This made me smile…alot

We all make mistakes. And it’s easy to make them when you’re writing. The English language has some rather unusual spellings and lots of words sound the same, but have different spellings e.g. write, right, wright. They’re called homophones by the way.

So when someone sent me this link, it made me chuckle:
http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html
It’s a light hearted look at a common error in writing.

I have to confess, it’s the kind of error that would normally make me tut and roll my eyes. But now, if I see it, I’ll smile and point the perpetrator to this post to help them remember the correct way to write ‘a lot’.

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What does a copywriter do?

I’m never quite sure how to reply when people ask ‘What do you do?’ If I say I’m a copywriter, they either look at me blankly or start asking questions about the little c in a circle symbol (that’s copyright – something different entirely).

If I say I’m a writer, people start talking about novels and films, or ask me to read something they’ve written.

Basically I write things and read things. ‘Great!’ I hear you cry, ‘I can do that…can I be a copywriter too?’ And yes, my job does use basic skills that most of us have. I just choose to specialise in them.

So what do I do?

Writing

A copywriter will generate language to express ideas, themes and concepts. Part of my job is to be inspired, to come up with new ways of saying things. To find the truth at the heart of the thing.

One of my skills is in recognising what language works and what doesn’t, then tweaking and refining it so that will appeal to potential customers. My aim is to choose words that will attract their attention and get them to read on. It’s my job to put myself in your customers’ shoes and ask ‘What does this mean for me?’

And that’s just the start of it. Explaining what a business does and how it does it, can be tricky. I work from research and commercial information available, that’s often technical and jargon filled. My job is to take that and out it in terms that customers understand, and more importantly, relate to.

One of the most exciting parts of my job involves working with other creative  people, including designers, to come up with ideas for campaigns, websites, adverts and other forms of marketing. Together we will develop the themes, look, feel and design that a business will use on brochures, leaflets, emails, websites, product boxes and all over the place.

The finished idea may only include a few words of copy – a sentence, a line, three words or less – but in the process of getting there I’ll have written many more that your customers will never see.

Reading

I also read. Good writing starts with reading. And I’ve been a voracious and experimental reader of everything, ever since I first learned the skill. When books were banned from the breakfast table, I’d read the back of the cereal packet.

postercorrectionIn business I often read factual reports, documents and insights that help me understand the subject that I’ll be writing about. My skill is to take those words and turn them into something that a customer will understand, and engage with – to make them think ‘oh, that’s just like me.’

Because I work with words all the time, I’m good at spotting when there’s one that’s spelled incorrectly, or picking up on a bit of grammar that doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes I read with a red pen in my hand and filter out mistakes. I don’t profess to be a professional proofreader, but by acting as another pair of eyes to check over your writing, I can stop you from making the kind of mistakes that put people off dealing with your business.

Understanding

I also help people and businesses understand the importance of language in their communications. That means talking about and demonstrating tone of voice in action and applying it to different businesses. I do this though workshops, training sessions, writing examples, offering advice and constructive feedback.

Communicating clearly with customers is just one part of business writing. Doing it in a way that gives a real sense of connection, showing the face behind the business, being authentic is what really drives me as a writer.

There’s often a bit of a debate about the term copywriter – and whether there’s a better word we could use to describe what we do.

Personally I use the term writer, but then put it into a business context. In any case, what I call myself is just the start of the story. Keeping you interested is the real skill.

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A copywriter’s top spelling and grammar tips

I really enjoy my job as a creative copywriter. I spend most of my days reading and writing things. Sometimes I’m coming up with new ideas, other times I’m just helping other people get their message across. It also means I get to see a lot of things that often confuse us when we’re writing (even me). So here’s my quick guide to some of the things I see every day that cause the most head scratching:

The apostrophe
The apostrophe ’ often seems to cause confusion. It appears where it’s not needed and goes AWOL when it is.

The apostrophe has two main uses:
1) To show something belongs to someone or something.
2) To show there’s a letter or letters missing from a word.

1) Using the apostrophe to show ownership or belonging

The client’s software (one client)
Doris’ business (in this example Doris’s is also correct, but we prefer the less cluttered punctuation)
The children’s father
My clients’ business
(more than one client)

But AVOID the green grocer’s apostrophe e.g.
The apple’s, the cauliflower’s, the carrot’s

When I see examples like this I always want to ask, ‘The apple’s, cauliflower’s, carrot’s, what?’

Note Possessive pronouns like yours, his, hers, ours, its and theirs are not followed by the apostrophe.

2) Using the apostrophe to show there’s something missing

There are lots of examples of this. Some we use everyday without really thinking about them:

I’m; you’re; we’re – I am; you are; we are
Don’t, won’t, haven’t, isn’t – do not; will not, have not, is not

Others sometimes seem to cause confusion:
Let’s for let us

Common mistakes
There are four common cases where it is easy to get confused.

It’s has an apostrophe when it means it is. When you want to show possession, the correct form is its.
It’s a long way to Tipperary.
Every business has its challenges.

Who’s stands for who is or who has. When you want to show possession, the correct form is whose.
Who’s running the company?
The manager, whose business was doing well, booked a well-deserved holiday.

If you can replace the word with “you are”, then the word you’re looking for is you’re. If you want to indicate that something belongs to someone, you need your.

You’re going to have a busy month.
Is this your tax return?

They’re stands for they are. The possessive is their.

They’re the people who bought our business.
It’s their business now.

If you want to show where something is, the correct form is there.

The business is over there.

Still confused? Check out this humorous, comic style guide to how to use an apostrophe.

Words that sound similar but are spelt differently

license (v) / licence (n)

practise (v) / practice (n)

advise (v) / advice (n)

To get these right, you basically have to know your nouns from your verbs. Remember from your English lessons, a noun refers to a thing and a verb is a ‘doing word’. Then use this sentence to help you choose the right spelling:

Stop the crocodile.

Any time you want the verb, use ‘s’ – like you do when you say ‘stop’. If you want the noun, it’s a ‘c’, as in crocodile.

license and licence:

He may be licensed to kill, but James Bond was still booked for driving without his driving licence.

practise and practice:

Mr Jones likes to practise his juggling at his accountant’s practice.

advise and advice:

You can advise people as much as you like but you can’t get them to listen to your advice.

Words that sound similar but mean different things

compliment / complement

A compliment is a nice thing said about someone. So if you say, “I like your new dress”, you’re paying someone a compliment. Something that’s given away free is also complimentary.

Complimentary drinks with every meal.

Complement has a number of meanings associated with matching or completing.

If you’re ordering business cards, why not choose some complementary letterheads?

stationery / stationary

It’s easy to remember the difference between these two. Just remember ‘e’ is for envelope and ‘a’ is for ‘at a standstill’.

affect / effect

To affect something is to change or influence it.

The computer failure affected her business.

Effect has a lot of subtle meanings as a noun, but it mostly refers to something that’s happens as a result of something else.

The new layout had a positive effect on the magazine’s circulation.

Effect is also a rather formal way of saying to make it happen.

The Government has effected a change in policy.

Most of the time affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

Some other places to go to if you get stuck
Online dictionaries
www.askoxford.com/?view=uk
(check out their better writing section too)
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/

Online thesaurus (for when you’re short of an alternative word)
http://thesaurus.reference.com/
(watch out for US spellings though)

More grammar resources and style guides:
Daily Writing Tips
Economist styleguide
Guardian styleguide

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The Writer

On Friday I spent a very inspirational morning with John Simmons at the offices of The Writer in London. John is a very influential writer who’s advised and worked with some very big name brands, so spending a couple of hours with him was a real privilege.

I came away re-invigorated and refreshed, as though seeing what I’d written for the first time. And picked up lots of ideas that will help me keep things fresh and interesting in future. It was enlivening to spend time with someone who loves working with words and really understands the power of saying things simply.

Here’s what I jotted in my notebook on the train home:

What I take with me from today…
An invitation to join the dark angels
To revel in black ink on paper.
A journey in someone else’s shoes
To find new ways to see the old, tired and too familiar.
The freedom of constraint.
And the confidence to face the world as a writer.

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Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

I caught the new Ford TV advert this week.

Not a bad idea I thought, but not as good as the Sound of Honda.

Honda has created some very clever, eye-catching television adverts over recent years. So when I start to watch an advert that’s a bit quirky, I instinctively start to think of Honda. That’s a really powerful bit of brand association. (But I still drive a Mini!)

Familiarity can be a good thing for a brand, but what happens when you start to see the same thing everywhere?

Innocent is a brand that’s really established a strong identity through its tone of voice (which I have to admit I love). But now it has its imitators. Barclays seems to be trying to adopt a more ‘innocent style’ and fellow smoothie makers PJ’s are desperately trying to catch their cheeky, fun, irreverent tone (but not quite getting it IMHO).

So what happens to the Innocent brand if one element of its uniqueness, is no longer so unique? Will their smoothies be diluted by these pale imitations? Or are the other brands just savvy by trying to sparkle in their reflections?<

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Drumming gorillas and Phil Collins?

It’s the latest advert to cause a buzz in the world of marketing, picked up and posted on YouTube and the subject of much debate and discussion.

First aired in a plum slot on UK TV during the Big Brother final, it depicts a man in a very convincing gorilla suit sitting behind a drumkit and launching into an enthusiastic rendition of the Phil Collins drum solo from In the Air Tonight.

And that’s it. That’s all. No pack shot, no company reference, no strapline, no musical sting, no web address. None of those things that countless textbooks on marketing recommend.

So how do you know what it’s trying to sell? Well there are clues of course. Catch the very start of the ad and you’ll see it’s made by A Glass And A Half Full Productions, and the wall behind the drumming gorilla is a particular shade of purple. I got the association pretty much straightaway, but whether that’s due to the strength of brand association or my over-familiarity with its product – I’ll leave you to decide.

But I wonder how many times “drumming gorilla” was entered as a Google search term before the advert was shown? And how many more afterwards?

Will it sell any more product? Or help restore the feel good factor of a brand that’s taken some knocks? We’ll have to wait and see. But it’s certainly got people talking.

And if you’re still wondering what the heck I’m blathering on about, see for yourself.

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Edinburgh

Glistening dark pavements
Send street lights scattering after a rain shower.
Hot chocolate snaps the sharp cold of February,
Smoothed by the soft burr of locals.
Grey stone exteriors with an exuberant heart
Kick back, let loose, shock, outrage and rebel
In a brief carnival of colour.
The festival as Mardi Gras
Antidote to granite skies.

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I met a new word today

The word is chaebol. And today was the first time I’ve ever encountered it.

I met it in an article which referred to Samsung as a “Korean chaebol”, which didn’t really give me many clues as to what it meant. So I had to look it up. I couldn’t find it in the online Oxford or Cambridge dictionaries but Dictionary.com came up trumps. 

For those of you still in the dark, chaebol is a conglomerate of businesses, usually owned by a single family, especially in Korea.

It’s not every day that I meet a new word. When I do, they’re often compound words  like podcast or blog, and I can work out their meaning from the context and understanding of their familiar roots.

Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be using chaebol in my every day language. But it was nice to make its aquaintance.

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A new favourite author

Something great happened this weekend. I read a wonderful book. It’s called Stardust and was written by Neil Gaiman.

It’s a fairy tale for grown ups. Think about that for a second. Think about the effect that fairy tales had on you as a child. They opened up new and magical worlds in your imagination. Filled them with wonderful, weird, brave, loyal, scary or cunning characters. Fairy tales took you on a journey. They left you scared and anxious in the deep dark woods. They made you smile and feel smart if you worked out the riddles. They transported you out of reality for a while and lingered like the memory of a warm summer day when you eventually had to return to real life.

That’s a pretty rare and special experience for a grown up. So thank you Mr Gaiman. And I’m sorry I didn’t get round to reading your work sooner.

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Aristotle the blogger

In one of those curious and convoluted connections that I love so much in the world of the web, I’ve seen two references to Ancient Greek wisdom this week.

Copyblogger.com (one of my regular feeds) presents Aristotle’s Top 3 Tips for Effective Blogging. Tips which work for all types of writing.

And then, in an article about the importance of the ending to the overall experience of a movie, there’s a quote from screenwriter Jan Sardi, who says, “It’s a principle that comes from Aristotle’s Poetics: that the challenge for any screenwriter or dramatist is to surprise the audience with the inevitability of everything that happens. There should be only one way a story can end. The ending is written in the beginning.” [Thanks to Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users who provided the original link.]

I’m going to try and apply some of Aristotle’s common sense advice to my next marketing job. But these connections also reminded me of learning Latin at school and encountering the beautiful poetry of Homer’s Iliad for the first time. I think it’s time for a re-read. For someone who loves the music of language, my poetry intake is pretty much confined to clever lyrics.

In the meantime, is it just coincidence when diverse sources use the same references at similar times? Or are they just smart people?

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