Archive for the ‘Good copy’ Category

Ovarian cancer: “Those words still haunt me”

Friday, March 1st, 2013

We often talk on this blog about how having real people tell their stories can be a great way of getting a message across. We also talk a lot about the power of short, simple, human words.

This new video, designed to raise awareness about the symptoms of ovarian cancer, is a great example of both.

Everyone in the video has experienced ovarian cancer in their family. I defy you to watch it without shedding a tear (and putting your hand in your pocket).

Please watch and share.

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Writing about diversity? Then keep it real

Monday, February 25th, 2013

A client recently asked me to help them with a brochure about their efforts to promote gender diversity at the firm. The job involved interviewing the company’s female leaders about their experiences of the workplace.

During the interviews, one name kept cropping up as the company that got diversity right: McKinsey.

This consulting firm, every interviewee said, really knew how to look after its women. It was the firm they all regarded as the model for any company trying to build a more inclusive culture. I suspected it was the firm they all secretly wanted to work for.

Intrigued, I decided to check out the section about diversity on McKinsey’s site. (more…)

Could you say it more simply?

Monday, January 28th, 2013

At Doris and Bertie, we hate annoying jargon and pretentious gobbledygook.

So we were delighted to discover the Up-Goer Five text editor. This online tool challenges you to describe an idea using only the most common 1,000 words in English. (more…)

Now here’s how you write an apology…

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

On a recent trip to her local cinema, a good friend of mine had to abandon the film half way through because a fight broke out between other customers. Horrific, eh?

So she contacted Curzon, the cinema operator, via its website. She was hoping for a refund but didn’t really expect to hear anything back.

Soon afterwards, however, she got an email from Nigel Stowe, Director of Operations at Curzon. Nigel’s letter thoroughly delighted her – and we can see why. It’s a great example of how a well-executed apology can translate a disaster into customer loyalty. (more…)

25 quick business writing tips (and a link to 100 more)

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

1. For writing that’s easy to read, make friends with the full stop.

2. Be concrete, not abstract. Call a hose a hose, not a fluid transfer solution.

3. “However”: if in doubt, punctuate with full stop, cap, comma. However, there are exceptions.

4. Capitalising job titles? One writer I know was taught to save caps for “God, the Queen and the Editor”.

5. It may look odd, but there’s only one apostrophe in the phrase “Dos and Don’ts”.

6. “While” sounds less pretentious than “whilst”.

7. You don’t need a hyphen with adverbs ending in “ly”: a “happily married couple”.

8. Ditch the corporate throat clearing: go back and see if you can cut your first paragraph.

9. “The data are” or “the data is”? Just choose whatever you think your reader would prefer.

10. Yes, you can split an infinitive. Trust your ears, not rules invented by 18th-century grammarians.

11. Both “under” and “way” are in the dictionary. “Underway”, however, is not.

12. “Don’t” is friendlier than “do not”, though non-native speakers may prefer it spelt out.

13. Remember: “e.g.” = “for example”; “i.e.” = “that is”. They aren’t interchangeable.

14. Don’t overuse “scare quotes” – they make you look like you lack “conviction”. See?

15. The past tense of “lead” is “led”, not “lead”.

16. To quote Hemmingway, “every first draft is s**t”. Always go back and edit.

17. Be active, not passive: “we will send you the document”, not “the document will be sent to you

18. Watch out: “loose” rhymes with “goose”, “lose” rhymes with “choose”.

19. As Mervin Block says, if it’s not necessary to leave a word in, it’s necessary to leave it out.

20. Remember the three “Cs” of great business writing: it’s clear, concise and conversational.

21. Use “comprises of” to sound like an illiterate estate agent. Otherwise, just “comprises”.

22. Never use the jargon “revert” for “reply” – especially if you work with non-native speakers.

23. If your wife compares you “to” George Clooney, be flattered. If she compares you “with” him, be worried.

24. Hyphens aren’t optional. Consider the difference between “extra-marital sex” and “extra marital sex”.

25. Look! No apostrophe: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s etc.

100 more quick writing tips

Fight on the beaches!

Monday, February 13th, 2012

We love this anecdote from The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill, compiled by Dominique Enright:

There is a story that an American general once asked Churchill to look over the draft of an address he had written. It was returned with the comment ‘Too many passives and too many zeds.’ The general asked him what he meant and was told: ‘Too many Latinate polysyllabics like “systematize”, “prioritize”, and “finalize”. And then the passives. What if I had said, instead of “we shall fight on the beaches”, “Hostilities will be engaged with our adversary on the coastal perimeter”?

Sadly, all too much business writing is reminiscent of “Hostilities will be engaged with our adversary on the coastal perimeter”.

So if you struggle to get the people in your organisation to talk like human beings, point them to Winston.

Inspiring leaders use short, simple, powerful words.

Not pompous corpspeak packed with off-putting nonsense about synergizing innovative technologies, incentivizing customer engagement and integrating frameworks of excellence.

For more on the Latinate quality of much bad business writing see Speak English, why don’t you?

Another 25 super-speedy tips for better business writing

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

For tips 1-25, see my previous post.

26. Beware billing something as “exciting” unless your reader really will be trembling in anticipation.

27. When you reach the point you’re happy with your work, go back and cut 20%.

28. Never assume your reader is as informed as you are. Picture them as a Martian newly arrived on earth.

29. Get a writing buddy. Find a friendly colleague and agree to review each other’s work.

30. Always read your work aloud. Edit anything that trips you up or leaves you gasping for breath.

31. Don’t capitalise a phrase just because it’s often abbreviated. CSR = corporate social responsibility.

32. Don’t know the difference between “anticipate” and “expect”? Use “expect”: it’s probably what you mean.

33. With every sentence, ask: is this interesting to my reader or just to me? Delete if the latter.

34. Blank page? Don’t get it right – get it written. Then go back and edit, edit, edit.

35. There is no situation in which the pompous word “facilitate” is necessary. Use do/make/help.

36. Quoting someone in a press release/staff mag? Always use “said”, not “commented”, “observed” etc.

37. Save time and pixels by ditching “in the event that” for the simple word “if”.

38. You wouldn’t capitalise ‘plumber’ or ‘builder’, so why treat white-collar job titles any differently?

39. Written a sentence you’re particularly proud of? That’s probably the one you most need to rework.

40. Spend as much time on your headline as you do on the rest of your text.

41. Affect or effect? Most times, the mnemonic RAVEN applies: Remember, Affect = Verb, Effect = Noun.

42. The phrase “in excess of” is pompous and long-winded. Use “more than” or “over” instead.

43. Avoid turning nouns into verbs – actioned/tasked/impacted etc are horrible!

44. Ditch repetitive business phrases like transformational change/new innovation/worldwide global firm.

45. Learn to spot and simplify Latinate words (usually longer and more abstract – eg, residence v house).

46. Never ask for “approval” or “sign-off”. Ask for fact-checking and lock the doc so others can’t edit it.

47. Use “use”, not “utilise”.

48. “Unprecedented” is not synonymous with “excellent”. Save it for something that’s never happened before.

49. Google finds 1,460,000 uses of “thought leader”. Claim to be one and you’re just following the crowd.

50. Nobody’s taken in by corporate euphemisms like “rightsizing”. Dare to be honest.

Follow me on Twitter for more super-speedy daily business writing tips.

25 super-quick tips for better business writing

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

I’ve started tweeting a daily business writing tip. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter – or those of you who are but would like to have the tips all in one place – here’s the first 25.

1. Put the most important info first (how many stories in this morning’s paper did you actually finish?)

2. Always ask: “What happens if we don’t publish?”. If they can’t articulate a business case, spike.

3. Circle every word/phrase/allusion your mum wouldn’t understand. Rewrite so she would.

4. Ban -ing words from headlines in your staff mag. “Achieving success”? “Delivering excellence”? Ugh.

5. Using “the above” or “the below” in your copy makes you sound instantly officious. Remove and reorder.

6. Search for ion/ment/ence to ditch clunky abstract nouns (eg, driving improvement = improving).

7. Full stops are good. Use them. If you can’t read a sentence without taking a breath, it’s too long.

8. Avoid using the word “basis” – eg, on a timely and efficient basis = quickly and efficiently.

9. A camel is a horse designed by committee. For copy without lumps and bumps, give 1 person final say.

10. Show, don’t tell. Any business can claim to be “world-class”. Explain why yours is.

11. The word “focus” makes you sound, er, unfocused. Don’t “focus your efforts on” something. Just do it!

12. Make life easy for your reader. Follow each thought with “full stop, paragraph return”.

13. Diversity officers, please don’t use “female” as a noun. We’re women. Females belong in a zoo.

14. Not a postman or a midwife? Then find a stronger verb than “deliver”. Deliver service = serve.

15. Going forward adds nothing that the future tense doesn’t say. “Going forward we will” = “We will”.

16. Never use a word you wouldn’t say outside the office. Do you align/integrate/leverage things at home?

17. Always ask “what do I want my reader to do/know/think?”. The answer gives you your first line.

18. Never open with “As you know”. Lead with the news and then provide the context.

19. Commitment: two “m”s and one “t”. Or avoid the brain ache by ditching this overused word.

20. If you can’t imagine your dad saying it, it’s probably corpspeak. Rewrite until you can.

21. Can’t distinguish between “historic” and “historical”? Then use “past”. It’s probably what you mean.

22. Unless you aspire to be White Van Man, stop “driving”. Driving improvements = improving.

23. Only capitalise a word if it’s the name of a particular person/place/org.

24. Never use the word “regarding” when “about” will do.

25. Don’t start sentences with words like although/while/despite/given. Lead with your main point.

Innovative solutions 0, vampire squids 1

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Usually, I write about bad copy on this blog, but today I give you one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever read.

If you’re interested in the goings-on on Wall Street (which is to say, if you’re interested in whether you’ll still have a job this time next year), you’ll know it:

“The first thing you need to know about G****** S**** is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” – Matt Taibbi, “The Great American Bubble Machine”, Rolling Stone, July 2009

Brilliant, isn’t it? The urgency of “the first thing you need to know”, and its implication that this is just one of many things the author will reveal about his subject. That startling, unforgettable and now famous image of the vampire squid, which I’ve quoted numerous times at dinner parties and which is up there with chunks of Prufrock in my list of lines I could roll around my tongue all day. It’s an opening that screams “read on”.

Even better, Taibbi’s words have stung the bank that we all (even – or, rather, especially – other bankers) love to hate. Released this week, G****** S****’ 2009 Annual Report included a letter to shareholders, in which the bank defends itself against Taibbi’s accusation that it bet against its own clients.

The document reveals a G****** S**** that dances with the elderly, takes children to the zoo and “makes a meaningful contribution to the growth of businesses, local communities and the global economy” (is there any more meaningless adjective than that “meaningful”, which crops up 11 times in the document?).

A G****** S**** whose “client-focused”, “performance-driven” employees understand that “engagement furthers sustainability” (no, I’ve no idea what it means either, but it does sound vaguely like the sort of thing I’d find in a leaflet from my local Council – deliberately so, I’m sure).

Forget about the G****** S**** whose dodgy deal bankrupted Greece. This G****** S**** sprinkles its financial fairy dust on the needy of all nations. It’s a G****** S**** whose “innovative solutions” and “culture of commitment” have defended UK pensioners, built schools in California, lent a helping hand to the US’s troubled motor and aviation industries, and saved thousands of jobs in India. A G****** S**** that does what you might expect your government to do (did they not realise that when people call them Government S**** that’s not, like, in a good way?).

The document tries to depict a non-vampiric G****** S**** whose “first priority” is serving clients. But 178 pages of defensive, corporate cliché-ridden prose later and I can still picture that blood funnel, still smell that money.

Copywriters, there’s a lesson there somewhere.

To Click Here, or Not to Click Here: That Is the SEO Question.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Today, I’m delighted to introduce a guest post by one of my favourite bloggers, web and social media expert Brad Shorr of Word Sell, Inc. Regular readers will know that here at goodcopybadcopy we like extremely detailed discussions of business vocab, but even I had never guessed that there was so much to know about those two little words “click here”. Thanks, too, to Brad for introducing me to the phrase “link juice”. Read on, Macduff.

To sleep: perchance to dream – click here.

Did you click on the link just above? Weren’t you itching to? That’s the power of the much debated “click here” link. (more…)