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Proofreading and editing isn’t that hard…you’d think. Still, I manage to stay in business because I have a secret. Now I’m sharing it with you. I’m a Sydney proofreader who’s been in business for almost 20 years. I still have many of my original clients (which makes me very happy).

Before we start, I want you to begin to think differently about the chore of proofreading. You think it’s all about finding mistakes, right?

Wrong. It’s more about patterns.

Take a look at this graphic below:

Patterns

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the first thing that pops into your head? What do you notice?

Me? I look at that and groan. It’s all wrong! The four-sided figures aren’t all the same size or the same shape and they’re on different planes. That image makes me feel a little bit sick.

I am pleased that they’re all the same colour.

So what was your reaction? If you groaned, too, you’ll make a brilliant proofreader.

You see the ‘wrongness’ of the grouping.

However, if your first reaction was, “They’re all blue” or “They’re all four-sided” then you’ll do OK as well. You’ve seen a pattern.

(If your first reaction was ‘Rubbish logo’, then you’re probably a graphic designer and you can stop reading now.)

What doesn’t fit the pattern?

When you proof copy, you’re looking for words or symbols that don’t fit – the word ‘color’ amongst pages of ‘colour’, the em rule or hyphen instead of universal en rules. (One of my favourite clients hates me because I change her incorrectly placed hyphens to ens. She thinks it’s pointless. I disagree. The mixture of hyphens and ens where there should be all ens…well, it’s disturbing to a reader.)

Most of us ‘see’ things that don’t fit but allow our brain to override that part that’s saying, “Isn’t something wrong here?”

When you proofread, your first step should be to ‘look without looking’ so your brain can register what doesn’t fit.

General proofreading tips

Once you have a sense of the wrongness or rightness, make a list of everything you’re checking. This could be: client’s name, phone number and address; product names; offer (all 15% not 18%); or page numbers and links.

If you must do your own proofreading, then read each word syllable by syllable. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Better still, give your copy to a colleague or an experienced proofreader (like me) and give yourself a second chance.

Finally, read through your corrected copy once more to make sure it all makes sense.

So what are your tricks? Can you read your own copy…or do you give it up as a bad job and hand it over to a fresh pair of eyes?

 

I work as a copywriter in Sydney and across Australia. Often, that entails editing and rewriting ‘bad’ copy.

What is ‘bad’ copy?

That question has many answers but here I’d like to address one major issue. It’s a copywriting style you’ll see often in board papers, tenders, bids, corporate brochures and the like.

What is it?

Passive voice.

Take this example:

‘The house was built by Jack.’

Jack built the house; what’s the problem in saying so?

It’s all about responsibility

In the simple example above, there’s no real harm done. However, when it comes to official documents (especially those that go on public record), passive voice is a big copout.

Why?

Because it removes responsibility.

How often have you seen, ‘It was decided…’ in a corporate document?

A fair few times, I’ll guess.

No one or no organisation accepts responsibility for the decision.

“Who? Us?”

To my mind, if you believe in what you’re writing and offering, then you should step up and make it clear that you’re involved, that whatever ‘was done’ is something to which you’ll put your name.

“We did it. We decided.”

No one reads gibberish

Apart from anything else, when you use passive language, you’ll end up with contorted sentence constructions that no one can decipher.

So – when you’re selling an idea or a project, take responsibility. Let your readers know that you stand by your actions and decisions.

You’ll reap the rewards in client trust.

Tighten up

Work on that copy

How to tighten up that copy

I’m a copywriter working in Sydney and across Australia.

Sometimes, my brief could be described as, “Keep it the same but make it different.”

Clients love their own copy – LOVE it. Especially if they have a family member or spouse who fancies himself or herself as a marketing copywriter.

Problem is, inexperienced writers – well, they use too many words. Their sentences meander across the page, filling up space and offering no obvious benefit or call to action. Worse, the copy has no ‘energy’ (in the words of one of my more well-known copywriter colleagues).

Example 1: Flabby copy

“If you’d like to add details of employees who’ve joined your company, delete employee details when they leave, simulate your retirement income and get access to several handy reporting tools, then you are able to use PRODUCT, which we designed as an easier and more convenient way for you to work.”

Example 2: Tight copy

Use PRODUCT to:

  • Add and delete employee details
  • Simulate retirement income
  • Access reporting

Get your job done quickly and easily. Check out PRODUCT now.

Which one of the above are you more likely to read (and act on)? I’ll bet on version 2.

Why?

We’re all time-poor.

When we’re reading, we need instant information.

  • What is it?
  • Do I need it?
  • What does the writer want me to do?
  • When?

Five top ways to tighten up your copy

If you do go down the road of writing your own copy, then keep it tight.

  1. Begin sentences and phrases with imperative verbs where possible. (Use, Check, Get in example 2)
  2. Keep it simple.
  3. Use bullet points.
  4. Remove any adjectives that aren’t working hard.
  5. Add a clear call to action and a time limit (if appropriate).

You have seconds to grab a reader’s attention. Make those seconds count.

There are more ways to tighten copy but these are the ones I start with. These simple tips will give your copy more rhythm and readability.

Do you have any tips for keeping copy succinct and relevant? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

How a brand warrior feels

How a brand warrior feels

Be grateful I’m not calling myself a ‘brand guru’. I’m not, and don’t profess to be.    However, I wear my ‘brand warrior’ hat with pride.

Where did this brand thing start?

In the early days of proofreading, my biggest client was Microsoft. The marketing manager hired me to get consistency across all channels: print advertising, digital, sales brochures, case studies, white papers and anything else they had going. Much of the copy came straight from the USA and part of my job was to make it more Australian in tone and spelling.

My second-biggest client was Adobe (mainly digital, via MercerBell) and then came American Express (sales letters, print advertising and in-house training manuals), MasterCard (MercerBell again) and Telstra, to name a few.

All of the above brands are rigorous about protecting their trademark, especially on their products. I spent time getting to know the brands and trademarks as soon as I started working on their product or service.

So where does ‘brand warrior’ come into the picture?
I’ve been working on the Microsoft brand (not with the same comprehensive brief as when I started) for longer than have most of the product managers. If there’s a dispute about a trademark use, I’m often the go-to person.Although I don’t work for some of the brands any more, I am still working on their behalf. If I’m proofing, for example, a piece of copy for a client and the copy mentions ‘an excel spreadsheet’, I’ll change it to the correct “Microsoft® Office Excel® spreadsheet’. Same goes for ‘your flash file’. That gets upgraded to ‘Adobe® Flash® file’.

Why bother?
By doing this, I’m not only helping clients and former clients protect their brands, but also, I’m making sure that my current client doesn’t get reprimanded for incorrect use of a product or brand name. I don’t get paid by Microsoft or Adobe but, in my mind, all my clients are once and future clients so I need them to be successful. Part of that is helping them to protect their brand, product or service.

My diligence also shows my current client that I’m serious about brand values and they can trust me with their own brand.

How do you manage brands? Are you still loyal to past clients? I’d love to hear how you manage.

If you’d like me to make sure that your brand is presented in the way it’s supposed to be, please contact me.

A creative brief gives you insight into your client's needs and desires

A creative brief gives you insight into your client’s needs and desires

If you don’t have a good creative brief to work from and inspire you, you’ll struggle to satisfy your client and fail to deliver what they want and need.

For those who follow this blog, you’ll know that I’m now doing more copywriting than proofreading. It isn’t a hard transition; I love both proofreading and writing copy. However, my biggest help has been Belinda Weaver of Copywrite Matters.

Belinda gives me overflow copywriting work and writes an awesome creative brief. She spends time getting to know the client, the business and the business environment so we don’t have any surprises down the track.

Once I’ve read through one of her works of art, I’m fully prepared and can pretty much sit down and start writing. Of course, I do my own research to make sure I’m not going to parrot someone else’s words, but the brief is enough. The brief gives me the information I need, but also, it inspires me.

This means that I write copy that the client wants and expects, and we tick all the SEO and marketing boxes. The tone of voice is right for the client…and we get great testimonials.

No creative copywriting brief
Last year, I had a client – a smallish graphic design studio – who’d hired me to write some marketing collateral for their client, Brand X. I’d met the ‘marketing’ people from Brand X and, well, they didn’t really have a clue. Business plan? “Make more money, ha ha!” Marketing plan? Any indication that they were aware of the best times to target new business? Nothing.

I asked the studio people to ask their client to fill out my creative brief and it duly came back, sparsely populated. Well, you work with what you’ve got. I wrote copy that addressed the brief and sent it off. A few days later, the studio got back to me.

Studio: “They hated the copy. They said you should have known it wasn’t what they wanted.”
Me: “The copy addressed the brief.”
Studio: “I know, but we didn’t get them to fill it out. They were too busy so we did it.”

Great. My reputation with Brand X is in tatters and my primary client isn’t happy because their client isn’t. I didn’t get a chance to rewrite the copy and didn’t get paid for the work I’d done*.

Stop! Unless you have a great copywriting brief
Now I won’t go ahead with a project unless I have a comprehensive copywriting brief, signed off by the end client. The creative brief is your opportunity to build a relationship with a client, to learn a bit more about how they think and what their real goals are – overall, and for a particular project. It not only helps me to fulfil their desires, but also, it weeds out the undesirables.

Thanks to some great copywriting briefs, I’ve worked on jobs that were a doddle – Classic Blinds and Shutters, Groundtruth, Matryx Solutions in Security, Overflow Café and Bar, Clancy’s and Maroba Caring Communities, to name a few. They’re all happy clients, all due to Belinda’s professional approach from the start and the attendant good client-supplier relationships.

How do you manage the briefing process? Any horror stories? Let me know.

* I’d done work for this client before and satisfied their needs and goals…because I had good creative copywriting briefs.

As a copywriter, proofreader and editor, I tend to have a dictionary by my side when I’m writing or doing other work for clients. I’m not infallible and there are some words in our English language that can trip you up often. Here’s my list:

Double letters

Accommodation: How many times do we see ‘accomodation’? Makes my blood run cold.
Millennium: ‘ll’ AND ‘nn’
Personnel: ‘nn’

S, not c

Consensus: Usually, I have to correct this after I’ve typed ‘concensus’. I’m getting better…
Supersede: As above

How you spell it, not how you say it.

Barbecue: Not barbeque, despite ‘Barbeques Galore’
Repertoire: Not ‘repetoire’
Separate: Not ‘seperate’
Subpoena: Try filling in a crossword clue with ‘supoena’ and you’ll never forget this one.

Weird and wonderful

Desiccate: Not ‘dessicate’, although we so want to use the ‘ss’.
Gauge
Indict
Impugn
Limousine: Not, as I see often, ‘limuosine’
Pronunciation: Not ‘pronounciation’
Memento: ‘Momento’ is Italian, it means something different – and we’re writing in English.
Weird: If you write ‘wierd’, it will look weird.

What words are on your watch list?

Boxing gloves_

Make sure your copywriting packs a punch

Cheat words to make your copy more muscular
You know the client: he’s an entrepreneur, in his early 30s, and has a dream. He wants website or brochure copy that appeals (mainly) to blokes.

You write beautiful copy that addresses the brief but your writing is elegant and restrained or is peppy but lacks punch. Your client wants more.

So how do you make your copywriting more attractive to blokes?

You cheat…by using words or phrases that sound and look more aggressive. Write your copy as usual, then replace sibilant sounds with stronger words.

Here are some words and phrases that will make sure your copywriting belts out the message and caters to men.

Robust: Guys like ‘strong’; they understand that. ‘Robust’ packs more of a punch.
Tough: You have to spit this word. It sounds like what it is: tough.
Integrated: Good hard consonants, albeit with a soft start.
Packs a punch: Apart from the inherent aggression in this phrase, the sounds are what we call ‘plosive’ so they sound more aggressive.
Takes the cake.
Bucks the trend.
Package
. Note the combination of plosive ‘p’ and hard consonants in ‘c’ and ‘k’.
Attractive (rather than ‘appealing’).
Powerful. Another plosive in the ‘p’ so not only is this word powerful in itself, but also, it sounds powerful.
Beats the competition (over ‘wins the race’, for example); good plosive and hard consonant in ‘beat’ plus two hard consonants and a plosive in ‘competition’.
Partner (not ‘associate’ with all its sibilants).
Process (rather than ‘assemble’).
Daily (rather than ‘everyday’).

Other copywriting stand-by words include clever, deadline, deal, deep, dump, duty, deadlock, dedicated, good, got, great, hardy, helpful, item, muscular, peak, portal and top.

The above list isn’t comprehensive and there’s a bit more to catering to men than just butching up your copy – but I’m sure you’ve got the idea. (For those of you with an interest in etymology, you’ll have noticed that I use more gutsy Anglo-Saxon words than those of French derivation.)

When I write copy, my words are intentional and I get upset if someone changes them. I’m not alone: read what David Ogilvy wrote to a client back in 1955 about his copywriting practices.

What words would you add to the list?

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