Tag Archives: Reader

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Grammar is a mysterious ritual to some business owners

The dark art of grammar – why it shouldn’t terrify businesses this Hallowe’en

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Lots of businesses will soon be advertising promotions themed around ‘Halloween’. That’s in inverted commas because technically it should be spelled ‘Hallowe’en’. It’s an old spelling (16th century, in fact), and rather like words such as ‘thus’ and ‘whom’ (both of which I am a massive fan) can often give audiences exactly the jar you’re trying to avoid when being engaging.

Which is why it’s okay to use the post-18th century spelling of ‘Halloween’. But this raises an interesting question: if everyone’s ignoring the old way of doing things and it’s okay to bend the spelling and grammar rules in this instant, is it okay to do so at other times?

Why good grammar is important for businesses

None of us are able to escape the grammar pedant. If you spotted the flaw in that sentence, there’s a good chance you’re the kind of person people are trying to get away from.

It is true that correct spelling and grammar are important. They not only help you present a professional image to your target audience, but they also help you to communicate your key messages more clearly.

It might seem unfair, but you will be judged on your spelling and grammar. Making mistakes, or writing poorly, comes across as unprofessional. There’s no point arguing that someone selling lawnmowers has no huge incentive to know what a gerund is – people won’t stop to contemplate reasons to let you off the hook.

This is because our brains have evolved to make quick judgements. It used to be a survival skill, but now it just helps us do things such as pick crisps off the shelves in supermarkets by rapidly assessing branding. Such is the way of life.

That first judgement is hard to shake. It’s a lot easier to simply make sure your copy is on point to begin with than to try and change someone’s negative opinion of you – assuming you’re lucky enough to get another chance to win them over.

Following the rules of grammar is also vital if you want to make sure you’re communicating clearly.

The last thing you want is the audience to be reading your copy and trying to figure out what it’s meant to say. The only thing they should be considering is whether your sales messages resonate with them.

Poor phrasing, unusual lexicon, or badly constructed sentences and paragraphs, all work to obscure the meaning of your text; losing you face and business.

When grammar gets in the way

However, there is a line past which proper implementation of grammar can actually do the exact opposite of what it is meant to.

For instance, a grammar pedant will say that the previous sentence should be:

‘However, there is a line past proper implementation of grammar can actually do the exact opposite to that it is meant.’

This is because technically speaking you are not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. This means the following sentences are wrong from a hard-line grammar point of view:

  • ‘Our unique mix of skills makes us the perfect company to do business with.’
  • ‘The reanimated skeleton returned to the crypt where it had come from.’
  • ‘By following my advice you can move your company in the direction you want to go in.’

But saying ‘with which to do business’ seems incredibly old-fashioned. Adhering to the letter to certain grammar rules can make your web copy read like a Victorian novel.

The whole argument for why spelling and grammar are important is that it makes it easier for you to communicate.

If following a certain grammar rule makes your copy harder to read because it is jarring for the audience, then this is not only ironic but also counter-productive.

You need not be haunted by grammar rules

You should always aim to have good spelling and grammar in your copy. There is a difference between saying that people know ‘Halloween’ means ‘Hallowe’en’ and saying that you don’t need commas, or that spelling doesn’t matter.

Don’t be tempted to think that your audience won’t care how you communicate if their own writing style isn’t very well developed. You are the business here – you’re the one who is meant to look professional.

Just as a vampire is blessed with eternal life and cursed with an aversion to daylight and garlic bread, grammar blesses you with clarity and curses you with bureaucracy. If you find yourself poring over ancient tomes of grammatical knowledge when trying to write a sentence, there is a good chance you are getting too obsessed with the intricacies of written language.

Aim for clarity. Always aim to produce high-quality writing from an ideological point of view – don’t allow the idiosyncrasies of your audience to undermine your general ability to write well.

There is a difference between adopting their tone of voice and allowing yourself to make mistakes just because your audience does.

But this October, don’t let grammar be the monster under your bed. That thing going bump in the night? It’s just the discarded apostrophe falling out of the middle of ‘Hallowe’en’.

A creative use of language and framing allowed me to theme this post to make it more topical.

You’ve seen this in action, now learn how to do it yourself. Sign up to my mailing list to get access to my quick cheat sheet on theming your content.

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Why you shouldn’t ask if your copy is too long

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Why ‘Is it boring?’ is the real question.

Something tells me you haven't got the sale. Image Source: CNN Money.

Something tells me you haven’t got the sale. Image Source: CNN Money.

Let’s talk about length, and why it’s important. It’s fine if you need to go outside and have a snigger first. The desired length for any given piece of copy is something that everyone from business owners to marketers obsess over.

Take blog posts for instance. Some people will tell you that they need to be kept short and concise in order to hold anyone’s attention in today’s instantaneous online world. Yet others will argue they should be well in excess of 1000 words, in order to be able to include enough information to make them relevant and valuable to the target audience.

But focusing on the length of your copy isn’t going to help you in the long run. Unless your word count is dictated by the physical space it will occupy (for instance on a flyer or brochure), the question to ask should be ‘Is my copy interesting?’

Length does not equal interest

There are some times in which shorter is indeed better: parents’ evenings; wedding ceremonies; root canal operations. But when you’re marketing to somebody your main goal is to persuade them to take action. Not everybody is the same. Some will take more persuading than others.

If you are presenting to potential clients, you stay long enough to answer any questions they have and ensure they have all the information they require. You wouldn’t pack up your laptop and leave as soon as the PowerPoint had ended. Selling isn’t about saying what you want to say, it’s about saying what the prospect wants to hear.

Which is why what you should be worrying about when it comes to your copy is whether or not it’s interesting. Just because you cut 1,000 words down by 50% doesn’t automatically mean your content becomes twice as interesting.Rather frustratingly for anyone looking for a definitive answer, the real rule about copywriting is that it should be as long as it needs to be.

How do I know if my copy is interesting?

Unfortunately this one is mostly down to your customers to decide. You have to trust your intuition, and there are a few basic ways to ensure you have done everything you can to keep it from being boring. Ask yourself:

Have I made points I need to make? If 500 words isn’t enough space in which to convey all the benefits of your product that your target market will want to know about, then cutting yourself off will damage your ability to convert them into customers.

Will the reader have any objections or questions that I have not yet addressed? Your potential customer will come up with many reasons (excuses) not to buy from you. If you do not challenge all of their objections, you are giving them a valid reason not to buy. Your copy should leave them with no doubt in their minds that they need your product.

Have I addressed everything that I raised at the beginning of the copy? Like a good story, copy needs some sort of narrative. If you draw your reader in using a question, statistic, or relatable scenario, you need to make sure you have concluded the points you raised by the end of the copy. Your target market won’t appreciate being drawn in with an interesting anecdote, only to be hit with standard sales copy once you have their attention.

Do the trees outside start quaking in fear as my mouse hovers over the ‘print’ icon? Don’t underestimate the power of editing. If you analyse what you’ve written, identify key points, and think of alternative phrasings, you can usually cut 1,000 words down to 500. It’s a common strategy in post-recession businesses these days (albeit usually applied to staff): make what you have work harder with less.

Too little copy is just as bad as too much. What is important is not how long it is, but how skilfully you can guide the reader from the beginning to the end without them even considering the length. People only complain about things being too long when they fail to hold their interest.

Just like some of the most effective things in marketing, great copywriting is invisible. Do you agree?

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