It may sound like a detail, but agreeing on a style guide for your project â€“ or your whole company â€“ will save countless arguments.
Usually, no one can agree on exactly how particular things should be written. Does this word have a capital letter? Do you need to spell out abbreviations? And donâ€™t get me started on Oxford commas.
The style guide acts as a referee to make those decisions for you, and to ensure all your written materials follow best practice â€“ as well as making sure you avoid glaring, amateurish mistakes.
Two UK-based ones that I recommend are The Economist and The Guardian â€“ both are free and easy to use online.
You may well want to customise one of these by adding your own jargon or personal preferences â€“ but if you just stick to the standard version, youâ€™ll be fine.
Recently, I was asked (perfectly reasonably) by a client to do some edits an article Iâ€™d ghost-written. One of the main changes needed was to go for a younger tone of voice â€“ which got me thinking, what does that actually mean?
There was no suggestion we should use teenage text-speak, but it was a challenge none the less. Iâ€™m typically used to focussing primarily on the reader, and picking the right tone of voice for them, so it was interesting to think more about the writerâ€™s persona. In fact, the only times I tend to have to think mainly about the â€˜writerâ€™ for whom Iâ€™m ghost-writing is when Iâ€™m putting together a speech.
I think the end result hit the mark, partly due to just loosening up the language and dialling back on the formality. And it was good to be reminded that copywriters shouldnâ€™t only think about the reader â€“ remember the writer as well.
Today I learned a new term â€“ portmanteau words, formed by combining two existing words and their meanings. Apparently this term was first coined by Lewis Carroll to explain the words â€˜slithyâ€™ and â€˜mimsyâ€™ in the Jabberwocky.
The general consensus seems to be that they are the devilâ€™s work, at least in English, and have brought us ugly usages such as â€˜chillaxâ€™, â€˜affluenzaâ€™, â€˜edutainmentâ€™ and â€™infomercialâ€™. Not to mention names such as â€˜Brangelinaâ€™ and â€˜Benniferâ€™.
But that got me thinking: which portmanteau words are actually useful? Could we cope without being able to say â€˜smogâ€™, â€˜biopicâ€™ â€˜sitcomâ€™ or â€˜motelâ€™? These all seem useful and valid additions to the richness of English.
And some are surprisingly old, such as â€˜brunchâ€™ which was coined in 1896, or â€˜chortleâ€™ which dates from 1872 (thatâ€™s Mr Carrollâ€™s doing, again). The OED goes all the way back to ‘flush’ from 1548.
On balance, theyâ€™re still a thing to be avoided, Iâ€™d say. Language is living and changing, but that has limits. You might disagree, but Iâ€™ll just refudiate that.
As a copywriter, Iâ€™m used to my writing going through many rounds of edits, and having substantial changes imposed by clients. Thatâ€™s fine â€“ thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m here for â€“ and I donâ€™t mind at all, even if I donâ€™t necessarily agree with all the edits.
But I would say to clients working with copywriters: keep the writer involved. Youâ€™ve decided to pay for a professional, so allow them to at least comment on the final draft that your CEO has scrawled all over.
In fact, your copywriter will almost certainly spot something in this â€˜finalâ€™ version that needs changing â€“ if not an actual error, there will inevitably be some new text that doesnâ€™t align with your corporate style.
Let the copywriter do their job, and the end result will be better writing.
As a copywriter, itâ€™s sometimes essential to focus, and to cut off all the distractions that feed procrastination. In particular, the internet can be a major time-stealer â€“ Iâ€™ll just check Facebook, Twitter or the latest newsâ€¦ I must just read one more page of background informationâ€¦ how do other people approach this problem?
For those times, I tend to just try and concentrate as best I can, without using any particular tactics. But thereâ€™s a new word processor devices, the Freewrite (formerly the Hemingwrite) thatâ€™s aiming to help â€“ itâ€™s a portable keyboard with a small e-ink display, that lets you just type without distraction.
It sounds like a great idea, but then when you look at the small print, it costs $449 and weighs more than my laptop. And the promised â€˜4 weeks battery lifeâ€™ turns out to be based on 30 minutes per day usage â€“ so, thatâ€™s â€˜up to 14 hoursâ€™ then, which doesnâ€™t sound quite so good.
I love the concept, but itâ€™s too expensive for me. If someone can do this for $250, Iâ€™m in. Or perhaps this should be a challenge for my Raspberry Pi skills â€“ a keyboard, case, screen and Pi would surely do the job nicely?