Great Business Writing 2014: 10 updated Golden Rules

Business writing,golden rules,blogging,content,online,marketing

Er, good call…

A few years ago I shared my view on the 10 golden rules of great business writing at the time.

Here is a précis of what the original 10 golden rules amounted to then…

…and, how I feel about those golden rules now. Please share your views on these in the comments below! [Read more…]

No time to post? Grab hold of this ghost.

Online ghostwriting, researching and editing to save your time and add value to your business

medium_1629269As you know, writing for your business online can eat up many valuable hours of your time that you would prefer to spend on other things.

Next time you find yourself writing a blog post at midnight or editing your website text all weekend, give me a shout and put your mind at rest. [Read more…]

3 top tips for proofreading your writing on-screen

A guest post by Amanda Laughtland

Most of the writers I know do a great deal (if not all) of their composing and editing on computer screens. With the portability of tablets and smartphones, it’s easier than ever for writers to set to work whenever they find a few moments to bring up their documents at the bus stop, on the bus, or anywhere else.

Ideally, I like to compose on paper first, and I still buy stacks of spiral notebooks during back-to-school sales in the fall, but for my work-related writing tasks, I do almost all of my writing and editing while looking at the 13-inch screen of my notebook computer, not my spiral notebook.

I’ve been teaching college-level writing online for several years, and in my experience, the strongest writers have the keenest eye for proofreading their own work. Below are three of my favorite strategies writers can use to find and fix errors in their own writing. Give one or all of these a try the next time you’re proofreading the work you’ve been composing and editing online. [Read more…]

On your own on Christmas Day? Let’s sing some carols (turn up your speakers)!

MERRY CHRISTMAS from HowToWriteBetter: some carols to sing along with (turn up your speakers)!As we are online on Christmas Day – and especially if you are by yourself right now on Christmas Day, hey – let’s get into that Holiday Spirit and sing along with some more of our favorite carols! I shared my all time favorite with you on Sunday – “The Coventry Carol” – but here are some more you may enjoy.

Once In Royal David’s City by the Kings College Choir, Cambridge, UK

Another from the same choir… The Nativity Carol

Not so well known perhaps, but a lovely piece of music:

And for something a bit more light-hearted, The 12 Days Of Christmas, by the HooplaKidz

An Arabic Christmas Carol (Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity)

– different, but striking

A lovely version of Ding Dong Merrily On High by the Cantabile Youth Singers

The Holly and the Ivy, by the Vocal Arts Ensemble of San Luis Obispo

And if you want something creative to do, try re-writing the lyrics to Jingle Bells

…as shown and sung here by the one and only (late) Frank Sinatra. I will publish the best parody of these lyrics in a future post on HTWB. Keep it clean(ish). Go on – I dare you!

And if you’d like to get yourself a well-deserved Christmas gift, have a look at these:

“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 “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 “The English Language Joke book”…hundreds of laughs about this crazy language of ours “How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published photo credit: Sister72 via photopin cc

10 hard lessons I’ve learned about writing for the WWW

Remember how early web text could make you cringe? Squinting at all 2000 solidly crammed words so obviously lifted straight from an equally cringe-making corporate brochure? Peering at that fat, uniformly gray column of garbage scrolling hypnotically up through the browser window?

Well, nearly all of that went some years ago to the Great Delete Tab in the sky, thanks to people like Jakob Nielsen (and many others) who showed us how to get real and write for the web as it should be done. But the journey hasn’t always been easy.

Because I’ve been writing for the web for a long time now I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Here are my top ten to share with you…

1. It’s essential to have clear objectives

Any piece of online communication that doesn’t have clear-cut objectives comes over as chinless and indecisive. Many printed documents have got away with being chinless and indecisive in the past, but the internet shines a very strong light through the transparency of woolly thinking and soon reveals if that’s wearing any knickers or not. If they’re going to be taken seriously today, all comms need clear objectives too – driven by what you want to achieve, not just what you want to say.

2. People often prefer to scan and go back to get detail later

Thanks to those cute little scroll buttons, online text has championed scanning. To facilitate scanning we break up text with highlighting, bold type and crossheads which enable readers to get the gist of our message in a few seconds. If all you offer people to scroll through is endless bland text they’ll soon get “text blindness” and move on – to your competitor’s site.

3. People do not always read in a linear fashion

We don’t expect people to view our web pages and blogs in any particular sequence. This is not new. For years people have been leafing through brochures starting at the back, skipping to the front, dipping into the middle and back again. Always organize your content on a non-linear basis to cater equally for the linear readers and the grasshoppers.

4. Not everyone needs or wants the technical stuff 

Even with high-tech business, we often put the techie details in their own little cubby-hole on a website, or in a downloadable PDF file. That way they’re there for those who are interested but don’t obscure the main marketing messages. OK, your audience may be technically minded, but they probably don’t want all the finer details about what your latest doo-hickey does right now – they’re more interested in what it will do for them. Save the features for another page on your site.

5. Visual clutter confuses readers 

People loathe website and blog home pages that bristle with shouting headlines and graphics and other grinning gargoyles. If it’s hard to find your message in amongst garish junk, they’ll just click over to your competitors’ information. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) isn’t very romantic but it certainly is essential on the internet, and all the more so as online business keeps growing exponentially.

6. BS is boring 

Everyone sees through hype now. The online environment makes it look even sillier than ever.  Readers of any marketing communication expect your writing to talk directly to them, as one human being speaks to another. If you wouldn’t insult a customer by using boastful, pompous hype in face-to-face business circumstances, why do it online?

7. Complex thinking doesn’t work 

Although long copy often works online, the writing style itself needs to be very economical and uncomplicated. Every word has to earn its keep.  Sentences and paragraphs should be short and free from convoluted notions. One sentence should lead logically on from the previous one; one paragraph should follow on logically, too. If your audience needs to read your text twice or more to understand it, you will have lost them – probably for good.

8. Lists in the form of long sentences don’t get read

If you have more than two or three items to list you’re advised to create bullets, rather than run them together in a long sentence.  That makes them quicker to absorb, and also helps to break up text visually.

9. Headlines and crossheads must be relevant, not cutesy-clever

These lines often have to stand alone – e.g. as email subject lines – so must be directly relevant. Also, they must appeal to the search engines which certainly have no time for anything other than straight talking. Although abstract headlines are acceptable in some circumstances, in longer text the headlines are what people latch on to while scanning. This means they also have to be directly relevant, so they’re instantly understood.

10. Cut the c*** and get to the point 

Not only do online comms demand uncluttered information, but also relevant information. People haven’t got time to wait 10 minutes while your incredibly creative animation downloads, and equally they haven’t time to figure out the meaning of a literary quote over an arty picture when they’re in a hurry to find out about your diesel generators. In our high-speed business culture, direct is beautiful.

Now, make your writing WWWonderful:

“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

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

How to use classified ads to sell your stuff – emotively

Despite our ever-increasing dependence on the internet, classified ads in newspapers are still a popular place for buying and selling anything from garden manure to entire homes. And even online, the style of classified ad text that works in print can be transposed very effectively to eBay, its clones and numerous other sales sites.

So how can we make our product – whatever it is – stand out from the crowd? Here are some emotive thoughts you might find helpful.

I know, I have castigated British estate agents (real estate brokers) before about their terrible ad copy and this article isn’t going to make things any better. Sorry guys, but most of you just don’t get it.

As you know, property ads are probably amongst the most badly written examples of advertising copy in the world, and therefore – once again – are the best example we can choose to illustrate a more effective way of writing words that actually sell.

Most estate agents / real estate brokers write their own descriptive copy and in North America at least, it does tend to be accurate without the awful grammatical goofs you see in British ad text (oh, yes, that old “comprises of” banana skin again…)

However, in the interests of cramming as many properties into the allocated space as possible whether in a printed publication or online, even the North American real estate wallahs tend to suffer from a bad case of abbreviationitis and choke descriptive sections of their ad copy to within an inch of their lives.

So how do we get around these issues?

For starters, if you are a private individual rather than a business, you are not restricted to cramming an entire house’s inventory into 50 words, or a car’s vital statistics into a couple of lines. Provided you are willing to pay for the space you’re free to use some creativity, provided, of course, that your factual information is accurate.

And although the space involved will cost you whether online or offline, the benefits it affords you are probably worth it. Anyway, you’re only selling your own item – not those of umpty-dump others. So let’s get a bit creative…

A real-life example of how that works

A while back a friend of mine wanted to sell his old cottage in a lovely location some 30 miles outside London, England, and because a) he wanted to sell it direct and b) he trusted me to write his sales copy for him, he booked an ad in the key quality UK Sunday newspaper. Here’s how an estate (real estate) agent had suggested writing the text…

“Three bedroomed Georgian cottage located at XXX Green. Accommodation comprised of two reception rooms, modern bathroom, fitted kitchen. Oil-fired central heating. Covered car parking. Established garden. London 30 miles. £XXX,000 freehold.”

Boring! And about as emotive as a dead fish.

Anyway, although that ad copy tells you all the necessary features, (as well as including the inevitable “comprised of” banana skin) it doesn’t give you a hint – not even one word – that suggests the character of the place. If it were an old three-bedroomed house in a row with 50 others that look identical, there wouldn’t be much personality to pull out of it. But in this case, the cottage was unique.

Here’s what I wrote (and it was all true)…

“An original rose-covered cottage overlooking XXX Green where (well-known Victorian novelist) lived, just 30 miles from London via the (XX) motorway. Warm, rich Georgian brickwork encloses exposed oak beams … sitting and dining rooms … three bedrooms … bathroom … big, country kitchen … carport. Large cottage garden with roses, orchard and lawns. Oil-fired central heating plus two open fireplaces. Offers over £XXX,000 – phone 01234 567 890.”

Ah, you can see yourself there now, can’t you? Curled up by a crackling fireplace with a cup of cocoa and a muddy, smelly spaniel at your feet?

And the phone never stopped ringing all day. By dinner time on the Sunday more than a dozen house hunters had viewed the cottage; the owner had had four offers all well over the asking price and had accepted the best one.

The moral of this story is that although a classified ad needs to be factual i.e. full of boring features, you can throw in the odd benefit even if the space is very limited. An emotive adjective here and there will do, and won’t interfere with the ad’s accuracy – especially important because in some cases the ad copy can be considered as part of the legal specification.

You CAN think benefits into property and other classified ads

Let’s take another example, this time for a used car:

VW GOLF 1.9 GLS FOR SALE:  20XX, 80,000 miles. Red. Bodywork in need of some attention. Engine and other mechanics in good running order. Five new tyres. Offers over £XXXX.”

GOOD HOME WANTED FOR LOVABLE BRIGHT RED VW GOLF 1.9 GLS:  20XX, old family friend for 80,000 miles sadly must be sold. Bodywork needs some attention, but she runs really well and all tyres are new. Offers over £XXXX.

Which car would intrigue you more?

How to sell more of your stuff – and you, too:

“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