Help! I need to write a witty article about marketing


Dear HTWB Agony Columns

I have been asked to write an article for the business pages of a local newspaper based in Oxford, England. Many people in the local business community still think that marketing is a press release and not much more. [Read more…]

Introductions and preambles: enough already

HTWB introductions 1Have you noticed how introductions and preambles in nonfiction books, sales videos, training manuals etc. are getting so long they take up more words and bandwidth than the actual information itself? [Read more…]

Why professionals need to get naked to write simply


Strip off your professional persona if you want to write well for the general public…

A very interesting issue often comes up in workshops I give for senior professionals who need to write text for the general public.

These writing workshop participants are experts in their field and they find it hard to “detune” their vocabulary and way of communicating to the level required so that their audience can understand what they’re talking about.

And when they do, they feel as guilty as hell about it, because they think they’re being patronizing. They forget that simple language – as opposed to technical jargon and complex terminology – is what everyone speaks every day .. . including them.

Remember what it’s like to be human?

Something I have been banging on about for years is that the last person who should ever write text, a speech or anything else is an expert – as I ranted about in this HTWB post back in early 2011. If you don’t want to read the whole post, basically I said that experts know too much and assume too much prior knowledge of the subject matter on the part of the audience.

However members of this group I was working with recently – and they’re typical of many such specialized groups in both commercial and public sectors – have to write information for the general public whether they like it or not. They find it difficult. Yet it’s not hard for them – and others like them – to leap over the credibility barrier and communicate with their audiences in ways that work, as long as they see that it’s OK to detune their language.

You have to get naked

That’s right: strip off your uniform, your business suit, and your professional persona. Consumers, recipients of information from the public sector and other “ordinary” people are intimidated by all that and if you so much as utter a term they don’t understand they will click right away from your text.

Especially if you’re someone who is a senior expert in your field, get off your high horse and think – and write – in the sort of fashion your key audience uses. I know it’s hard … I have spent many, many hours over the last umpty-dump years re-wording information  produced by “experts” in a way that mere mortals can understand.

I shouldn’t say this because I might be doing myself out of some business, but hey – why not just detune your text yourself?

It’s not that hard – just talk to your ordinary self

This idea of detuning your text actually shouldn’t be that difficult, provided that a) you accept that you need to do it and b) you can relax and become a member of your target audience while you’re writing.

When I set exercises for my workshop I ask participants to imagine they’re sitting around a table with a cup of tea or coffee, explaining the topic in hand to someone like this (depending on the nature of the intended audience):

  • A close friend
  • A bright 12-year-old
  • Someone you’ve just met
  • Someone who doesn’t speak English very well
  • An elderly aunt or uncle
  • Etc.

Then I get them to write down what they would say in those circumstances.

If you can’t write it, speak it

Quite often, workshop participants start off very well in their written attempts but sentence by sentence creep back into their own jargon and tone of voice.

The answer here, is to forget writing for the moment, and speak the topic through. Record it, transcribe it, and use that as the basis for your writing.

It’s very simple, really. To write effective information for the “general public,” you have to strip off and become a member of the general public again, yourself.

Some help make sure you don’t need to get naked:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

How to write an invitation

How to write an invitation for weddings and other social occasionsConsidering the trouble and expense we go to when creating printed invitations for special occasions, it’s worth checking out just what you need to write on them so your guests know exactly what to expect. Here are some tips you may find helpful.

Whatever it’s for, get all the facts straight

You’d be surprised how many invitations to weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs etc. get mailed out with one or more pieces of crucial information missing. In our haste to get the thing ready for the printer – especially if we’re up to our ears in other preparations for the Big Day – it’s very easy to leave off a time, part of an address, etc. which can lead to all sorts of complications. Here are some ideas you can use; the tips are not necessarily in chronological order, though.

Who’s inviting

In most cases this is very straightforward – the name/names of the people or organisation hosting the event. Where you can get into a bit of hot water is with wedding invitations if you use the old-fashioned format where the hosts are the bride’s parents and they are divorced, widowed, remarried, etc. Here’s a quick look at how to handle that:

Parents together: Mr and Mrs John Smith” …. “at the marriage of their daughter”

Parents split up: “Mrs Angela Smith and Mr John Smith” …. “at the marriage of their daughter”

Mother remarried: “Mrs Angela Jones and Mr John Smith” …. “at the marriage of their daughter”

Mother and stepfather: Mr and Mrs Henry Jones” …. “at the marriage of her daughter”

Father and stepmother: Mr and Mrs John Smith” …. “at the marriage of his daughter”

Who’s being invited

It’s important to make this clear, especially if the invitation is to include anyone other than the main addressee. If you want single people to bring someone, write “Judith and Guest” or more formally “Ms Judith Grant and Guest.”  You can also use “partner” instead of “guest” which suggests you only want them to bring someone they’re close to rather than pull in someone off the street, but that doesn’t always work!

What they’re being invited to

How to write an invitation for weddings and other social occasionsThis may seem obvious, but there can be subtleties that escape your notice. For example with wedding invitations, the old-fashioned way of just inviting people to “the marriage of” followed by the ceremony “and afterwards at (address)” doesn’t tell people whether to expect a meal, dancing, snacks, tea, etc. so they won’t know whether to eat beforehand or not.

Also it’s quite important to explain the occasion so people know who is paying for it and who is the beneficiary! If you’ve just got engaged and your Dad is throwing a party for you, the invitation should say something like “Mr John Doe / John Doe invites (names) to celebrate his daughter Mary’s engagement to Bill Blogs.” Sad fact of life, but unless Mary and Bill are picking up the tab, it’s Daddy’s shout and he gets to headline the invite.

What time things happen

Although in theory all you have to do is give people a start time, it’s helpful to give them a finish time too – not just so they know when you want them to leave, but also so they can plan for babysitters, taxis, etc.

With lengthy events it’s a good idea to give the timings of each section, e.g. ceremony, reception, dinner, etc. and indicate if there is going to be a gap between one and the next to give people a chance to have a rest, change their clothes, etc.

Where it’s happening

On the invitation itself all you can hope to do is provide the full address and postcode of each venue involved in the event, but unless such places are easy to find you should enclose a separate sheet of paper with directions on it … for those of us who have misplaced our sat navs/GPS!

In the case of events where a ceremony takes place at venue #1 and the festivities continue at venue #2 elsewhere, don’t make the mistake of assuming everyone will follow a leader in their cars … many will get lost. Trust me. Ensure your directions include those on how to get from #1 to #2, and on how to get from the final venue back on to a main road. For tips on how to write good directions, see this article of mine.

What to wear

With some traditional events people most people know what to wear – e.g. cocktail party, drinks party, wedding, etc. – but often it’s useful to include the dress code so people won’t experience the horrible embarrassment of turning up in the wrong outfit (I’ve been there and remember how it feels.) Here are some of the more common UK dress code jargon terms you can use…

White Tie … the full works; tailcoat for men, long evening gown for women, all the bling you like including a tiara if you want.

Morning Dress … grey or black tailcoat and striped trousers/pants for men, elaborate dress or suit with hat and matching accessories for women

Black Tie … dinner jacket/tuxedo for men, long or very formal short dress for women, reasonable bling!

Lounge Suit … dark suit with plain shirt and tie for men, smart dress or suit for women

Smart Casual … (e.g.) collared shirt, plain trousers/pants and informal jacket for men, smart separates for women (no jeans unless very “designer!”)

Casual … pretty much anything goes

For more information, try or Google “dress code” for the relevant country.

What about email?

No matter how high-tech we’ve become many people revert to the traditional print format when it comes to social occasions (and even business events) – however if you want to be greener and save trees, there are several good sites that offer you the chance to send out eInvitations. Many provide templates of wording which you can either use straight off, or customize for your event. is one such site; otherwise Google “e invitations.”

Why invitations are often written in the 3rd person

Invitations in the past have nearly always been written that way and I know, it does sound pretty old-fashioned to write “John and Mary Doe cordially invite (name/names) to their housewarming party”…etc. However there is a distinct advantage with the 3rd person; it’s much easier to specify who is invited. The alternative in the 1st and 2nd persons would leave everyone wondering who was being talked about … “we invite you to our housewarming party” … !

Now, invite some better results from your  writing:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand


photo credit: William Arthur Fine Stationery via photopin cc
photo credit: Peter Kaminski via photopin cc

Articles for article marketing: write them right and save your reputation

I’m sure you have seen some of the terrible articles that get published on the internet, even now that Google has stopped hunting for meaningless keywords and instead champions “quality content.” But still the junk gets through.

HTWB inverted pyramid for article marketing

The “inverted pyramid” structure for newsworthy articles – this is used by journalists as a way of hooking readers and keeping them going through the whole story.

Here are some tips on generating articles that not only will please Google, but also will gain you respect and loyalty from your target audience and ergo, more business. [Read more…]