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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

 

 

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!

No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice

 

Do you sometimes judge people by their looks? A recent article on a BBC website suggests that most of us do.

However, when it comes to making a good impression in business, there are other factors to consider, too. One of these is the corporate identity that your business or organisation creates through its communications, which means you need to choose your words extremely carefully when “speaking” in your corporate guise, e.g. on your website, on Twitter or on Facebook – or indeed in your printed promotional materials.

One aspect to bear in mind when writing about your business – and its products or services – is that it’s important to be consistent in tone and style, which means maintaining a consistent “tone of voice”. You’ve no doubt heard that expression before many times, but what does it really mean in an everyday copywriting situation? It means, quite simply, how you say what you say.

Here are three handy tips to help you establish (and then maintain!) a corporate tone of voice:

1. Decide whether your company is going to “speak” in the:

  • Informal first person plural voice (“We supply first-class widgets…”).
  • Informal first person singular voice (“I am the world’s leading expert in… “).
  • Formal third person plural voice (“Brown Brothers produce….”).
  • Formal third person singular voice (“Our company believes that…” or “Jason Smithers is a master plumber with 30 years’ experience…”).

You should also decide whether you are going to refer to your customer in the third person (e.g. “Our customers know they can rely on us to…”) or whether you prefer to take a more direct, informal approach and address customers directly in the second person (e.g. “When you commission us to design your home, you can count on receiving impeccable customer service from us at every stage of the design process…”).

2. Having decided whether to use the formal third person voice or the less formal first and second person voices, you then have to ensure that all text emanating from your organisation reflects this same “tone”.  For example, if you have opted for the formal register, here are three things to avoid:

  • Contractions (e.g. can’t, won’t, doesn’t) – instead use the full version (e.g. cannot, will not, does not).
  • Starting sentences with “but” or “and”. This used to be tantamount to sacrilege in written English and is still frowned upon in formal English texts. However, these days you’ll often see “and” or “but” at the start of sentences in informal texts, as this reflects more accurately the way we actually speak.
  • Colloquialisms and idioms. Let’s look at this in practice… Colloquial version: “Our customers always rave about our fab work.” Formal version: “Our customers are always extremely impressed by our exemplary workmanship.”

If you’ve decided you’re more comfortable with an informal tone of voice then feel free to use abbreviated words. And to start sentences with conjunctions (as we just did) or to use expressions such as “OK” and “Our company is the cat’s pyjamas” (unless you happen to manufacture feline nightwear, in which case you’d say “Our company supplies cats’ pyjamas…).

3. Ensure that everything you or your colleagues say (on Twitter, on Facebook, on your website, in your printed promotional materials and documents) reflects your brand values. To get you started, it can be helpful to spend some time choosing three or four words or phrases that encapsulate what your organisation is all about. Here are some well-known examples to get you started:

  • Apple: inspiration, dream, innovation.
  • Innocent: humorous, unpretentious, upbeat.
  • Red Bull: daring, adventurous, energetic.
  • Euroword: creative, professional, word gurus (admittedly, this brand isn’t quite as well known as the others… yet!)

Then remind anyone in your organisation who is writing text on behalf of the company to reflect these “distilled down” tenets in everything they write – or, indeed, say (e.g. in public presentations or press interviews). That way, your communications will remain consistent and on message, making the right impression on anyone who encounters your company online or in person for the first time.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the BBC article referred to above, have a look for yourself – it makes fascinating reading. In a subsequent Euroword blog post, we’ll look at why having a style guide for your company or organisation is helpful, and how to go about compiling one. Meanwhile, enjoy developing your company’s individual tone of voice, and once you’ve decided on the three words that characterise your organisation, feel free to post them on our EurowordUK Facebook page.

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”!