precisely what your organisation will supply, using unambiguous, engaging language.
  • tell them why it’ll be beneficial to them by giving clear examples of the advantages of using your product/service.

That way your customers will know exactly what to expect – and there will be no unwelcome surprises.  After all, Yours Truly is the living proof that unwelcome surprises can be remembered for a very long time…

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

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!