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.

 

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.

content marketing, copywriting, digital copywriting, editing, research, storytelling, writing tips

Writing tips for non-writers – KISS your jargon filled copy goodbye

You are the expert. You have oodles of experience. You know your product. You’re passionate about your product.

The problem is you just don’t seem to be able to translate that passion into engaging content. Why?

There are many reasons you might be missing the post. Today, we are going to talk about jargon. That dreaded terminology that took you months, if not years to pick up is likely turning your content to gobbledegook. It’s time to unlearn those words, and simplify, simplify, simplify!

Here are some tips for keeping your content clear, engaging and authoritative. Write down what you know and then give it a little bit of love.

Just remember – it’s all in the KISs

Keep It Short

 You want to find the most efficient way to relay your point. Why use 15 words when four will suffice?

All you are doing is alienating and likely boring your audience.

Your copy overall does not need to be long to be effective. Neither do your sentences. By shedding the excess, you will likely cut a lot of the jargon by default.

Keep It Simple

 Your field is likely full of complicated definitions and terms that make communicating within the industry easier. You must remember that no one else understands your jargon. If you want to illustrate your point, strip away the technical words. Assume your audience does not have a glossary of your terms. Be as clear as you can without patronising your reader.

Your thesaurus can absolutely be your friend. Just try not to overdo it, like Friend Joey Tribbiani once did.

Keep It Straightforward

Get to the point. Unless you are writing for writing’s sake (which by the way is a perfectly admirable thing to do), there is no need to beat around the bush. Tell it how it is.

Sometimes it can be hard to remember that using your jargon is not, in fact, the most straightforward way to explain something. Sure, if you are speaking to people within your industry that may be so. Clients, partners and other stakeholders won’t understand.

It can be helpful to break down your content into bullet points or headings. This can often highlight for you what your most important points are.

Keep It Stylish

 Create a brand style guide. Work with your marketing resources to identify how you want to represent your brand to the public.

Know your tone ahead of time. This can be a really simple way to avoid using jargon. If you have planned your style ahead of time, you might also have identified a handful of key phrases that relay your brand clearly. Using these instead of industry jargon will be far more effective.

Keep it Succinct

You want to make your content clean, clear and sharp. Don’t be precious with your words. There is a lot of literature about how to declutter your life or your house. The Japanese KonMarie method tells us to keep only those things that spark joy. When it comes to your writing, ask yourself, “does this sentence support my point?”

  • Remove anything that doesn’t serve your purpose.
  • Avoid the passive voice; it’s clunky and unclear.
  • Use strong purposeful words. The more direct your words are the fewer you’ll need to use.
  • Don’t be redundant.

When it comes down to it, using jargon in your copy is the easiest way to lose your audience. Non-industry readers won’t understand and they will check out. It is so much harder to win back an audience member than to just keep them interested.

So when you’ve written your first draft – KISs your jargon goodbye.