communications tips, content marketing, content production, copywriting, editing, grammar, proofreading, storytelling, technical writing, writing for the web, writing tips

Spring Clean – dump these five common mistakes for sharper content

We actually went out one day last week without layers – spring is definitely on its way. Even if it’s taking its time. As we all whip out the cleaning products in an attempt to spring clean, we thought we’d pick our five top content pitfalls. These pitfalls are mistakes even we, seasoned writers, fall for. So, join us at Make it Peachy, and spring clean your content for greater impact today.

Squash the temptation to over decorate

I am a naturally effusive person. It is a character trait that has served me well in business and my personal life. I’m also a card-carrying logophile. There is nothing more exciting as a writer than finding the perfect string of words to convey your intent. As a consequence, I am always fighting my instincts to dress up my sentences with as many descriptors as I can dream up. Adjective here, adverb there, my default is to overdecorate.

While long expressive sentences have their place, try to avoid them. People are reading your content for information. Give them that information as directly and simply as you can. Sure, if you find a lovely turn of phrase, don’t be afraid to throw it in, but don’t give your readers extra work.

Avoid those unnecessary exclamation points

As the emergence of emoticons has illustrated, tone can be painful to convey. We’ve all been there. You open a work email from a colleague and they’ve answered every question and addressed every problem yet you walk away feeling totally offended. In a bid to avoid offending others, many of us have resorted to excessive punctuation. Not a great move in business.

Overusing the exclamation point may convey your enthusiasm, but it can also diminish your credibility. When you’re communicating with colleagues, clients or customers on a professional level, tone is crucial. Think about what you’re saying. Are there any obvious alternative connotations? Can you reword your content to make it simpler? Don’t assume a level of intimacy until it has been established.

Don’t leave your readers hanging

We’ve all been conditioned to think that the ultimate cliffhanger is the best seduction. Serial storytelling has sucked us all in at some point. The trouble is, when it comes to effective storytelling and content writing, leaving your audience on a cliffhanger is more likely to annoy them. There is a fine line between suspense and frustration and it’s generally better just to avoid it.

You don’t want your audience to want to skip ahead. You want them to relish everything you give them. Make sure every piece of information you give them is useful and valuable.

Get rid of your clickbait

For those unfamiliar with the term, clickbait is the manipulative tool some businesses adopt to seduce readers into clicking on their content. They pick a deeply sensational heading to ensure maximum click-through and then fail to deliver on authentic content. As appealing as those numbers may be, they are not accurate.

As we all become savvier digital readers, our patience wears thin when we feel short-changed. Don’t do that to your audience. By all means, be creative and controversial with your headings. However, if you want a satisfied audience, ensure that you walk the talk.

Stop trying too hard

We know the world is flooded with content, good and bad. We also know that the only way to reach your audience is to ensure your content adds value to the pool. Those two things can sometimes lead us to try too hard. You don’t have to be the funniest, most original or quirkiest every time. What you do need is authenticity.

You know your business and/or purpose. You know what value your information will add. If you find a unique way to communicate that, then fantastic. If you don’t, don’t despair. Create useful, real and honest content that people can genuinely connect with.

We all clutter our content with the above, and I am no exception. Rejuvenate your content this spring by weeding out these pitfalls and you’ll find your content blossoms.

copywriting, editing, grammar, proofreading, writing tips

Top ten grammar hacks – seriously, can someone please explain that f*&^ing apostrophe?

Ever considered yourself the ultimate “grammar nazi”? Perhaps you’re wildly frustrated by the constant pedantic corrections of the obsessive “Oxford comma” user. Even those well versed in linguistic intricacies are sucked into hot debates about where and when sentence structure should be messed with. Is it the author’s prerogative? Are we just being lazy by not correcting them? I spent years being chastised for splitting infinitives, and using literally figuratively, so shouldn’t everyone else?

The wobbly fluid world of the English language is just not that easy to navigate, no matter how many by-lines you boast. As a team of writers, we are putting our hands in the air in joint exasperation.

We decided to pull together our top ten grammar hacks to help you get it right. We even touch on where to put that dreaded apostrophe (though we are acutely aware how many books have been devoted to attempting to get to the bottom of it).

Where to plonk the colon… or was that a semicolon?

Firstly, we love that there is a website devoted entirely to explaining this, with some excellent examples. As the website purports, there are many varied and appropriate differences between the old dot, dot and the comma, dot. The key thing to remember is that a colon is used to create a pause before new information is introduced (such as a list), whereas the semicolon is used to break up a sentence (kind of like a supercharged comma).

Be active… unless you mean to be passive

This one can be incredibly frustrating. The active voice is more direct. It gets to the point more efficiently. It also gives control to the actor in the sentence. It gives the author authority. We recommend that when you are writing for business that you try to stick to the active voice. The exception is style. The passive voice can be a lovely tool for subtly illustrating a point.

Choose a tense and stick to it

It must have been so easy for the educated in the days of yore. You knew exactly which tense fit in which situation. Today, things are a little more complicated. We experiment with tense depending on the purpose of our content. A lot of the time, it actually doesn’t matter which tense you choose. What matters is that once you’ve chosen that tense, you stick to it. That is of course until there is a reason to change.

Confused yet?

Where do I go? Or was that me?

Many grammar enthusiasts get wildly frustrated when a person uses ‘me’ instead ‘I’. Strangely, this writer’s pet peeve (yes, I am very aware I should not have one) is when people do the opposite. This is a classic case of overcorrection. People have clearly become so concerned that they’ll appear uneducated if they pop ‘me’ in the wrong spot that they avoid using it all together. As a general rule, you can use ‘me’ whenever something is happening to, for, with, at you. If you are the object of the sentence, then it is appropriate to use ‘me’. If you are the subject or actor in the sentence, then you should use ‘I’.

The same goes for whom. Sometimes, it’s who.

As Monica so hilariously pointed out in Friends all those years ago, sometimes it’s who. This is another situation where overcorrection has only served to confuse us all. The trick is knowing who is the object and who is the subject. Here’s a little clue for you: ‘me’ and ‘whom’ are generally used in the same spot. ‘Who’ is always the actor. “Whom” is the object.

How many commas do you really need?

There is really no hard and fast rule about commas. Some people love to break up their flow with a comma, some don’t. The trouble is, the comma serves so many purposes, it makes it hard to know which rule you should be adopting. As a result, it really comes down to style and intent. Commas can add a lovely rhythm to prose. They can also make the sentences sound choppy and disjointed. The key is to work out your approach and as always, stick to it.

How does one split an infinitive anyway?

For those totally lost, when a grammar enthusiast disdains that they have once again broken the cardinal rule of grammar, ignore them!  Sometimes, splitting an infinitive is the best way to effectively get your point across. What is an infinitive? It is the uninflected form of a verb. For example, to walk, to jump, to see. What people mean, when they talk about splitting that infinitive, is when you place an adverb (the word you use to describe the verb) in-between the ‘to’ and the action. If it makes sense, by all means, avoid doing this, if only to save yourself from having to explain. But, like many of these ‘rules’, it’s not nearly as steadfast as some would have you believe.

Seriously, where do I put that apostrophe?

Simon Griffin wrote the hugely entertaining book ‘F*&^ing Apostrophes’ in an attempt to clarify things. The apostrophe and its role in language can be so frustratingly confusing that Griffin is right to infer that it does inspire a foul-mouthed response. The most discouraging thing about apostrophes is that you do have to get it right. If you pop one in the wrong spot, this tiny punctuation mark has the power to change the entire meaning of your sentence. Oxford Living Dictionaries has a great piece on apostrophes, and if you are at unsure, we recommend you bookmark this page.

Who, that or which?

Here, catch this spanner! ‘Who’, ‘that’ and ‘which’ all have traditional roles. Depending on where you live, the rules will change. British English suggests one rule for ‘that’ and American English suggests another. What about us poor Australians, stuck in the middle of the debate again. One thing to remember is ‘who’ generally refers to people and ‘that’ and ‘which’ to things. It really comes down to a preference of style.

Whatever you do, be consistent

English is a changing beast. Rules that were hard and fast years ago, now hold little weight today. You can experiment with language to find the style and tone that suits your purpose. Play with rules and disrupt the status quo. The only rule we think everyone should stick to is consistency. Once you’ve made the choice, stick to it. If you jump between styles, you really will confuse your reader. So, unless that is the intent, please, be consistent.

 

copywriting, editing, proofreading, research, typos, writing tips

Research my old friend – the key to credibility

Well, that was embarrassing! By no means the most embarrassing thing to come out of the White House in recent weeks, but for us lowly Aussies, it’s a pretty blatant slap in the face. It just shows how a simple mistake, like not knowing someone’s name can wreak havoc with your credibility (although having said that I suppose that would have to assume Mr Spicer had some to begin with, which is up for debate). As a writer, it just reminds me how critical it is to have exemplary research skills.

What’s in a name?

While we all may take issue with some of the decisions our Prime Minister has made (or not made for that matter), Spicer referring to Malcolm Turnbull as ‘Prime Minister Trumbull’ has put a bad taste in our mouths. Is it that he deliberately got it wrong and is trying to make a statement that we don’t matter? Or is he so grossly incompetent that he can’t check his facts before addressing the media? Either way, it doesn’t sit well.

As a writer, I am always thrown new and bizarre topics and ideas. I am tasked with creating something engaging in any number of industries and fields and write it in the name of the experts. If I muck up the facts, not only I lose face, but so do my clients. What’s in a name? Your credibility that’s what.

Finding credible sources

Don’t get tarred with the unpleasant brush of ‘alternative facts’. Much like we all need to start investing in the validity of the news put in front of us, when you are producing content, make absolutely certain you know where your facts came from.

Don’t take my word for it. I cannot emphasise enough, the need to find credible sources. A little reminder, Wikipedia might give you your quick facts to get you started, but you know anyone can edit their pages, right? Whether you are writing news articles for major publications or editing a bit of content for someone’s website, if you use someone else’s content, please check it first.

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Check your facts

Not only do you need to ensure that your sources are credible but more important than that – have you checked your facts? Have you checked your names? Your dates? You may have gone out of your way to find credible sources, interviewed fantastic people and profiled some fascinating event or product. But if you’ve mucked up the nitty gritty, the whole content piece is totally worthless! I’m not even exaggerating. It’s one thing to have the odd typo (even us experienced writers must admit that every now and then something slips by), it’s another thing entirely to call the Prime Minister of a country by the wrong name.

Research can be fun – really it can!

You know the thing I love most about what I do? That I get to step into someone else’s world for a day. For the time it takes me to produce that content, I get to become an expert. And for that time, I do. The cool thing is that other people’s worlds can be amazing, especially when you get to step back into your own at the end of the day.

To make something interesting to your readers, you’ve got to be interested yourself. The best way? Get in and learn. Before I worked for a metal finishing company, I had no idea how cool metallurgy can be. I mean, seriously, check this video out. Science is cool!

Don’t proof your own work

Whatever you do, whatever you write, wherever you plan to publish, don’t proof your own work. Yes, of course, you can ensure you minimise mistakes and check and recheck everything you write. Please remember, you are invested in what you create and sometimes you will miss things. Sometimes significant things. Don’t embarrass yourself the way that a media professional never should. Ask for help.

There are so many things I want to say about research. I am a research fiend. I actually enjoy finding new and interesting ‘actual facts’.

You know what? The last few months have been pretty confronting for a lot of people. There is so much about recent events that if I am honest, I am not even sure how to react. But you know what? I can say this! Do your F$#@ING research!

writing for business
content production, digital copywriting, editing, proofreading, typos, writing tips

Writing tips for non-writers: writing for business

writing for business
Writing for business

Would you like to know how to write purposefully, authentically and effectively in your business? Understanding how to best communicate with your stakeholders can improve business, build credibility and foster excellent relationships. I have plucked a handful of key steps you can take to guarantee an improvement in your writing skills.

Identify a purpose

What is the purpose of your content? Is it internal or external communications? Is it marketing or informative? There is no point spending hours and resources creating content if you don’t know why you are creating it. There are many reasons you might choose to create content, and taking the time to nut out exactly why you want this content will be invaluable to you. It will save time in the long run and will help inform where you want to use the content.

Know where you want to publish your content

Deciding where you want to publish your content should absolutely affect what you produce. Is this content for the web? Is it an annual report for board members? Is it an article for print? Is it an email to a client or colleague? You should take a different approach for each platform. Know ahead of time where you want to publish your content and use that to guide your approach.

Generally speaking, writing for business requires a professional and approachable tone. Be direct, be simple and be clear. If your business has a style guide, you can follow that guide for the right approach.

Identify your call to action

Once you know the desired outcome of your content you have identified your call to action. Make that call clear. Identify it early and always return to it. If any content that you’ve created does not support your call to action – is it necessary?

Know your style

Designing a consistent voice for your business is vital. If you haven’t already, engage a communications specialist, either internally or externally and create a style guide now. This document will help you and your colleagues create consistent, on point, on-brand content for every platform.

Remember to create a guide that includes all the platforms on which you will be conducting business including but not limited to:

  • Emails
  • Reports (external and internal)
  • Website
  • Blog or online articles
  • Newsletters
  • Brochures
  • Social Media
  • Overall printed style
  • Overall digital style

Save your templates

If you have written a great email, or you’re particularly proud of a report you’ve produced, save it. Ensure that you design templates as part of your style guide. This will save time and guarantee a degree of consistency.

Many people do no have experience writing, yet their jobs require writing. Make it easier for them and yourself. Design templates that are easy to follow and save them.

You’ve gotta accentuate the positive

Starting a piece of content with something you can’t do just reminds people what you can’t do. Where possible always lead the focus back to what you can do. Using optimistic language engages your reader on a confident and positive level. Leading with what you can do intrinsically instills your reader with confidence in your ability to do what you need to.

Use the active voice wherever possible. It saves time. It is more direct. It gets your point across in the most efficient way. Unless you are making a specific point, there is no place for a passive voice in business writing.

Get rid of your jargon

When you’re in an industry full of jargon, it’s often difficult to simplify your language and create engaging and clear content. Read my earlier blog for tips on how you can KISS your jargon-filled copy goodbye.

Check it once then check it again.

Pay particular attention to names, titles, gender and dates. By making a mistake this simple you can almost certainly lose a degree of credibility from your reader. Check your facts and then check them again.

Make sure you haven’t made any silly and obvious spelling or grammatical errors. You can refer back to this spelling and grammar checklist for some tips. Don’t just rely on the internet to check your work. Check your content and then check it again.

Ask someone to proofread your content.

Check it one more time.

Ask for help

If you’re still unsure, ask for help. If you don’t have a communications specialist in-house, consider engaging someone like me to help you with your business content.

There are some great courses out there. For a personalised writing training course for your business, get in touch with Make it Peachy for a free consultation.

copywriting, editing, proofreading, sub-editing, typos, writing tips

Don’t let silly mistakes spell the end of your credibility

We’ve all been there. You’ve spent hours working on the perfect pitch or article and in a proud state of exhaustion, you publish without a second thought. Only then do you, and all your colleagues and followers, realise that you’ve made some key mistakes. Mistakes you could have easily fixed. Mistakes that just chip away at your credibility as a knowledgeable resource in your field. Mistakes I can help you avoid.

I have created a basic checklist that should help you avoid some of the common mistakes. Use it wisely.

There vs They’re vs Their

It is so easy to mix these up.

There has a number of meanings. It can be an adverb, a pronoun and adjective or a noun. It generally refers to a place, but not always. For example

My cup is over there.

Is there anybody out there?

My cup there is empty.

We’re going over there.

Their is a possessive adjective. This means it is indicating that you own something. For example

You can borrow their ball to play soccer on Thursday.

They’re is a contraction. This means it is a shorter way of writing they are. For example

They’re coming over for dinner after the game.

If you would like a more detailed explanation, read this article on E Learn English Language, which explains it all in more detail.

Loose vs Lose

This is an incredibly common mistake, which can fundamentally change the meaning of your sentence.

Lose is a verb to describe the loss of something. For example

I lose my keys if I don’t leave them in the same place.

Loose is an adjective to describe the opposite of tight. For example

When I lose weight my trousers become loose.

Desert vs Dessert

Mixing these two up could be the difference between a delicious chocolate mud cake and eating sand.
Desert has two meanings and two pronunciations. The first is a noun describing a dry, baron land. The second is a verb to describe abandoning someone or something. For example

I thought I found an oasis in the desert, but it was just a mirage. 

A loving mother does not generally desert her child.

Dessert has just the one meaning. It is the noun to describe the tasty treat you have, or shouldn’t have, at the end of a meal. For example

My husband forgot to share his chocolate dessert with me because it was too delicious.

You’re vs your

Your is a possessive adjective. This means it shows that you own something. For example

Did you bring your book to class?

You’re is a contraction. This means it is a shorter way of writing you are. For example

If you’re going to go for a walk in the rain, I suggest you bring an umbrella.

Everyone’s favourite pedant Ross Geller explained it his way when breaking up with Rachel.

The dreaded apostrophe

The apostrophe is a mean and complicated beast. Knowing where to put it can have even the most engaging writers stumped. There are many ways to use and misuse the apostrophe and Scribendi have written a really comprehensive article on the proper use of apostrophes. One of the most common mistakes people make is in relation to plurals. Plurals that are not possessive do NOT require an apostrophe. For example

I play football on Thursdays.

Don’t let your computer do all the work

By all means use tools such as spell check and grammarly. Please don’t let that be your last line of defence. The great thing about these tools is that they will often pick up on major mistakes or incomplete sentences, but they will never be able to pick up your intent. You need to read over your work to make sure you haven’t altered your intent with a well-spelt typo.

Is your spell check on the right region? It’s easy to forget that even though we are speaking the same language, sometimes our spelling is specific to our country.

Read it aloud. If it doesn’t sound right when you speak the words, chances are, it’s wrong. Reading it aloud will give you a realistic feel for the rhythm and feel.

Finally – NEVER PROOF YOUR OWN WORK.

Even experienced editors and proof-readers follow this rule. When you are personally invested in the content it is so much harder to pick up the small mistakes. Always ask a colleague or friend to give your work a once over, just to make sure.