Welcome to the second issue of my e-newsletter.
It’s quite a bit later than I intended but I have good reasons – I’ve been busy writing for clients. And I’ve had some fabulous and varied work too including website content for at home beauty business, Return to Glory.
In this issue
No sooner had I peeled off my beauty mask than I had donned a hard-hat to write a brochure for a construction company. There'll be more about both in issue three.
There is definitely a push to improve written communications. It was great to see the recent Improve Your English series from the Independent newspaper. Then there was the stream of letters in the Telegraph highlighting the least loved phrases and buzz words that have crept into our language.
I know that English is rich and varied precisely because we let it evolve. That’s part of what makes it such a joy to use. However, the kind of language that lots of us seem to hate does nothing to make English richer. Quite the opposite in fact. I’ve included some gems in Busting the Jargon which were sent to me after the first issue. Thanks to everyone who wrote to me and please, keep them coming.
This issue’s Recent Work features a document used by Nikon UK to communicate its terms of business to its network of dealers. I was asked to give the copy clarity and consistency. It’s a good example of a document that has to get points across without ambiguity to avoid misunderstandings. If you think I help you with something similar, please get in touch.
Know what you want to say, but you can't find the right words?
Writing copy for your own business isn’t easy. You’re too close to it for a start. You can overlook some really good things; simply because they’re second nature to you. Hopefully, the main reason is that you are just too busy running a successful business. The copy for that website or newsletter that you know you need somehow always gets put off. It could just be that you hate writing …
However, I LOVE writing! I love working with words: making them flow; making them sparkle. So why not let me bring some flow and sparkle to your copy? My services include copywriting for:
- direct mail
- copy evaluations
If you’d like to talk to me about a project or just to find out if I can help you, drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call: 0208 390 8429 / 07963 722 330.
Hints & tips
Me, myself and I
“You may recall that you contacted myself or one of my Liberal Democrat colleagues recently about a local issue…” began an email from someone who should know better – my local MP.
The misuse of ‘myself’ in official, business or internal communications is very common. So too is the use of ‘I’ instead of ‘me’. We do seem to be very jittery about using ‘me’. It’s as if we think using it makes us seem uneducated. Trust me. It doesn’t.
It probably stems from hearing things like “Janet and me wuz goin’ t’shops.” Now we know that’s not quite right.
However neither is the following correct:
“It was a present from my husband and I.”
There is a very simple way to make sure you get it right: take the other person out of the sentence and see how it sounds.
In the first example if you remove Janet you wouldn’t say “me was going to the shops.” It would of course be “I was going to the shops.” So “Janet and I were going to the shops” is correct.
Now remove ‘my husband’ from the second example. “It was a present from I.” Mmm, doesn’t sound good does it?
It should be ‘it was a present from me’ therefore reinstate ‘my husband’ and you have “it was a present from my husband and me.”
Striving ever harder to avoid common-as-muck ‘me’, many people substitute ‘myself’. My MP for instance. The first sentence of his email should read 'contacted me'.
I’ve noticed ‘myself’ is most often misused in business communications: internal and external. It definitely stems from ‘me’ phobia.
‘Myself’ is not a posh form of ‘me’ or ‘I’. So, “the project was led by Ted and myself” is wrong. Take out Ted and you’ll see. “The project was led by Ted and me” is correct.
Only use ‘myself’ after you have used ‘I’ earlier in the same sentence. For example:
“I kept all the chocolates for myself.”
“I kept the secret to myself.”
So, there you go. You need never be afraid of ‘me’ again!
Proof of the Pudding
Return to Glory
“Elaine used her remarkable skill to wonderful effect for Return to Glory.
Our website text was functional, repetitive and blunt. Elaine smoothed over the cracks, created a unique tone of voice that talks to our customers as they want to be talked to. Our site is smooth, delicious to read while still being informative.
Elaine grasped the brief immediately, took the task in hand and spun her magic with initiative and pace.
We hope to continue to use her services.”
Natasha Dwyer ~ Founding Partner ~ Return to Glory
Nikon UK Business Support Pack
“I found that I was actually reading back what I had always meant to say but hadn’t managed to.
“It made me realise that this type of writing is a real skill. Less can certainly be more when it’s used to such effect.”
Graham Taylor, Business Process Manager, Nikon UK
@ Public Relations
“I always find it amazing how a one off conversation can turn into an opportunity to work with Elaine. I first spoke to Elaine nearly two years ago and when I suddenly needed a copywriter to support me with a client her name popped up in my mind.
After briefing Elaine she quickly got on the case and creatively drafted some words to perfectly accompany new photography for my client’s new brochure. I found it really helpful to talk through my thoughts and ideas with Elaine and we came up with a format which I believe will wow my client and the readers of their brochure.
For me, its piece of mind I get from working with Elaine. I know that once briefed I can trust Elaine to get on with the job and not worry about what I get back.”
Sanjay Mistry, @ Public Relations
“The text for the new Fashion Forward website - www.fashion-forward.co.uk - needed a professional evaluation prior to going live. Elaine was absolutely the right person for the job. Her enthusiasm and ability are second to none. Deadlines were tight and she delivered beyond expectations. I have no hesitation in recommending Elaine and will definitely work with her again.”
Alison Abrams - Managing Director, Fashion Forward.
Nikon UK Business Support Pack
Nikon Business Support Pack. Design by Elena Jones of Ideasroom
The purpose of Nikon’s Business Support Pack is to make the company’s terms of business clear to its network of dealers. It covers every department a photographic dealer might need to contact at Nikon UK, from the sales office to the service and marketing departments.
I was asked to rewrite the document in a clear, concise style getting rid of any ambiguity that might cause problems. It’s an important area and the same can be applied to any document of this type that sets out expectations or standard terms and conditions. The meaning needs to be clear and information needs to be easy to find. A company’s staff manual would be a good example.
“The Support Pack has been around for several years and it was looking very tired and unwieldy,” explains Nikon UK’s business process manager, Graham Taylor. “It didn’t look like a document you’d want to read. More importantly, it wasn’t that easy to find information in a hurry if you needed to.
“It had been added to by different people over the years which didn’t help clarity and I knew it could be much simpler and more direct.
“However, what I didn’t realise until I read the first of Elaine’s changes was just how much clearer it could be. I found that I was actually reading back what I had always meant to say but hadn’t managed to.
“It made me realise that this type of writing is a real skill. Less can certainly be more when it’s used to such effect.
“She also re-wrote the legal terms and conditions – always a notorious source of mysterious and arcane language. Even the company solicitor was impressed which explodes the myth that legal language is written that way for a reason.”
Busting the jargon
Thanks to everyone who sent me their favourite bits of bloated, nonsensical ramblings from Britain’s boardrooms. There are signs that the sterile, meaningless language so beloved of politicians, unenlightened managers and those who aspire to be them, has had its day.
A recent torrent of letters on the subject to the Telegraph highlighted some of our least favourite buzz words and phrases.
It began with a letter from a reader asking who was responsible for inflicting the expression ‘draw down’ on us. His conclusion was that ‘reduce’ is probably too simple and explicit.
By Saturday the floodgates had opened and the letters continued to pour in for the paper’s online version as well. Take a look at Christopher Howse’s blog from that week:
There is hope but there’s a long way to go as the following beauties you’ve sent in prove. Anyway, if it disappeared overnight, what would I have to smirk about?
Office conversation between young, aspiring middle-manager and seasoned old campaigner:
YAMM, striding unannounced into SOC’s office: “There is some information missing across the piece.”
SOC, a puzzled look forming on his face: “Er, across the what?”
YAMM: “Across the piece.”
Waves a calendar under SOC’s nose, drags finger several times across March and repeats “Across the piece.”
SOC, with a sharp intake of breath, raising his eyes towards the ceiling: “Ah. You mean there is information missing from the month of March.”
YAMM, now beginning to doubt SOC’s sanity: “Yes, from the piece.”
SOC, with a sigh: “When did month become piece?”
YAMM, shrugging: “Oh it’s just something I picked up.”
Thanks to Norman Smith for this email from a large construction company.
“Gents (never a good start! – ed)
Can you look at the attached and provide myself and Robert with a glide path to bring yourselves up to date.”
Norman asked the sender what kind of er, ridiculous-speak was that. Like our YAMM, he said he didn’t really know. It was a phrase he had picked up and thought might fit the situation.
Thanks to Pauline Heathcote for this gem from good old BT. It was in a communication to BT people past and present, and concerns the new remit of the Group Technology Council:
"The council will perform end-to-end "deep-dives" (in-depth subject analysis) on technology issues facing BT and share vital business and technology news."
I love the way they have put a bracketed explanation after it. So why use it in the first place?
Thanks Pauline. Your copy of Ducks in a Row will be waddling its way towards you very soon.
Please keep them coming. Like Pauline, the winner in each issue will get a copy of Ducks in a Row - Carl Newbrook’s amusing guide to Offlish.
The last word
Pocket sized grammar
It happens to all of us. We’re writing a letter, report or email and suddenly something crops up that we’re not sure about. Where should that comma go? Should I use a colon or a semi-colon? Mmm. Preposition. I know the word, but go on, remind me.
Not everyone has time to wade through books on grammar to get the answer. However, Blackwell’s has published a handy, pocket sized book on grammar. It’s a slim 36 pages and tackles things like spelling and words that are often confused plus grammar, punctuation and common faults. There’s also helpful advice on letter writing.
Costing just one shiny pound it’s an excellent investment. Go on. Treat yourself!