Category : Copywriting

photo of two editing books

Two tips to make your proofreading more effective

Recently, while attending a business breakfast organised by Fife Women in Business, I shared with fellow breakfasters a couple of tips for proofreading short documents more efficiently.

Afterwards, several people mentioned to me how useful they had found these tips, so I thought it would make sense to share them here on the blog in case others also find them helpful.

Read the text out loud

“I’ve already proofread this document five times. What difference could reading it out loud possibly make?” you may wonder. Prepare to be surprised. As powerful and clever as it is, our brain is not averse to playing the odd trick on us. Or rather our grey cells sometimes do their job too well and while we are reading, they automatically fill in any missing word they know should be there – even if we never actually wrote that word…

Quite apart from helping identify missing words, reading out loud gives us an opportunity to gauge the flow and – possibly even more importantly – the impact of our words. A turn of phrase that appears perfectly civil when one’s eye skims over it can come across quite differently when you actually ‘hear’. For example, it might sound more aggressive than you originally intended.

Begin at the end of the document and work backwards sentence by sentence

By reading the last sentence, then the penultimate sentence and so forth all the way back to the start of the document, you will stop your brain from going into automaton mode. This can happen all too easily, simply because it has already become familiar with reading the sentences in the correct order.

By disrupting the sentence order, you will make your brain work harder and focus better, so it’s less likely to skip over any typos, duplicated words or grammar gaffes. As a bonus, you’re also more likely to spot any missing full stops.

This advice is most applicable to short documents (up to, say, a couple of pages long). However, for practical reasons, it may not always be possible to read even a short document out loud. On such occasions, another skill is required: reading out loud “inside your head”.

This may sound a difficult skill to master, but you’d be amazed how easy it is and how effective it can be. Instead of just allowing your eyes to skim over the text as you normally would when reading silently, make yourself linger just a little longer on each word – pointing your finger at each word individually as you read it can make this easier – while in your head “hearing” that word read out loud.

Try these two techniques next time you’re proofreading an important email or letter and see if you spot anything you hadn’t noticed the first five times you read it!

 

hedgehog curled up into a ball

Do you curl up and ignore your copy deadline or get writing?

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

A friend once compared the process of creating fresh copy to that of giving birth… but without the pain relief. Any of us who have sat staring at a blank piece of paper (or blank screen), bereft of words or ideas and downright daunted by the prospect of starting a report, presentation or web copy, will no doubt identify with that analogy.

So how to break the deadlock? Here are three tips to help you get started

1.       Throw your perfectionism out the window and just write. Even if you know in your heart of hearts that what you’re writing is nowhere near the succinct, well-crafted document that will eventually become your final version, the very act of making a start can help unlock your mind and allow more coherent ideas to emerge through your reluctant writerly haze. Write down anything about the topic that comes into your mind, confident in the knowledge that you can edit it to your heart’s content later.

2.       Take a thought shower. I began by writing “brainstorm” here then remembered that this term – popularised by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination – is now deemed offensive. So I promptly changed it to the (albeit not quite as succinct or evocative, but more politically correct) 21st century alternative. Whatever you may wish to call this process of exchanging ideas with others, the basic precept is the same: two (or more) heads are better than one. Even a brief discussion with colleagues at the water dispenser might provide the inspiration you need to get you started.

3.       Read. As any writing coach will tell you, one way to become a good writer is to read, read and read some more. And although we all know to avoid plagiarism like the… er… plague and we aspire to write unique copy at all times, the process of immersing ourselves, even briefly, in what others have previously written on similar subjects may well sow the seed of an original idea – even if only because we vehemently disagree with the other writer’s opinion!

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway

 

 

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

 

You can tell an editor is ill when she mixes up her words…

getting your words right

During a recent consultation with our local GP, I accidentally mixed up the words “panacea” and “placebo” – which confirmed, in a way that nothing else could have, that I was not a well woman!

Joking apart though, it did give me the idea for a blog post that looked at a few oft-confused words, and my resolve was strengthened this evening when I saw the word “reign” instead of “rein” in an online article published by leading marketing journal The Drum.

Let’s look at “panacea” first – a Latin word, which was derived from Ancient Greek. Its original meaning was a remedy (in those days probably plant-based) which was able to cure all types of diseases, and even to prolong life.

Over time, the word also came to be used in a more general way to describe a solution or plan that would solve all problems, e.g. “The UN’s proposed scheme offered no panacea for the deep-rooted problems of poverty in the region, merely providing a basis for future discussions.”

Placebo is also a Latin word – a verb whose literal English translation is “I shall please”.  In medical terms, a placebo is a medicine or procedure with no therapeutic effect, which is prescribed purely for the psychological benefit of the patient rather than for any physiological effects. Often placebos are used as a control when testing new drugs, to ascertain whether the drug being tested has genuine therapeutic properties.

Two other words – homophones in this instance – which often cause a mix-up are “reign” and “rein”.  Now, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve spotted the phrase “to give free reign to…” in the UK press, you wouldn’t be reading this post. Why? Because I’d have already made my fortune and retired to the French Riviera, where I’d be happily sipping fresh orange juice and grenadine by the sea.

Perhaps my equestrian teenage years give me a certain advantage here, but the correct phrase is actually “to give free rein” to (no “g”, just a gee-gee!) and it means to loosen the reins, thereby allowing the horse to move as fast as it wishes.

Similarly, I often see the phrase “to reign in” written in articles (such as the one from The Drum, which I mentioned earlier). Here again, we’re dealing with an equestrian term – this time “rein in” (again without a “g”), which means to pull on the reins and cause the horse to slow down.

In other words, the only time you should use “reign” with a “g” is when you’re talking about the period of office of a monarch or other authority (“reign” – noun) or the act of being a monarch or in another position of authority (“to reign” – verb).

If you come across other examples of word confusion (perhaps with amusing consequences!), do post your suggestions on our Facebook page. We look forward to reading them soon! Meanwhile, try this very simple quiz featuring commonly confused words. Good luck…

 

Social media: the must-have 21st century marketing tool

EUROWORD-2014-aug-twitter-mug

As we tweet and blog our way through the second decade of the 21st century, social media is all the rage – indeed if companies aren’t using at least one form or other of social media to market their products or services, they almost certainly have a sneaking guilty feeling that they probably should be (and what’s more, they’re right!).

However, as with most things in life, moderation is a good thing. In other words, it’s wise not to throw yourself headlong into the world of (re)tweets and “likes” and “favourites” or you risk neglecting other aspects of your business in your endeavour to keep feeding the rapacious, time-gobbling beastie that social media can quickly become.

So here are three tips to bear in mind if your business is embarking on a social media campaign from scratch:

1. Identify which is/are the most important form(s) of social media for your business. At the outset, it can be bewildering as you hear people bandying around names such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Pinterest…

For my business, for example, Twitter, Facebook and blogging make most sense, as copywriting revolves around words. However, if your products are bespoke cakes, tailor-made kilts or handmade jewellery, Pinterest would almost certainly be a good choice for you, as you can pin up photos of your gorgeous creations for all to admire!

2. If you’re just starting out on Facebook and Twitter, here’s another tip for you. By all means set up your Facebook account so that it publishes all your FB posts on Twitter; however, it’s not such a good idea to have all your tweets posted automatically to your Facebook page.

Why is this? Well, simply because Twitter is a different type of forum, in that it’s more like an ongoing chat/conversation (albeit between thousands of people!) and is generally full of random thoughts, snippets of news, comments about miscellany, retweets, #FF (Friday follows) or comments on other people’s tweets, etc.

If you clutter your clients’ Facebook pages with these frequent tweets, they may well not appreciate it and promptly “unlike” your page – which is, of course, the last thing you want to happen when you’re busily trying to build up your “likes”.

3. One of the aspects of social media that often puts companies off is that it can be time-consuming. Granted, devising and finding fresh material for posts on Facebook pages and thinking up pithy 140-character tweets can begin to eat into the working day. However, there’s one way to cut down the time you spend doing this – and that’s to pre-schedule some of your posts/tweets for the week ahead.

Thanks to the Facebook scheduling facility (the small clock icon in the bottom left of your Facebook status box) and Twitter’s wonderful https://tweetdeck.twitter.com/ system, you can spend anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours (depending on how much social media activity you wish to engage in) once a week and pre-schedule the majority of your content.

You’ll notice that I said “the majority of your content”, and there’s a reason for that: one of the main points of being involved in social media is to interact with others and to respond to news/events that are happening – either in your industry in general or within your specific business – as they happen.

Consequently, you do need to be prepared to respond most days to people who leave comments or send you direct messages, and to post/tweet information that has just become available and which you know might interest your customers. That means setting aside 10 minutes or so once or twice a day to “be social”. After all, that’s what social media is all about – as the name suggests!