Category Archives: Copywriting

Word Order Matters

“The burial site is in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek where the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953, is buried.”

Did you just do a double-take? You should have.

This quote came from an Associated Press story, “G.H.W. Bush greets mourners honoring wife,” about the funeral and final resting place of former first lady Barbara Bush, who died on April 17, 2018.

Because I proofread for a living, I tend to absorb material word for word. When I read here that the Bushes buried Robin in a creek, I backtracked several times.

Nope, that’s exactly what it says.

Then I showed it to someone else, who said, “Well, yeah, but they obviously didn’t mean she’s in the creek.”

Indeed.

It’s an excellent example of why word order and punctuation matter. You shouldn’t make readers back up multiple times to figure out what you meant to say, but didn’t.

We have several options to write this more clearly. We could add punctuation:

“The burial site, in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek, is where the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953, is buried.”

Does that feel like trying to squeeze in too much information?

The simplest solution is to separate the two topics:

“The burial site is in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek. The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953, is buried there.”

Keeping the sentence whole, it could read:

“Mrs. Bush will be buried beside the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953, in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek.”

The fourth and cleanest option places Mrs. Bush and her gravesite together. The fact about her daughter is separate:

“Mrs. Bush will be buried in a gated plot surrounded by trees and near a creek. The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953, is buried there.”

In the heat of creation, it’s easy to get the words out of order. The fix is to let the writing cool at least overnight, then reread it slowly as if for the first time. Errors like this should jump out.

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What’s Wrong with Contractions in Business Writing?

The short answer is, absolutely nothing. But in my workshops, someone almost always asks, “Aren’t contractions forbidden in business writing?”

Recently, a client converted a print newsletter to online-only and banned contractions in all feature articles from the executive team and those by HQ on benefits and personnel matters.

Such pieces are typically dry even on a good day, so making their tone even stiffer and more formal — to be read on the easy, breezy Internet, no less — leaves me shaking my head.

Do you remember Data, the android on Star Trek: Next Generation? One of his biggest regrets was that he hadn’t been programmed for contractions, because he thought they’d make him sound more human.

When you eliminate all contractions from your writing, you sound like Data.

“We are happy to announce a new benefit that is most requested; you will be allowed to work from home on Fridays.”

“We are sorry for issues you have had with our website. It is our pleasure to make sure you receive service that is reliable.”

Simple contractions such as it’s and that’s definitely have a place in business writing. Just “listen” as you write and sprinkle contractions in where you would use them in conversation.

My only caution is to be careful if your readers speak English as a second language. In that case, you would want to keep the wording clean and simple to aid comprehension.

Coming up: Can you take contractions too far?

Does Reese’s Want to be the Official Candy of the Vatican?

This is what you get when copywriters who don’t have a firm grip on spelling and phonetics write your ads:

Popable-Reeses

When I first saw this Reese’s® Minis print ad several months ago, I did a double-take at “popable,” which pinged in my mind’s ear as “pope-able.”

Using this spelling, the past tense would be “poped.” Have you ever seen popcorn poped? Or a balloon poped?

Soon after, I came across another ad with similar wording, for Starburst® candy.

Poppable-Starburst

I don’t think the double “p” detracted from the message. Do you?

Then the other night, Reese’s took it to the next level with a TV commercial:

[2015 Update: There was a YouTube video here, but it no longer exists. The ad also used “popable.” I’m thinking Reese’s repented over their misspelling ways.]

Now I wonder if they’re hoping Pope Francis will notice and perhaps cut an endorsement deal.

Words get made up in advertising all the time. But they work only when they’re clever and not spelled so that literate potential customers will be inclined to mispronounce them and miss the point.

Maybe Reese’s thinks dropping letters appeals to the texting set, who don’t put a high premium on spelling. They’ve obviously spent a fortune spreading this error far and wide. And people wonder why Johnny can’t spell.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think Reese’s would have done better to stick with their previous description for Minis, which was “perfectly tiny.”

Now they just look perfectly ignorant.

How to Make the Leap from “Good Enough” to “Great!”

In any business communication to customers, prospects, or employees, the difference between mediocre and memorable writing is enormous.

Mediocre writing can make readers dismiss your message as junk, but clear, incisive writing has the power to boost your credibility and make your organization a trusted expert and industry leader.

Which image would you prefer?

This is how many companies end up with communications that are just “good enough”:

  • Competent in-house writers are unaware there’s an important distinction between composition and copywriting, so they write marketing materials all about what you do and how great you are — and they fall flat.
  • Brilliant engineers write technical descriptions of great products, but without editing for the target audience, readers scratch their heads and ask, “So what?”
  •  Typos appear in expensive, glossy brochures, newsletters, and website text because nobody took time for proofreading. Simple mechanical mistakes aren’t just embarrassing — they erode credibility on every level.

Every waking moment, people are bombarded with meaningless words and tune them out.

That’s why your words must matter. Your message must be sharp enough to cut through information overload.

I have helped many businesses improve their:

  • Ad copy
  • Blogs
  • Brochures
  • Direct mail
  • Internal communications
  • Manuals & user guides
  • Marketing collateral
  • Newsletters
  • Website content

First, I help you pinpoint your target audience, then I learn about your products and services so we can figure out exactly what you want readers to know about them — in language they can understand — so they’ll remember and choose to do business with you.

If you plan any investment in graphic or Web design, printing, or postage, you owe it to yourself to get the most for your money with writing that’s not just good enough, but Great!