Audience analysis: are you talking to the right reader?

February 25th, 2016

anonymous cartoon people one with question mark for face

Audience analysis should be your first step in any copywriting job. Because if you don’t know who you’re writing for, chances are your message won’t resonate with the reader that really matters. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing coaching: it’s never just about the writing

February 10th, 2016

cartoon of a set of dumbbells

It’s amazing to see how a little bit of one-to-one writing coaching can transform someone’s way with words.

But if there’s one thing being a writing coach has taught me, it’s that the writing is never just about the writing. Here are three reasons why. Read the rest of this entry »

What Google’s Go announcement means for your website copy

February 1st, 2016


Last week, Google announced it had developed an artificial intelligence programme capable of beating the European world champion of the board game Go.

Computers, of course, have long been able to take on – and beat – chess champions. But Google’s latest achievement is of a whole different order.

Where chess has 9 million possible positions, Go has 10^171 possible positions. In other words, ten followed by 171 zeros. That’s a lot of possible moves.

What’s this got to do with your website?

Well, think about it. If Google can develop a machine that can think 10^171 moves ahead, what chance do you think you have of outsmarting it?

If Google can spot the implications of any given black stone, placed at any one of 19 x 19 intersections, at any point in the game, it can spot a clunky bit of keyword stuffing a mile off. Make that 10^171 miles off.

The lesson? Don’t write for Google, write for human beings.

BBC report on Google’s announcement about the Go programme

Passive verbs: why do all writers hate them?

January 25th, 2016

Cartoon of smoking revolver and a sheriff's badge with bullet hole through it

Here’s a famous piece of advice about passive verbs:

“Never use the passive where you can use the active” – George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1947

Most corporate style guides rail against the passive, too. But, in my experience, many corporate writers don’t understand, let alone adhere to, the advice to “avoid writing in a passive voice”. (See A great example of why corporate tone of voice guidelines are usually pointless.)

So what, exactly, is the passive? And why did George Orwell (like the writers of so many style guides) object to it?

Read the rest of this entry »

How do you nail a ‘sophisticated’ tone of voice?

January 4th, 2016

Cartoon of a dictionary and a grammar book

Recently, one of my students asked a really great question. It’s on a topic many people wonder about – how to strike the balance between simplicity and sophistication. Read the rest of this entry »