Archive | language

Copying Jane Austen – how other writers help you find your brand voice

Copy of Pride and Prejudice with the opening lines copied into a notebook

Trying to sound like Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when thinking and writing about novelist Jane Austen, this writer will inevitably adopt aspects of her tone of voice and writing style. What may not be quite so well known is that copying another writer’s words is an excellent way of adopting their tone of voice, that may, in turn, assist you in finding your own voice for your business brand.

In copying those famous opening words from Pride and Prejudice, I was actually demonstrating a top tip that has helped me and other copywriters adopt a new tone of voice for different business clients.

Find a piece of writing that’s a good example of the brand voice you want to adopt.

Copy it out word for word.

It will help you to write in a similar style.

It sounds rather simple doesn’t it? But honestly, it works. And it’s not just me that thinks so. I’ve seen this tip crop up in a number of copywriting resources, most recently in this podcast of 50 copywriting tips from Radix communications.

Why does it work?

I’d love someone to do some proper scientific research on this, but I like to imagine my brain firing off signals as I write. As I  copy a different style, it fires off those neurons in different patterns or intensities and in different directions, helping me to make new connections and discover ‘oh, I do it like this.’

As children we learn to talk through mimicry. Imitating the sounds we hear, we eventually learn to speak. So, it makes sense (to me anyway) that we can and do learn to write in a similar way. We start out copying letters, then words and sentences, and eventually develop the skills to make them say what we want them to.

Copying the words of another writer mimics how we first learned to write and understand language, through imitation. I like to think that it puts my brain into ‘learning’ mode.

How this helps you find a brand voice for a business

If you’re looking to express who you are and what you do in a new and distinctive way, then finding a style of writing that you think sounds right for you and copying it is a good place to start. It could be the style of a publication that you admire, a book, an advert, a letter from another company – but I encourage you to search out things you like to help you get started.

There is a leap from copying and imitating to making a voice your own. It involves more in-depth analysis of what the writing does, how it does it and why. But once you’ve found it, you should be able to work out the rules. If you’ve got the right voice, they’ll feel natural.

It’s also important to test your new style. Do your customers like it? Does it do what it needs to communicate what your business does?  Does it truly reflect your values and ethos? Are you confident you can apply it to all aspects of your verbal brand, from website to tweets, corporate report to customer email?

Why I’m thinking of Jane Austen

Rebecca Vaughan stars as 13 heroines from Jane Austen’s novels.

Rebecca Vaughan stars as 13 heroines from Jane Austen’s novels.

Jane Austen wrote mainly novels and letters, but with her precise turn of phrase, I like to think she’d have been a natural on Twitter.

She’s on my mind at the moment as this month marks 200 years since she died. To have created characters that are so familiar and stories that are still read, enjoyed and endlessly adapted so long after you have gone is a wonderful legacy for a writer.

On Sunday evening, I’m looking forward to seeing some of Jane Austen’s characters brought to life on stage at The Customs House as part of the Write Festival 2017 in South Tyneside.  The critically-acclaimed Austen’s Women sees writer and performer Rebecca Vaughan become Emma Woodhouse, Mrs Norris, Miss Bates and other characters from Austen’s novels.

I shall no doubt smile as I recognise their words, and if, on Monday morning, I’m sounding a bit Lizzie Bennet, I do hope that you’ll forgive me.

For fun, try this quiz:
Which Jane Austen heroine are you?

For more tips to help you improve your writing, sign up to my mailing list.

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Exercise your writing muscle – train to be a better writer

Use your writing muscle - writer wearing a hoodie, holding pen and note-book

Like physical training, your writing can benefit from exercise. Just like challenging your body, heart and lungs to take on new challenges, you can improve your writing by focusing on your writing practice and trying new things. Here’s how I exercise my writing muscle and keep myself in top writing shape.

Make time for writing

I swim, cycle and run so that I can take part in triathlons. I do weight training to keep me strong and in good shape for my sport too. Yes, it is sometimes hard to fit in physical training. But I know that if I don’t put the effort into consistent training, I’m unlikely to reach my potential, and I risk injury. Training challenges me, and I enjoy it. So I make time for it.

I make time for writing too. Not just as part of my daily routine, which involves creating content for my writing clients. I make time to explore writing outside of my work commitments too.

Time to try new writing challenges. Time to write with no expectations or judgement. Time to play around and enjoy it.

Time for writing can be a regular 20 minutes free-writing to warm up my writing muscles for the day. Or, it can be more intense and concentrated, in the form of a workshop or writing retreat with Dark Angels, or a training event from 26 Characters.

Become a better writer by reading

Most writers start out mimicking their heroes. I did. Somewhere in a box in the attic, there’s an exercise book filled with a story about a girl who runs off on horseback in the dead of night, in the style of C.S Lewis. Reading was how I first learnt the elements of stories, about heroes and conflicts, about character, place and action.

It may seem like a long path to go from writing fantasy tales to writing marketing materials for businesses. But business writing has its heroes with their obstacles to overcome too. It’s just a matter of seeking them out. Call that my daily quest.

Writing stories of my own taught me about structure – about the importance of beginnings, middles and endings. These are important elements in business writing too.

You need a strong headline to catch attention. You need to draw people in, take them on a journey. And then at the end, you need to persuade them to take action.

Become a better writer by analysing technique

While studying English Literature and Language at Leeds University, one of my tutors used to set us the task of writing essays in the style of the writers we were studying – Philip Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope.

This was very different from modern writing, but in mimicking the rhetoric, structure, and language of different writers, I learned to appreciate the craft of their writing even more. That meant I could write about it from a position of understanding.

Using metaphor, drawing on all the senses, writing from another person’s point of view, choosing a potent word – these are all techniques I have learned through studying language and literature. And they serve me well as a writer for business today.

Become a better writer by finding your voice

As a writer, the ability to adapt my writing to different styles is a very useful skill. It helps me sound like the brand or company I’m writing for. And I can still do a decent impression of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, should you need that kind of thing.

But to be authentic, it’s not enough to mimic someone else’s style.  You have to develop your own.

While a brand and business may borrow and adopt words and language from its own industry and environment, as a tone of voice consultant, I advise them to look for the things that make them different.

Just as in speaking, we all have our own individual, distinct and recognisable voices, it’s important to find your own voice when you write – whether that’s writing for business or writing for yourself. It’s what makes you different, unique and memorable.

To exercise your writing muscle and improve your writing

  1. Make time for writing

  2. Make time for reading

  3. Try on different voices and see what fits

  4. Use what you’ve learned and make it your own

For more tips to help you improve your writing, sign up to my mailing list.

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Who are you and what do you care about?

Man driving an ox cart in Cambodia
I’ve recently returned from an amazing trip to Cambodia with Lendwithcare – a charity that supports people working their way out of poverty.

I learned many things from the experience of travelling through the country and meeting the local people – things that I’ll write about here in future. But one of the most striking has got me thinking about how we talk about who we are and what we do.

So I was very proud to be invited to write a guest post for The Table on the subject of purpose in business and in writing. I enjoy reading Rob Self Pierson’s blog and feel that it reflects many of my own values about writing for business and pleasure.

Take a look: http://welcometothetable.co.uk/who-are-you-and-what-do-you-…

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Helping a new client find the right tone of voice

I’m really focused on work for a new client at at the moment. I’m helping them to define and articulate their tone of voice and writing some of their marketing materials. It’s a new area of business for me, but one that I really believe in, so it’s exciting and challenging and I’m deciphering a whole new range of jargon and acronyms.

So how do I go about helping an organisation to find its tone of voice? Surely that’s something that people who have more experience of the business should do?

Well, actually, looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes, or hearing things with a fresh pair of ears can be a real advantage. I’m more likely to pick up on the things that have always been said or written like that, and ask why. And because I’m new, people understand if I ask lots of questions.

So how do I develop a tone of voice for a business that I’m only just starting to get familiar with?

Listen

First of all I listen, or more often, read anything and everything I can get my hands on. The website is a good place to start, and social media too. I go and dig around and visit the little visited pages, the nuts and bolts and hidden corners.

Observe

I take notice of my environment, the posters, adverts, leaflets, screens all around me. And I get my hands on letters, emails, communications of all sorts.

Research

I talk to people too, find out about what they do, who their audience are and what challenges they face in their communications. I look for common themes, poke out clichés and get an ear for common phrases that have become a little dull through over use.

From there I start to get a feel for what’s authentic, what feels right and what feels a bit old and tired and needs shaking up a bit. And I start to play it back to the people who write and encourage them to hear what’s being said as thought it’s new to them too.

Gather evidence

Along the way I’m gathering examples of the good, the ‘could do better’ and the ‘what is this?’ I’m learning about the audiences from research and conversations with some of them too.

Picture of books - We, Me, Them & It, Dark Angels, The Invisible GrailGuide

I’ve been helped by re-reading We, Me, Them and It (How to Write Powerfully for Business) by John Simmons. This very readable book, recently republished my Urbane publications, demonstrates how words and language can help differentiate one business from another and add life to products and services.

What’s been most helpful to me has been John’s insight into how he put this into practice with real examples from his work with brands like the Royal Mail, Anglia Railways and Cable and Wireless. It’s a kind of ‘behind the scenes’ view that’s the next best thing to having been there at the time and says as much about the approach and challenge as it does about the results.

Last week I ran a workshop with some of the marketing team, combining some of my observations with their thoughts and experiences. It’s reaffirmed that I’m on the right track with my approach and thinking.

Developing a brand tone of voice is a fascinating process and one I love. I can quickly get a feel for how an organisation sounds and adapt my writing style to theirs. Encouraging it to make changes to help it sound more distinctive and to have its own voice will take a little longer but I’m already on the case, devising tips, tricks and examples to bring it to life.

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Words are part of the landscape

Walter Scott quote: "Love will subsist on wonderfully little ope, but not altogether without it"

I have travel on my mind at the moment. Unlike many, I’m not planning on jetting off on a summer holiday soon, but I am planning a few day trips, including time in Edinburgh.

In a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be indulging myself at the Book Festival, and the Fringe. I have tickets for a few events and for the rest, will take the approach of turning up to see what I can get into.

I love spending time in Edinburgh. It’s far enough away to feel like an adventure, but not so far that I’m in danger of jet lag. There always feels like there’s lots to see, do and explore, no matter how many times I’ve visited. I generally walk my feet off getting from place to place.

I really enjoy the way the city wears its literature. It’s inescapable. From the Writer’s Museum to the Storytelling Centre; from the book festival to literary walking tours and pub crawls, you cannot avoid the fact that this is a Unesco City of Literature.

Many locations, street names and areas are familiar to me from reading. From Walter Scott to Alexander McCall Smith, Muriel Spark to JK Rowling, it’s been home and inspiration to many writers.

Decorative window poem in Edinburgh

When I step off the train at Waverley, I half imagine I’ll meet some of their characters as I explore. I swear one day, I’ll see Rebus somewhere about town.

Even if you were unaware of its literary connections, words pour out onto the streets. You’ll find them etched on buildings, woven into window frames and hidden among the street furniture. It’s like a secret code that speaks to readers like me. It makes me smile as I encounter a poem that others pass by and never notice.

My last visit there introduced me to a beautiful poem, November Night by Scottish writer Norman MacCaig, that I discovered on the side of a planter. In the height of a Scottish summer, it reminded me of the realities of its winter.

Here is the first verse, which I craned my neck to read on the street:

“The night tinkles like ice in glasses.
Leaves are glued to the pavement with frost.
The brown air fumes at the shop windows,
Tries the doors, and sidles past.”

I wish more cities did this kind of thing. Poetry as part of the landscape is far more appealing than when it’s stuffed into study books. It’s unlikely that I’d have found this verse and its companions if I hadn’t chanced upon it. And I feel richer for it.

As I visit again this summer, I’ll be on the look out for more words on the street.

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Finding the joy of business writing

I gave blood yesterday. There’s sometimes a bit of a wait, so I grabbed a book to pass the time. Having finished my most recent fictional treat, I picked one off my desk – Room 121 by John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey.

The front cover proclaims it “a masterclass in writing and communication in business”. I say it’s a really good read.

It takes the form of a dialogue, a conversation between the two writers, sharing their thoughts, wisdom and experience of writing for many different kinds of business. And having spent many wonderful hours in their company on a couple of Dark Angels writing courses, I can hear John and Jamie’s voices in my head as I read it.

I opened it at random to find John speaking to Jamie about the joy of writing (page 119 if you’re interested). As a copywriter for a large company, it’s sometimes something hard for me to find. It’s a challenge to keep things fresh when you’re covering the same subjects or writing about the same products over a sustained period of time.

But I find ways. Sometimes I take a sideways approach, starting a draft in a deliberately different style, or with a word chosen at random from a nearby book. Or I begin the assault on the blank page by free writing, just spending 15 minutes or so taking my pen for a walk, writing non stop, banishing the inner editor and seeing where it takes me. There’s usually a phrase or combination of words, a nugget that gives me a way in to the next, more focused draft.

Yesterday’s moment of joy came from using the word ‘palaver’ in a piece I was writing. Palaver – what a wonderful playful word. Doesn’t it just make you smile? Don’t you want to say it? To feel it tumble around your mouth?

It’s not a word you might expect to see in a piece of business writing. But it was a direct quote from a customer, a fish and chip shop owner describing the experience of using his software saying: “There’s no faff. There’s no palaver.” Perfect. Real words. Authentic, natural and robust language. They gave me a small moment of joy. I reckon we need more of that in business writing.

Read more from John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey on their blogs.

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Writing with a sense of place

La Finca

Our outdoor classroom in Aracena

I’ve been thinking recently about how a sense of place influences my writing.

In September I spent four glorious days on a Dark Angels creative writing in business course in Aracena, Spain. My fellow writers all drew on the landscape, the history and the culture of the area to produce some highly imaginative and creative writing. It was truly magical to hear the different voices and interpretations of the exercises we did together during the day and to revel in a final evening of stories and performances.

The first day, we used a passage from Don Quixote as inspiration, and along with the warm sunshine, good company and relaxed atmosphere, it’s encouraged my recent writing to take on a rather lyrical, allegorical tone.

Compare and contrast with a few years ago, when I visited Japan. There my writing took on the style of the haiku. Pared back. Economical. Each word working hard. Packed with meaning. I have a notebook filled with poems and scraps of free verse from my time there. And when I think of Japan, that’s the kind of language that fills my mental landscape.

I’ve also recently written a piece about where I live. For this I drew on both the geographical setting of the river that runs nearby, and the voices of its history. For this is an area of rich voices, identifiable by their distinctive accent. I wasn’t born here, so it’s not my accent; but listening to The Unthanks sing of the shipyards, I can fair see the bulkheads blocking out the daylight or hear the pounding of boots on the slipway.

Professionally I write for one client. One tone of voice. But it has to have something of all these voices. It has to be economical, because I write for busy people who want me to get to the point. But it cannot be too obscure. They cannot be expected to work hard to find the meaning.

So, I look for the phrases that will surprise and delight. The words that show there’s a real human being behind those marks on the paper or screen. Sometimes that means a change of rhythm or pace. Sometimes it’s a colloquial phrase – something you’d actually say.

Though I have to be careful not to be too colloquial. I was recently asked to rewrite a line where I used ‘tea’ in the northern sense of ‘dinner’ or a meal you have in the evening. After all, not all our customers are northerners.

I’ve been asked if writing for one client can get boring. It can be a challenge certainly, to keep it fresh and interesting when covering the same themes. But there’s always a new way of looking at things, new insights from our customers or new influences from the wider world to take on board.

And when I spend some time thinking about my writing, I can see that I do adopt different voices – at work, on my blog, and in my personal writing. They’re all slightly different, but all part of me. And they’re all influenced by people I’ve met, places I’ve visited. To me, it’s a rich source of inspiration.

Does a sense of place influence your writing too?

If you want to know more about what happens on a Dark Angels writing course, tutor John Simmons describes it beautifully in his latest blog post. 

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Obama’s victory speech

So America has re-elected President Obama for a second term. And for me, one of the highlights of the whole campaign (or what I saw of it) was his rousing acceptance speech.

I love to hear President Obama speak. He undoubtedly has many people who help him write these important public communications, but he comes across as a very fine communicator.

So I thought I’d take a closer look at his latest speech to see if I can spot some of the tips and tricks that make it so effective. You can read or listen to the whole thing on the BBC News website.

Firstly, let’s consider his language. This is a highly educated, well informed man who no doubt spends a lot of time in meetings and discussions with similar high powered politicians. I’m sure President Obama understands words like synergy and leverage, but they are not the kind of words he uses in his speeches. Instead he opts for simple, straightforward words, the kind of language regular people use every day and understand.

He begins with ‘Tonight’ – a simple word that sets a marker for a significant moment. It’s repeated four more times during the speech – each time bringing you back to the here and now.

Within his opening address he talks of moving forward. In fact he uses the phrase ‘moves forward’ three times in quick succession. As ‘Forward’ was his campaign slogan, that’s hardly surprising, but it’s a nice nod to continuity, to consolidating the promises he’s made on the campaign trail.

And the pattern of three is important too. Look at the text of the speech and you’ll find numerous examples where a word or phrase is repeated three times, or he cites three examples. For example “That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter” or “We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America.”

You’ll often find this pattern of three in speeches and presentations. In Obama’s speech, he’s using it for impact and to add a pattern and rhythm which makes it appealing to the ear.

But three is a powerful concept. Shakespeare is littered with examples  – “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” Even Steve Jobs used it in his keynote presentations. And  that’s because it’s memorable. Something about the way our brains work makes three more memorable than six or eight. If you’re looking for people to hold things in their mind in the short term, then three is the ideal number.

Of course if you always use patterns of three, your speech may become laboured, and stilted, sounding contrived and unnatural. Obama knows this and breaks the pattern up into twos and fours. For example, he talks of “love and charity and duty and patriotism.” And later he says “I have never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America.”

It’s easy to see this kind of thing when you read the speech in its written form, but it’s important to remember that this is a speech. It’s meant to be received by your ears not your eyes. The patterning and repetition helps there of course, highlighting things you may want to remember, drawing our attention to particular points, creating a subtle melodic rhythm that makes it appealing.

But it’s even more important to consider the setting. Sure, Obama’s on a winning podium surrounded by his supporters, so he’s pretty much assured of a rousing reception. But think about what he has to work with. It’s just one man, using his voice and body language to make his point. No slides, no powerpoint, no props.

So what does he do? How does he carry the audience with him? He tells stories.

He speaks about “the determination in the voice of a young field organiser who’s working his way through college,” and “the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift.”

It’s all very well talking about big ideas like belief and hope, but Obama knows we need something real and tangible, something we can picture in our minds and hold onto. That’s what the stories give us. They humanise the big themes, make them real and personal.

And it’s interesting that he chooses to make us hear them, rather than just see them. A sign that he is alluding to the power of other voices as well as his own, perhaps?

I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling these are real stories. Certainly when he goes on to speak about meeting the family with the young daughter with leukemia, that’s a very real, personal and powerful anecdote that sticks in the mind.

Now, I’m no expert on political speeches, but I do enjoy listening to a good speaker or presenter, be they an actor, presenter or politician. I’ve no doubt that Obama’s speech was drafted, studied and edited several times before it was delivered.

But if you have a speech or presentation to make, there is a lot you could learn from this one. From the simple, concrete language through to selected repetition and patterning, and the power of stories to forge an emotional connection with your audience.

And there’s no need for Powerpoint slides.

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The language of the World Cup

So the World Cup kicked off today and as well as the host nation hoping to build its reputation on the back of football fever, there are plenty of big name brands hoping to cash in as a worldwide audience of millions turns its attention to South Africa.

It means beer and burgers in the supermarket, barbecues at the petrol station and any amount of plastic tat on sale just about everywhere you look.

There are some big brands out there hoping to draw some of that attention to themselves through their TV adverts. Nike’s done one featuring its sponsored footballers, Pepsi and Sony have taken a humorous approach, but the one that’s caught my eye, or rather ear is Carlsberg’s team talk.

It mimics a motivational team talk, putting you, the viewer, in the heart of the action; from the dressing room out into the tunnel, encouraged on by some British sporting legends, with a rousing speech ringing in your ears.

Watch it and listen to it. How does it make you feel? Inspired? Emotional? Excited? That’s not an accident. While the film itself is undoubtedly designed to push your emotional buttons, the language is designed to do that too. In fact it users a number of tricks to grab your attention.

Here are the opening lines:
“He says he knows how good you are. You know how good you are. It’s time to prove how good you are.”

Look at the repetition. It’s like poetry. Sometimes when we’re writing, we may feel that we shouldn’t repeat ourselves and will go to great lengths to find an alternative word or phrase, but here it’s used to create a particular effect.

Repetition is often used in speeches, to reinforce a point or to get a message across. And it can be stirring stuff. Just think of Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Did you notice that ‘how good you are’ is repeated three times in those opening lines? That’s not an accident either.

Patterns of two and three (doublets and triplets) just seem to make sense to our ears. In fact the rule of three is often used in speeches because people tend to remember three things. For example: “Friends, romans, countrymen”, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or Tony Blair’s “Education, education, education.”

It also helps to create a rhythm to the language. And in the case of the Carlsberg advert that rhythm subtly changes as it builds to its climax. Although none of the phrases are particularly long and wordy, it starts off slowly and by the end there’s a noticeable quickening created by short, sharp phrases, like: “Enough talk. Time for action”. There are two sentences there without a verb in them. Remember your English teacher told you a sentence had to have a verb in it? Sometimes breaking the ‘rules’ can create something quite powerful. The trick is knowing when to do it.

Listen again to the words in this advert. There’s nothing highbrow, nothing fancy there. “It’s gonna take bottle,” may be a sly nod to the brand’s product, but it’s also the kind of language that you’d use with your mates down the pub. The point is that it’s simple, everyday language. Nothing poshed up, no jargon, just good old everyday words.

And that’s something that I try to explain in my tone of voice workshops. That simple language doesn’t have to be dull or dumbed down. Simple language doesn’t have to lack passion. Simple language can be strong and powerful. As strong and powerful as a ball hitting the back of the net.

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My top ten tips for business writing

As a copywriter, I write for many different businesses. Here are my top ten tips for improving your writing, whether you’re communicating for business or writing for pleasure.

1. Begin with one grain of sand

In other words, you have to start somewhere. So state your purpose and outline what you’re trying to do. I often find it helps to start with a statement of what I’m trying to do: e.g ‘Write an email to let customers know about this week’s special offers’. Or to start by finishing a sentence e.g. ‘My customers would like to…’

You may not use these words in your finished communication, but they can help you to get over the fear of the blank page.

2. Be a reporter

Ask the questions who, what, where, when, how and why? And answer them. These are the questions that have served me well through my years working at the BBC and then as a copywriter for big business. They will help you get the facts and structure your story.

photographerWhen it comes to writing clear communications, imagine you’re writing for a quality newspaper or news website.

Don’t pack everything into the first sentence. Start with the most important piece of information, then add to it. Try to stick to one idea per sentence or paragraph.

3. Just do it (no critics allowed)

The best way to write something is just to write it. Banish your inner critic.

No one gets to read your first draft anyway. No one cares if it’s spelt wrong or you missed an apostrophe at this stage. Just get on and do it. You can go back and refine things later.

4. Be active

Choose the active, rather than the passive voice eg. ‘I am doing this’, rather than ‘this is being done’.

It makes you sound more involved, interested and less shifty.

5. Sell the sizzle

Every time we write in business we’re trying to get a response. It’s not just about increasing our sales (though that’s a distinct advantage), but also about how people feel about doing business with us. So we have to write persuasively and that means talking about benefits not features. Answer the question ‘What can it do for me?’

Think about perfumes – their feature is they make you smell nice, but they’re sold on the benefit that smelling nice will encourage the object of your admiration to fall at your feet. Answer the question ‘What can it do for me?’

6. Leave it

autumn leavesIt’s easy, particularly when you know your subject really well to get wrapped up in what you’ve written, to lose perspective. Take some time to away from it and come back with new eyes.

It can be as little as a few minutes while you make a phone call, grab a coffee, whatever – but try to read it as though you’ve never seen it before.

I’ve found it really helps to read things backwards, starting at the end and working back to the beginning. You may realise there’s a better place to start.

7. Prune it

Read through what you’ve written and look for places where you may have repeated yourself.

Look for the businesses and doublespeak; the handy jargon and short cuts we might use everyday but that make little sense outside our own circle. Cut big, then cut small.

Pruning also means you have to let some areas grow. Sometimes it might be better to take a couple of sentences to describe what something does instead of referring to what it’s called.

So rather than telling me it’s a personal GPS system, you might want to describe it as a gadget that helps you pinpoint exactly where you are.

8. Map it

Help your reader out by signalling where you’re going.

  • New paragraphs help single out thoughts.
  • Bullets and lists are great for drawing attention to things – and they’re easy to read.
  • Subheadings help the reader to skim through to key points of interest, or to pick up reading from where they left off

9. Check it

Ideally you shouldn’t proofread your own copy, but in reality most of us have to. Use your spell check if it’s an electronic document (make sure you’ve chosen English dictionary), but remember it’s not infallible. Take the time to read it through again.

Read it aloud. Start from the end. Turn the paper upside down. Read every word one by one. If you spot a mistake, look for the one next to it.

10. Test it

Does your piece of writing do what you set out to do? Get a second opinion. Does your tester understand it? Did they encounter any mental speed bumps? Bits where they had to go back and read it again? Did they spot any errors?

There are lots of tools that help you track digital communications these days, so you can see how well your email, website, or even social media is engaging with your customers. Is there a keyword or phrase that works well for you. what time of day are your customers most responsive. Take note of your analytics and look at areas where you could improve in future.

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