Category — Good writing
I was excited to see that contemporary artist, Julian Opie, is exhibiting a portrait of British inventor, Sir James Dyson, at London’s National Portrait Gallery. My favourite inventor portrayed by one of my favourite artists.
The news made me think about what it is that I love about Opie’s work.
Opie is a master of reductionism, creating portraits that crystallise his subjects’ defining features.
What Opie achieves visually is analogous to good copywriting.
PR copywriters must encapsulate a story within the first paragraph of a press release. With the increasing importance of SEO, we must also incorporate keywords into attention grabbing copy. There is much to achieve with few words.
Similarly, when we are speaking to journalists we have just a few seconds to tell our client’s story and engage their interest. As a result, a honing process takes place to discover the most striking aspects of our client’s story.
What will people remember and recognise about the company? What appeals most to different audiences?
Logo designers work to the same objective: conveying a company’s mission and personality through graphics. For example, the logo for logistics company, FedEx, has a small white arrow making up the space between the letters E and X, conveying a sense of momentum.
Too often I see press releases that overstate their case, confuse their audience and lose the key message. We do well to apply an Opian discipline and decide what needs to be retained within our copywriting so that our client’s distinguishing features stand out.
August 16, 2011 No Comments
A number publications have reported on the finding that poor spelling affects the behaviour of Website visitors.
The source of the report was Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur, who found that revenue per visitor was heavily impacted by a misspelling on one of his ecommerce sites. Revenue per visitor doubled after he inspected his site and corrected a mistake in the web copy.
The report even stated that website visitors may be deterred because they associate incorrect English with online fraud. Therefore, they are wary of sites with misspellings because they could be phishing sites.
This is not just an issue for web copy, copywriters in the offline arena also exhibit errors in their grammar and spelling. I often spot mistakes in the press releases I read on newswires.
Common mistakes include:
- Using “it’s” instead of “its”
- Using “their” instead of “there”
- Using “you’re” instead of “your”
- Using “to” when the writer means “too”
- Writing “till” rather than “’til” (an abbreviation of “until”)
- Writing the possessive, “radio’s”, instead of the plural, “radios”
- Writing about a company (singular) and then writing about “their” profits, instead of “its” profits (for example writing “Tightsplease have seen sales rocket” instead of correctly writing, “Tightsplease has seen sales rocket”)
- Confusing “effect” and “affect”
I am eternally grateful to my secondary school teacher who spent a whole double lesson drumming the “it’s / its” rules into us. I can still hear her pounding the blackboard as she repeated, “It’s can only be used if you meant to write ‘it is’. If you have something belonging to it it’s its”.
This issue was reinforced yesterday when I spoke to an English language teacher. She claimed that she was the only person in her department who knew how to use “affect” and “effect” correctly. If this is true, then it explains why these words are so often used incorrectly on company websites and even in copy produced by journalists and public relations professionals.
The way I explain this to colleagues is that the word “effect” is a noun. “Affect” is a verb, or a “doing word” as my primary school teacher used to say. The way I explain it to my spouse it to say, “Affect is what ‘appens to something. Effect is the end result”.
For example, poor spelling affects web visitors’ perceptions of a company, with the effect that ecommerce businesses have fewer sales from their sites.
What are your own spelling bugbears? Share them here.
UPDATE – Yesterday was #ApostropheDay with some howlers supplied on Twitter and Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/50294452@N03/5989953281/ It’s not just poor spelling on websites that turns people off, misuse of apostrophes in traditional media can be just as irritating to your audience.
August 7, 2011 No Comments
In an earlier post I talked about Alex Blythe’s excellent writing course. In that course, Alex promoted the use of short, clear sentences. He also warned against using jargon.
Yesterday this was reinforced when I saw a Tweet from Chris Green with his recommendation:
“Fellow journalists, please read this, print it out, laminate it, stick it by your monitor, read it every day: http://bit.ly/gqu7NW”
That captured my interest, so I clicked on the link to investigate.
Chris was publicising an article by Tim Radford in the Guardian, in which he explained his 25 “commandments” for good journalism. While these are directed at journalists, a good number of the rules apply to PR copywriting and so I’ve summarised them here:
- Identify your reader before beginning to write and make your story relevant
- Try summing up your story into one sentence. That will often become your first sentence
- Your first sentence is the most important one
- Use simple language to tell your story and avoid jargon
- Use words correctly
- Avoid superlatives
- If your story is complex, select one aspect and stick to it
- “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”
No matter how long we stay in this business, it’s always helpful to be reminded of why we are writing and who we are writing for. As Mr Radford points out, the whole point of writing is to entice people to read. This can sometimes be forgotten in the effort to gain client copy approval and meet editorial deadlines. But if we don’t get readers then we can’t convey our client’s message.
Mr Radford states: “9. So if an issue is tangled like a plate of spaghetti, then regard your story as just one strand of spaghetti, carefully drawn from the whole. Ideally with the oil, garlic and tomato sauce adhering to it. The reader will be grateful for being given the simple part, not the complicated whole. That is because (a) the reader knows life is complicated, but is grateful to have at least one strand explained clearly, and (b) because nobody ever reads stories that say “What follows is inexplicably complicated …”
So, if there is one strand of spaghetti that we could pull from this, it is that you must know who your reader is before you start writing and tell them your client’s story as simply as possible. I still laugh about my PR colleague who returned to journalism and was astonished to receive a press release on garden tools after requesting information on mobile technology.
So, thanks to Chris for the Tweet. It never hurts to go back to basics.
January 20, 2011 No Comments