Category Archives: Better Writing

Style Guides and Building Your Own

By Erica Dix

How do you know whether to write April 5, 2002, April fifth two thousand two, Apr. 5, 2002 or 4/5/02? That’s when it’s time to consult a style guide.

Style guides are created for writers in various situations to make decisions on how to express their writing in the most readable way possible for their audience. When most people hear the term style guides, they think MLA (Modern Language Association)  or APA (American Psychological Association). They think about creating bibliographies in school for essays and presentation. In reality, style guides are not really about citing sources, they are templates for creating content that is professional and readable.

Many people don’t know that style guides are actually an important tool for any business or brand that wants to maintain consistent style across all of their brand materials and content. Some businesses rely on an existing style guide but some companies prefer to throw the style guide out the window. Let’s talk about style guides and how you can start to develop your very own.

Common Style Guides and Their Uses

Before you start your own style guide, it is useful to understand which style guides exist for what  kinds of content. By understanding how the most widely used style guides are developed specifically for their audience, you can use them as inspiration for your own brand style guide.

MLA Handbook and APA Style: These are often the first style guides that people learn about from their high school English and Social Studies classes. MLA is made for the academic world, and takes a more formal and stylized approach compared to other guides. For example, MLA will spell out almost all numbers, only using numerals for numbers that would be more than one word, like 342 versus three forty-two. APA is also primarily used in academia, and is designed for the social sciences, with specifications for headings and footnotes. The differences in APA and MLA are centered around footnote and endnote styles. For example, MLA capitalizes every word in the paper’s title, whereas APA will only capitalize the first word of the title, and any proper nouns.

Associated Press (AP): This is the preferred style guide for magazines and news outlets. It encourages users to be quick, to the point, and media-savvy. For example, AP style does not use the oxford comma, which is the last comma in a list, since it may increase the word count, which is an important factor in journalism. AP also has different abbreviations for states and dates so be sure to check your work carefully if using the AP guide.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMA): This is a general style guide that covers a lot of the grammar details that other guides do not address. It is one of the most comprehensive and detailed guides, often used in publishing. They have less information in their citations, because the grammar and style of the body is much more important in publishing. Many corporate publications and branding guides rely on the CMA.

American Medical Association (AMA): This style guide is specific to medical writing. It focuses on accuracy and details, and is aimed specifically at people in the medical field. They include a lot of specifications regarding medical terminology that is not addressed in other guides, with updates that keep up with the ever-changing world of medicine.

If one of these style guides sounds relevant to your business, I encourage you to do more research and find out more about the recommended grammar and language rules that guide uses for its audience. In many cases, however, businesses elect to start from scratch and make their own guide, tailored especially for their needs.

  1. Audience Language. Does your business serve a community of professionals? You will want to adjust the style of your language depending on the type of people in your audience.  If your readers are accountants or engineers, you may want to use numerals instead of spelling out numbers. Consider the level of education and background you are speaking to, and impression that you want your business to make on its audience. While jargon is usually seen as something to avoid, when you are writing specific to an audience, it may be perfectly acceptable. Consider this as you develop your style guide.
  2. Company Identification. Believe it or not, there are companies that refer to themselves inconsistently in their marketing communications. Are you Widget Company, Widget Co., Widget Company, LLC or WCL? While you don’t have to use your registered legal name in every mention, you should be consistent about how you casually mention the company name.
  3. How will you write headings or titles? Choose a format for your headings, and make sure it is consistent throughout the document. When you name the titles of books, presentations, or other works, will you underline or use italics? Both are grammatically acceptable, but adding this distinction to your style guide will make your content sharper and more easy to read. Consult the best possible guide for you.
  4. Oxford/Serial Comma? Grammar details are an important part of a style guide. Does the koala eat, shoots and leaves (no serial comma) or does the koala eat, shoots, and leaves? Whether you embrace that last comma or not, you should establish consistency in your content for comma usage, capitalization of proper nouns, and other common grammar considerations.
  5. How do you want to write dates and numbers? This is a critical style choice that is often neglected by content creators. There are several ways to write dates, with varying levels of details and readability. (Mar. 3, 2018; March 3rd, 2018, 03/03/18, etc.) Depending on your audience and industry, your audience might have an easier time reading a date one way or another.
  6. If you are writing for a bilingual audience, will you include any translations or footnotes? First, decide if and how you will translate. You have a variety of options for how to do this. You can put the translation in parentheses after the foreign phrase, or use a footnote with an asterisk or superscript number.

Creating a brand is more than just a set of fonts and slogans. Every detail you present to your audience contributes to a bigger picture that tells your story. If you don’t have a style guide, your content will be riddled with inconsistencies, which will weaken your impression on your audience. If you need help developing a brand style guide for your business, Big Ideas Writing can help. Contact us today!

Why You Should Avoid Passive Voice

In my daily editing, I am always amazed at the commonplace use of passive voice over active.  Many people think it sounds more formal, or makes them sound more knowledgeable, but in most cases, it really hinders reading. The passive voice reorders the sentence, so the most important noun comes last. It makes the sentence longer and often more confusing. For example:

Active: The copywriter promoted the book.

Passive: The book was promoted by the copywriter.

We see here that by writing in the passive voice we have extended the sentence by two words, and if you read the two sentences out loud, you will probably agree that the second one sounds clunky and harder to understand.

One of the most common places you see passive voice is the law profession. Why? Mainly because they are always discussing how something happened to someone. Someone is always being acted upon, rather than simply doing something. This is because in legal language, emphasis is everything. If you are trying to persuade a judge or jury of a person’s guilt or innocence, the main focus of each sentence has to be clear and deliberate.

Active: Smith took the money, unbeknownst to my client.

Passive: The money was taken by Smith, unbeknownst to my client.

On the other hand, lawyers can also use passive voice deliberately to sound less accusatory.

Active: The suspect perpetrated the crime.

Passive (preferred in legal): The crime was perpetrated by the suspect.

It can also be skillfully used in cases where there is a multi-part subject in the sentence and the reader could use the verb up front to make it more understandable.

Active:  Tax credits based on current state laws, alimony for the spouse as per the divorce decree and co-custody of the children pending the court order are included in the mandates of the proposed bill.

Passive:  The proposed bill is to mandate tax credits based on current state laws, alimony for the spouse as per the divorce decree and co-custody of the children pending the court order.

In writing for a general audience, however, the passive voice really doesn’t add much meaning to a sentence. It just makes it more complicated. In smaller sentences the change seems small, but passive voice can make a big difference in the comprehension of more complicated sentences, like this one:

Active: The talented copywriter promoted the book with expertise.

Passive: The book was promoted well by the talented copywriter with expertise.

A writer’s goal should be to sound more knowledgeable, or to make fancier sentences. In reality, effective writers try to keep things short and concise. Eliminating the passive voice will give your writing three key factors:

Clearer meaning, which is the whole point of communication, right?

Shorter, and shorter is better, because people are more likely to take the time to read it!

Easier to read, because passive voice will clean up your sentences and make them more memorable to readers.

If you compose with Microsoft Word, you should know that the spellcheck can help you identify and change passive sentences. It is hidden, but well worth the effort!

  1. Under “File” menu, select “Options.”
  2. Select “Proofing” and scroll to “When Correcting Spelling and Grammar in Word”
  3. Change box with “writing style” to “Grammar & Style.”
  4. Select “Settings” and find and click the box for “Passive Sentences” under style. Click ok.
  5. If you have not already, you can check the box next to “Mark Grammar Errors As You Type” so that you will be alerted to any times you write a passive sentence.
  6. Click “OK” to return to the Word Options window.

So next time you are writing or editing your document, ask yourself if the subject of your sentence is performing an action (active), or if an action is being performed upon it (passive). Is active voice making the writing clearer or is writing made clearer by using active voice?

If you are having trouble eliminating the active voice in your writing, or you want to see how a professional touch can make a difference in your content, contact Karen at  Big Ideas Writing today.

5 Things to Know If You Want to Write a Book

I recently attended an event hosted by the Midwest Speaking Professionals about what to do if you want to write a book. It was a perfect topic for speakers since so many of them end up being authors either before or after they become speakers. Throughout my career as a writer, I have interviewed, written, outlined, edited and coached authors. Most recently, I edited and ghostwrote some of the chapters in the Today’s Inspired Latina Vol. 1 and Today’s Inspired Latina Vol. 2. I have watched authors propelled to success as speakers and thought leaders after they publish their first book . For many, it is an important career move.

However, it’s not easy.  If you want to write a book, it’s hard to find the time and energy to work on it, let alone get it published.  One of the speakers at the conference, an experienced author named Bull Garlington, outlined a number of important things that every aspiring book author should know. They may surprise you!

1. You need to have an objective. What are you hoping to achieve by publishing your book, aside from monetary gain? (I was assured by many of the authors that there are much easier ways to make money). Maybe you want to help professionals in your field. Maybe you want to share your life experience or an adventure you had. Is the book to be used as a “business card” for prospects or as a “text book” for a course you are teaching? Be clear on your purpose before you begin.

2. You will need help to make this happen. Writing a book, even if you self-publish, is not a one-person job. Most books are produced with the help of an editor, proofreader, graphic designer, printer, marketing expert, and selling partner. You will have to do some networking if you are serious about producing a quality book and getting it to sel

3. It’s hard to stay motivated, so set goals for yourself. With his trademark wit and wisdom, Bull described how as authors, your product is words, and you should have a certain output each day. He outlined a practical way to look at writing a book –keep up a writing schedule! Here’s an example:

Say you want to write a 60,000 word book, in the span of one year. That means you will have to write 15,000 every three months, 1,162 words per week. What you should be focusing on is writing 232 words per day for five days a week. If you stick to your daily goal, your 60,000- word project becomes attainable.

4. Marketing is part of the job. In order to market your book well, you will need to make appearances, find a market niche for your book and pitch excerpts to magazine editors in order to get publicity. Before you publish, it is critical to have a plan for the promotion of your book.

5. A book is an investment. Nobody will print your book for free. Usually there is an investment involved that will have to be made before you strike it rich with your book. The return may be over a longer period of time, so be prepared if that is the case. The best reason to publish a book is not to get rich, but instead because you have a true passion to share with the world.

If you are serious about writing a book and are looking for a writing and marketing professional to accompany you on the journey from concepting, to writing, proofreading and promotion,  contact me for more information.

Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon

Inspired by the old George Michael song, this week the Big Ideas Writing blog is taken over by our summer intern, Erica Dix, who educates us on …what else? Commas! 20140607_182708

Some of the most common grammatical errors are comma-related. Very few of us can name all of the comma rules with certainty. They are more than just a pause in the sentence, they actually serve a purpose! Here are the ten main uses of commas and how to use them well…with or without the chameleon.

  1. Commas are used with dependent clauses, when the sentence begins with a word such as although, when, because, or if. Like this:

Although chameleons like the sunlight, they are careful not to overheat.

However, they are not used if the dependent clause comes second.

Chameleons are careful not to overheat even though they like the sunlight.

 

  1. Commas are used before a conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

The chameleon was blue, but he soon changed back to green.

 

  1. Commas can be used to separate adjectives when an “and” can be used between them, for example:

He was a slow, steady chameleon who was skilled at climbing trees.

..which would be written without a comma as:

He was a slow and steady chameleon who was skilled at climbing trees.

 

  1. Commas can be used after introductory phrases, such as consequently, nonetheless, etc.

However, the chameleon wasn’t at the top of the tree yet.

 

  1. A comma is used after a direct address to someone.

Chameleon, where are you going?

 

  1. Commas are used to separate a phrase in quotations.

I’m going to find my friends,” the chameleon replied.

 

  1. Use a comma when referring to dates…

The chameleon’s birthday is June 21st, 2015.

and places…

Chameleon City, USA

 

  1. And when you are indicating an exact renaming…..

The chameleon, named Jeff, was very intelligent.

 

  1. Commas are used with clauses that contain unnecessary information (nonrestrictive), beginning with “which/who”.

The chameleon, who didn’t know how to read, continued to climb.

The information between the subject (chameleon) and the verb (continued) does not affect the meaning of the sentence and needs to be offset with a comma. However, if it is a clause which contains necessary information (restrictive clause) that begins with “that/who”, a comma is not necessary.

The chameleon that was in a hurry continued to climb.

The information in the clause “that was in a hurry” describes (and often identifies) the subject and affects the meaning of the sentence. It does not need to be offset with commas.

 

  1. The Oxford (Serial) Comma

Yes, we would be amiss if we didn’t mention the dreaded Oxford Comma. The Oxford comma is used at the ends of lists before the word “and”. Many writers and publications deliberately eliminate it but here in the United States, the Oxford Comma is widely acknowledged as grammatically correct.

With Oxford Comma: The chameleon eats lettuce, carrots, and spinach.

Without Oxford Comma: The chameleon eats lettuce, carrots and spinach.

I hope this answered some of your comma questions, and got you thinking about how you use this important piece of punctuation. Leave a comment if you have any of your own tips and tricks about commas. And if you are ever in need of a look at your comma use in something you’ve written, contact us at Big Ideas Writing!

An American Speller in Great Britain

london guardAs some of you know, I recently returned from a vacation “across the pond”, with London being my first stop. As someone who has never really been out of the country, I soaked up the atmosphere and culture as much as I could in my four days there. As a writer, I found myself paying great attention to signs and advertisements. After hearing and seeing certain “British” words on TV and in movies, it was fun to see the word “lift” over the elevator, and even consult Google when we couldn’t decipher the sign “no busking” which was posted in an underpass. (It means no street performing!)

Back home, I have often found myself reading blogs on content marketing originating from the UK but only realized it when I hit one of their famous telltale spellings—for example, authorise, instead of authorize or flavour instead of flavor. In honor of my visit, I decided to look into the origin of this difference between American and British spellings.  Here’s what I found.

Basically, spelling was never standardized across all the various English-speaking countries! In the 19th century, two distinct versions of English spelling appeared: British English and American English, and which is correct will depend on where you are.

Today, British English is used in part of Great Britain, as well as in most Commonwealth countries such as Canada. Each nation has a few variations within the language, with a few American spellings incorporated into the standard of the country.

The real difference, though, lies in the origins of the words. British English tends to keep the spelling from the language that the root word is borrowed from (such as Old French or Latin), while American English spells words more phonetically. Just like us Americans to make things easier, right?

Here’s how “we” remix the British version of our words:

  • Words ending in -re became -er: Centre is closer to the original Old French, or Latin word, centrum. We Americans prefer center.
  • Words ending in -our became -or: Words like colour or favourite are also derived from the Old French word of the same spelling. Again, we prefer color.
  • Words ending in -ence became -ense (defence versus defense).  Words like defence are derived from Middle English and Latin.
  • Words ending in –ise became –ize: Words like apologise are also derived from Latin and Greek.

Part of the joy of travel is experiencing the differences between your home and the place you are and for me, that included a study of words I saw. Go ahead and confess…do you have a fondness for any British-spelled words? Do you think we Americans should revert to any British spellings? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Your Stance on the Oxford Comma: In or Out?

content-writing-oxford-comma

Do you embrace the Oxford comma in your writing or banish it? As a freelance content writer, I want to know.

The Oxford comma gained fame and recognition for its common usage at the Oxford University Press. For those of you who don’t know, the Oxford comma is the comma preceding the word “and” at the end of a list.

It looks like this:

                                                                         We brought hamburgers, hot dogs, and pickles.

Now let’s take it out:

                                                                         We brought hamburgers, hot dogs and pickles.

No harm done there. But if you take away the Oxford comma, we can have some pretty hilarious results, as shown by this clever cartoon from a  humorous grammar blog.

oxford-comma

Another famous argument for the Oxford comma is the following example:

“I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

In the olden days when I was learning to write, I was taught to disregard the Oxford comma. My children in high school today tell me they are taught it is optional.  So do most people use it? Actually, a recent survey of more than 1,000 Americans showed that the results were close, with  57 percent of the vote loving that comma and the other 43 percent regularly hitting the delete key.

Today my freelance content writing and business writing is reviewed by many, many people before it’s posted or printed. …people from all different backgrounds and writing sensibilities.  Some bat for Team Oxford, others blackball that pesky comma.

In most cases, whether or not I use the comma comes down to the style I am writing in, and in many cases, the specific preferences of my clients, who may or may not be bound to the Microsoft Word grammar checker as their “punctuational mentor”.

Curiously, while the Oxford comma may seem trivial compared to other important world matters,  if you’ve ever created a business or internal publication with an eclectic team, you will find out quickly where people stand on its usage. If you are an Oxford-hater and omit it throughout the first draft of the company plan, then Tom goes comma crazy, putting in Oxfords everywhere he can on the Google doc, you find out quickly that Tom is an Oxford-lover.  And he obviously didn’t go to my grade school. .

If Tom is on your team, and your Microsoft Word isn’t catching places where you’ve overlooked the Oxford, remember that the setting can be easily changed.

Access  File>Options>Proofing, then selecting “grammar and style”.

oxford-comma-setting

Then select “always” to make sure Word always checks for the comma.  The default is “don’t check”.

Grammatical-writer

So, when a style is not specified, and someone else reviews your work and messes with your commas, you have the choice of fight or flight. So tell me, do you fight for the Oxford comma?  Is it worth fighting for? Is it better to go with majority rule, or is it purely a matter of circumstance?

Do you have a strong preference?   Leave me a comment and let me know. And be sure to give me a call if I can help you with writing something for your business…with or without the Oxfords!

Pare it Down: Why You Need a Content Writer

Edit-ContentI was recently at a lovely meeting of WESOS (Women Entrepreneurs Secrets of Success). We we were given the opportunity to give our “elevator speeches” to each other, then were asked to perform a gesture that best expressed our business. I was truly impressed by the creativity in the room, and surprised that my gesture came to me immediately. I held both arms wide, indicating a large amount, then brought my hands in quickly, just a few inches apart, to indicate a small amount. Why? Because as a content writer, this is what I do for many of my clients.

For most businesses, they don’t come to me to figure out WHAT to write for their business..they usually have a plethora of information for me. The problem is, they need it to fit into a certain space as succinctly as possible.

For example, they may need to encapsulate their business model into a catchy tagline.

They may need website page copy that is short, to the point, but does a good job of converting the customer.

Their linkedin profile may be too short or too long. I can help them make it just right.

They may need their typically used 250-word bio condensed to a 50-word introduction for a special event or speaking engagement.

They may need a press release written from the pages and pages of information they have about their project.

Their resume is four pages long and they don’t know what to cut.

They need brochure copy developed from their lengthy website content.

These are just a few times when a content writer can come to the rescue….in a flash.

Why?

Content writers are ruthless editors. Don’t misunderstand. A content writer worth their salt will always retain the information that puts you, your company and your products and services in the best possible light, but when they are not the author, they can be completely objective. In fact, usually content writers have developed the skills to be completely objective when editing their own work.

We’re used to working within constraints. Remember when you were little and you double-spaced to make your half-page paper into one-page to meet the requirement for your English essay? Well, content writers don’t usually have that problem. For example, first drafts are usually too long because chances are there is too much to say about your wonderful business! But there is always a word count, an appropriate length that needs to be respected, and content writers see these as surmountable challenges, not constraints.

Content writers have a thick skin. We’re used to being pared down. Yes, there are times when I tear up inside because my client tells me the beautifully eloquent product description I just wrote is no longer necessary because they are not going to release that product version anymore, but in general, experienced content writers can take any editing parameters that the client can dish out. It’s part and parcel of the job.

Content writers care about the words. People who don’t like to write, don’t care about words. Writers think about words a lot. They pay attention to them, look up definitions and am intrigued by usage. Then they put their passion on paper, which is hopefully evident to the client.

Do you have content you need “pared down?” Pass that mighty content potato, eyes and all, over to Big Ideas Writing and let me pare it down for you. Contact me for your next project at 630.778.6182.

How to Edit Your Content So People Will Read It

Delete KeyRemember in school when you were asked to write a three-page paper on a subject you could only write a paragraph about?  I’m sure you employed all the tricks—double spacing, using lofty, cumbersome, long-winded phrases to put as many words as possible in your sentences, widening the margins, etc. to make the paper the required length. Well, I must admit, I did too.  However, as a web content writer I am on the other end of the spectrum and usually required to edit my work down to the lowest word count possible. Why? So people will read it!

If we create content, we must be kind to our readers and write succinctly.  They want your information, but they don’t have time to wade through excess verbiage!

So how do you turn 75 words into 25? Let’s find out.

When a client asks me to edit a biography, or piece of descriptive copy, the decision making process begins. I ask myself, what can I take out without letting the message fail?

TECHNIQUES FOR THE FIRST EDIT

Cut the Words. Save the Message.  Basically, I write the content in as few words as possible. Then I look at it again to see what I can take out. And I keep doing that until I can’t cut any more words without losing the message.

Here’s my actual editing “blueprint” for an Eblast I recently did for a company that provides personal services.  Eblasts as you know, must be as short and engaging as possible. People don’t have patience to read for information. You have 3-5 seconds to make the impression. Yet  I was required to keep all information in the text, but make it as succinct as possible.

Original text from the client:

If you are still taking your own dry cleaning out you are missing out on a big convenience, excellent quality, and turnaround reliability right here ….all at competitive prices. We have a great dry cleaners that picks up and delivers here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and orders are returned in two days (except weekends). You can drop off and pick up with a Leasing Consultant anytime that the office is open, including Sundays. Our cleaners uses only organic materials, which preserve the fabrics and leave them feeling softer. Also, their pressing is exceptional.

 The length is 92 words. Wouldn’t you rather read 69?

scissors THE FIRST EDIT:

Stop the drycleaning drops!  Take advantage of our convenient, reliable drycleaning pickup for our residents, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Our competitively-priced, high-quality cleaners use organic materials, to preserve the fabric and produce softer clothes. Clothes are pressed with precision and care and returned in two days (except weekends). Drop off, pickup and valet bags for your convenience are available at the leasing office during business hours, including Sundays.

 So what were some of the techniques I used to condense and edit this version?

Use Action Words.  Good copy motivates readers to do something. When I write, I try to motivate the reader by the words I choose. Depending on the medium (in this case an Eblast where the reader will not have much patience to read), dropping the reader into the action rather than explaining a situation can work best. In this case I encourage the reader to “Stop the drycleaning drops!” and “Take advantage” of a convenience.  Not only do action words reduce word count, they also make a more interesting read.

Combine Sentences.  When you combine two or more related sentences, you usually save words. In this case I took parts of several of their first, second and fifth sentences and got across many of the ideas within in my first two sentences.

Take care when combining sentences.  As you become more comfortable combining, it is easy to lose words, especially important ones that describe the important features and benefits of the product.  In this case these included:

  • Quality (cleaning)
  • Convenience
  • Reliability
  • Competitive prices
  • Schedule (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
  • Organic materials and benefits

As you edit, make sure you retain all of these important points, as I have done in EDIT ONE.

scissorsscissorsTHE SECOND EDIT

Now, I look at the writing to see if it can be edited further.  Guess what?  It could! I got it down to 58 words with no loss of message…

Usually when you do this, you create more readable content.

Imagine..hassle-free drycleaning!  Take advantage of convenient, reliable drycleaning pickup for residents, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Our competitively priced cleaners use organic materials, for softer, longer-lasting clothes.  Garments are pressed with precision and returned in two business days. Drop off, pickup and valet bags for your convenience are available at the leasing office during business hours, including Sundays.

So what did I do now?

Clinch the Opener!  If you are writing marketing content, as this is, you must grab the reader’s attention right away. I spend a lot of time developing the opening line of my content as I know it will make or break the reader’s decision to continue reading.  In this case, I wanted to quickly bring the reader into the reality of using the service. While “Stop the Drycleaning Drops!” does that as well, I felt the version in EDIT TWO had the same effect in a more positive way.  Which do you like better?

 Rewrite the Awkward.  The client described the cleaner as using organic materials “to preserve the fabrics and leave them feeling softer.”  In my first edit, I changed it to read “ to preserve the fabric and produce softer clothes.” Better, but not quite right.  I finally ended up using adjectives to describe the service:  “for softer, longer-lasting clothes.”

 Examine the Writing for Repetition or unnecessary adjectives.  In this version I realized I had the word “clothes” repeated in sentence three and four.  Try not to do this or you will bore the reader. And they will wonder why you couldn’t think of another word!  So I started the next sentence with the word “garments.” I also removed the words “and care” from the description of the pressing. After all, if you are pressing precisely, you are pressing with care.  Again, cut the words, keep the message!

TIPS FOR GENERAL EDITING

In general, none of us likes to cut anything from our writing and most of us think everything we write is truly necessary.  However, as you struggle about what to cut from your writing, ask yourself this question: If I cut this word/phrase will the reader still get the message?  If yes, cut away!

Try to eliminate parentheses.  As a rule I try to avoid parentheses in my copy because I feel they jar the reader as they make their way through a fluid passage. In EDIT TWO I omitted the parenthetical text (except weekends) by simply saying it more succinctly—the drycleaning takes two business days.

Say it Specifically.  Most of my edits from ONE to TWO had to do with saying things more simply and specifically. In general, this is what we strive to do in our editing.  Can you say it more easily? Many times we just use too many words. Period!

Bullet Points  I can’t talk about editing without talking about bullet points.  In this day and age, we look for and expect to see bullet points in content. If you ever find yourself listing in your content, such as…

  • Features
  • Locations
  • Colors
  • Sizes
  • Specifications
  • Etc.

…use bullet points! The reader will thank you for it by reading them through!

In fact, the reader will thank you for all your editing hard work, hopefully with a response to your call to action!  If you are looking to turn 100 words into 25, and need some editing assistance,  feel free to contact me.

 

 

A FORMULA FOR ORGANIZING YOUR BUSINESS WRITING

organizing_BUSINSS_WRITING

Are you confident in your writing ability?

I’ve encountered lots of people that truly dislike writing. Often, they become my clients!

When I receive a new assignment,  I first complete the research or interviews I need to put together the piece, then begin the organization of the material.  I find that this step is usually 50% of the total job, with the other 50% being the actual creation of the content in the correct tone or brand voice to achieve the client’s results. In some cases the percentages change but knowing how to organize your writing is a big part of the battle won.

If you’re one of those people who have trouble getting started with your writing, I offer this simple formula to help you organize virtually any piece of business writing and can even be applied to other marketing communications pieces such as advertisements and web content.  I’ve found that in most cases, the formula is present in one form or another in what I am reading.

Ready? Here’s my formula for most pieces of business writing:

1. INTRODUCTION—Greet or acknowledge the reader appropriately.

2. STATEMENT OF OBJECTIVE—tell the recipient the reason for the communication

3. EXPLANATION-add details that will enhance the information you are trying to give.

4. CLOSING-include a call to action or next step in the discussed activity.

It’s very simple isn’t it? Let’s examine some examples.

THE FORMULA IN A BUSINESS LETTER/EMAIL

This follow-up email, composed after meeting a prospective client at a networking meeting.

Dear Nick,

I enjoyed meeting you at the networking meeting Tuesday.

 At the meeting you had requested information about my company and it is enclosed.    We are the biggest manufacturer of widgets in the tri-county area and are known for our competitive pricing and exemplary customer service.

 I will call you next week to discuss your needs for our services.  Again, it was a pleasure meeting you!

In a letter or mail, the INTRODUCTION is of course, the “Dear” opening and perhaps a personal statement.  Did you catch the STATEMENT OR OBJECTIVE?  It was the next sentence, mentioning that Nick had asked for some information about the company.  The EXPLANATION follows, which is the description of the company and what they are known for. Depending on your audience and your objective, it is possible to sell as you supply the explanation, which is what I did here. The CLOSING call to action refers to the next step, which is to hopefully place an order.

 THE FORMULA IN ADVERTISING COPYWRITING

Sometimes it’s not so easy to “see the formula.”  Writing an advertisement involves a creative process much more complex than that of writing a simple email, yet when it’s carefully dissected, there are shades of “the formula” buried within.  Consider the example included here.

Xclutel_Advertisement

INTRODUCTION  or “greeting” to the audience is cleverly disguised as a headline to get our attention.

The STATEMENT OR OBJECTIVE of the communication is to introduce the company called Xclutel with a statement of what they do.

The EXPLANATION  goes on to explain what else they do–their unique features and benefits.

The CLOSING includes a “call to action” asking to contact them for a no-cost evaluation. All necessary information to do so is supplied.

Now that you know the formula, it’s easy to spot it in different areas of marketing communication  and to put it into practice yourself.  So next time you’re staring at a blank screen needing to write about something, remember the simple four-step formula.  And be sure to send back a comment and tell me what happens when you do!

 

FREELANCE COPYWRITING EDITING TIP: PLEONASMS

Freelance-Copywriters-EditingIf anyone tells you your writing is full of pleonasms, don’t thank them.  It’s not a compliment!

While it may sound like a scholarly accolade, what they are really saying is that you are too verbose!

To me, “pleonasm” sounds like a medical condition, but it’s actually is a term derived from the Greek meaning “too much”, and describes the instances when more words are used than necessary to express a thought.  Pleonasms are also known as “redundant phrases.”

As a professional freelance copywriter, I regularly face the challenge of turning 100 words into 50, or 50 into 25. Eliminating pleonasms, or redundant phrases, is one way to do this quickly. Even though I always aim to write succinctly, I’ve occasionally edited some of the most popular pleonasms out of my own writing, and I suspect, maybe you have too!  Look out for these little superfluous gems that can put you over the allowed word count and character limit in your daily on and off-line writing!  Here are some of the most commonly used, equally unnecessary, pleonasms.

Have you caught yourself writing any of these?  If so, it’s time to edit!

A.M in the morning

Added bonus

Anonymous stranger

Ask the question

Circle around

Collaborate together

Past history

Pizza pie

Protest against

Round in shape

Spell out in detail

Still remains

Surrounded on all sides

Tall in stature

Equal halves

Unexpected surprise

Visible to the eye

Warn in advance

If you’re like me, you may find yourself saying these things more than writing them.  Thank goodness we don’t have a word limit on our speech by the end of the day! But getting in the habit of getting along without pleonasms in your life can make your communication the best, and most succinct, it can be.

Do you have a favorite pleonasm?  Share it with me.  And if you need help eliminating those pleonasms from your own marketing communication efforts,  I can help.  Contact me today.