Welcome to the Writers blog

Here’s where we get to write to our own brief. Where we cast a critical, humorous or observant eye over what’s going on in our world – and the wider world around us.

All copywriting-related, you understand.

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Copy without borders

As a writer, I often find inspiration in other people’s words, from a well-written article to a thought-provoking headline. It’s not that I would copy those ideas (obviously) – it helps me think about what works, what doesn’t and why – and how using a different approach can make a message stand out. (more…)

This little piggy…

The first one went to market. There were others, some eating/not eating roast beef/staying at home, I vaguely remember. For most people, though, it was all about the last one, which went ‘we, we, we’ all the way home.

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What makes content boring?

“It was more of a put-down magazine, than something you’d actually pick up and read…”

That was one of the more insightful comments I heard at Content Marketing World in Sydney last April – from the refreshingly honest Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA). They were talking about their professional membership mag before they transformed it into something people actually wanted to read (and transformed their membership reach as a result). (more…)

Sales, savings and sunshine: what does content mean for your business?

There’s been a subtle shift in the Writers office down under. We used to spend most of our waking hours dreaming up clever copy for websites. Some mammoth 200-web-page overhauls, some for start ups with a shorter story to share.  (more…)

Copywriters – a bit like method actors…

That’s right. And like method actors, there are good ones and bad ones – and it’s pretty easy to tell the difference. But why the analogy? (more…)

If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it

Some 2,500 years ago Confucius said: Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

He could easily have been talking about today’s business communication. (more…)

7 things TED Talks can teach us about copywriting

When it comes to video content, a TED Talk sets a high standard. A combination of great ideas, inspiring speaking style and sticking to an 18 minute time limit makes it some of the most shared (and smart) online content around. (more…)

How to avoid writer’s block

As author Terry Pratchett said, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block.”

Or, perhaps more accurately, there’s no need for it.  (more…)

Three simple rules for creating a successful strapline

To be effective, a company strapline – and the words that immediately follow it, perhaps on your website’s landing page, the side of your van, or in the introduction to your brochure – should follow three simple rules: (more…)

Says nothing. Says it all…

Paste the sentence below into Google and you’ll find the exact text on tens of thousands of US accountancy firms’ websites.

We take pride in giving you the assurance that the personal assistance you receive comes from years of advanced training, technical experience and financial acumen.

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How to cut a long story short

The more words you use, the fewer people remember. And the greater the chance of confusing or boring your reader, too.

But achieving brevity takes time and effort. The only way to shorten your work is to edit ruthlessly. Then edit again. (more…)

Stand out, stay sticky

How many marketing messages do you think you’ve been exposed to today? A few dozen? A few hundred? Way back in 2007 the NY Times reported we see about 5,000 ads every day. Given the surge in digital marketing spend, I’m sure that figure has only increased – it’s no wonder we’re oblivious to most of that marketing clutter.

So if you’re trying to get your message across, how do you cut through the noise and get noticed? (more…)

Shall we do lunch? Absolutely!

For years, we (and countless articles and radio features) have been ranting about the misuse or overuse of words like ‘innovative’, ‘solutions’ and ‘going forward’. But we still see them everywhere, so we sometimes wonder whether we’re fighting a losing battle. (more…)

How to write great headlines

There’s only one rule: grab the reader’s attention.

Your headlines or subject lines need to interest or intrigue a reader – and in most cases, tell them what the text is about. The headline’s job is to signpost information, or to stop the reader moving to another page or hitting delete.

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Communication, not pedantry

A friend has just sent me a link to a great article. I assume it’s because I continually correct his poor spelling and grammar. While I do it for fun more than out of frustration, I’m glad he retaliated, because the article makes several very good points…

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The results are in

We can now reveal the words you voted for in our Writers ‘most hated’ and ‘most loved’ survey.

Drumroll please… (more…)

The government gets it right

There’s been much rejoicing in the Writers office recently, after we discovered another (highly unexpected) ally in our constant battle for clearer communication. (more…)

Overusing words until they suggest the opposite

We spotted a great article on the BBC News site this morning. It pretty much parallels what we come across every day as copywriters – words intended to get across good qualities, but now so overused that they either mean nothing, or suggest the opposite.

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How jargon really doesn’t help

As copywriters, we already have first-hand experience of how certain sectors’ obsession with ‘process’ and using impenetrable, jargon-heavy language is strangling the common sense out of, well, just about everything.

So how pleased we were, when this brilliant but worrying article appeared on the BBC News website.

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Tell it like it is

Why? Because if you don’t, people will ask you what you actually mean, and then you’ll have to explain yourself the way you should have done first time around. Which can be embarrassing and time-consuming.

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A week learning from Writers

My name is Joe Santamaria and I’m sixteen years old. I have spent five days work experience at the Writers copywriting office in Bristol. I hope I can pass onto you as many of the ins and outs of my week here in this blog as possible.

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Successful businesses use universal language

If marketing copy is easy to read, for everyone, then surely the messages are getting across. And that’s the point, right?

So it’s baffling to see businesses and organisations, large and small, across all sectors, encrypting their communications with words like ‘holistic’, ‘deliverables’, ‘driving’, ‘actioning’, and ‘engagement’. We’ve long known there’s no conceivable justification for such claptrap – but it seems there are some explanations. Here are the obvious ones…

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Apply these words sparingly

In recent years, have you ever seen the word ‘sparingly’ anywhere other than on a tube of skin cream or ointment? It’s almost become medical jargon.

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I do not think that means what you think it means

There’s a great running joke in 1987’s cult romantic comedy ‘The Princess Bride’. The good guy relentlessly pursues the bad guys, and every time they fail to shake him off the ringleader says it’s “inconceivable”. Eventually one of his sidekicks says, “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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Orwell’s five rules

While moving house recently (packing endless boxes of books) I came across George Orwell’s five rules of effective writing. They’re as relevant today as they were in 1946…

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Strapline delivery solutions

There are so many ropey corporate straplines, missions and visions around, that I decided to establish some criteria for judging the worst ones.

I feel that to be the worst of the worst, a strapline must pass three basic tests:

  1. It doesn’t say what the organisation does.
  2. When translated into normal English, it is either meaningless, or too trite to repeat.
  3. It is constructed entirely from lame management buzzwords.

So I was delighted recently to walk past the local offices of a large firm who describe themselves as the Outcome Delivery Partner.  (more…)

Need a copy re-boot?

If the New Year has you thinking about ways to shake the cobwebs off your copy or springclean your website, here’s an easy way to kickstart the process yourself.

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Awwww shucks

It’s always nice to be recognised. So when we found out the website we wrote for Aussie BBQ brand Everdure’s new gas charcoal grill eChurrasco made the ‘site of the day’ on awwwawards.com, we were quite chuffed.

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Writing? Try it with your eyes shut.

Things will look different in the morning. Very true, on most days. I don’t know why, but sleeping seems to change your perceptions of things: when you wake up, you see them differently. (more…)

Find your noble purpose

I recently came across a purpose statement that almost took my breath away with its simplicity and (dare I say) poetry:

We invent the future of flight

We lift people up

And bring them home safely

Then, a few days later, I was at a business breakfast and the ‘noble purpose’ came up in conversation.

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Words + Design = Story

Bondi Sculpture

Words with a view

Today’s post comes to you from sunny Bondi Beach and Sydney’s annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. I especially love this one by artist Dave Mercer. As a writer, I’m always a sucker for typography, but this also told me a whole story in one word.

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What’s THAT all about?

Have you noticed how some passages of copy seem littered with ‘that’? And how removing all the unnecessary ones instantly gives copy more flow and conversational tone? (more…)

It’s not about you

We’ve all been stuck in conversations that are one-way traffic. You listen and nod as the other person talks about themselves, unable to get a word in, until eventually you realise there’s nothing in it for you, and your mind wanders off.

Unfortunately, many businesses have the same problem. (more…)

There’s nothing special about specialising

“Do you have a CSR writer with a background in chemical fertilisers?”
“I’m looking for an SEO expert with a working knowledge of nuclear physics.”

Requests like these aren’t unusual. And you have to wonder why. (more…)

Does it meet the teenage test?

Way back in the seventies, my father* worked in the M&S merchandising department. Apparently they had a rule in management that all communication dispatched to the branches must first be read and understood by a 16-year old.

If a branch received incomprehensible instructions, the chain of command would demand to know whether a teen had first given it the thumbs up.

Fast forward 40 or so years, and I wonder what 16-year olds would make of the sort of internal communications currently being transmitted at the click of a mouse.

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Yes, but what do you do, 2

Following on from a previous post, what do you suppose these people do?

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Words that stand up

Think of a famous speech. ‘I have a dream…’, ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few…’, ‘It’s not what your country can do for you…’ or ‘You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.’ Or recall someone less famous, who you saw speaking to an audience – who grabbed your attention, got their point across and enthused you to think or act differently. Maybe a political rally, a Newsnight debate, or just a clip on YouTube that inspired you.

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Abstract words leave little impression

George Orwell wrote: “Most educated people don’t realise how little impression abstract words make on the average man.”

We agree. So it’s always been a mystery to us why businesses seem to want to pepper their communications with them.

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It’s fine to start sentences with ‘And’, ‘But’ and ‘Because’.

Oh yes it is. And before you go looking for evidence to suggest otherwise – there isn’t any. Using these words to start sentences is a natural and important part of good written communication.

So we often wonder why, occasionally, people question it.

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Keywords or carewords?

“But can you write for SEO?”  We’re often asked this when being briefed on a new website. And yes, of course we can. We can take any words you like and make sure they feature in all the right places, and fit within the flow of a page without making it look like the Google spider is your only target reader.

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Winning wordplay

A friend just made my day by forwarding me the latest list of Washington Post neologism winners, where clever everyday wordsmiths come up with new meanings for common words.

Let’s see if we can slip some of these into our copy this week… I think number 5 might come in handy for a new fertility specialist website I’m currently working on.

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About us – is it really worth saying?

One of the golden rules for any kind of writing is asking yourself whether what you want to say is what anyone really wants to hear. A good copywriter has to ask this question continuously of his or her own writing – and of what clients all too often seem determined to bore their audiences with…

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And the award for the best writing guidelines goes to…..

We often receive ‘tone of voice’ or editorial guidelines to follow when writing for large organisations. Generally they don’t tell us anything new or different about writing. But at least they afford us a defence for writing clearly and concisely, and for removing the worst cases of jargon. (more…)

Lost in translation…

These days most airports and city streets looks pretty much the same thanks to our multinational landscape. Boringly bright fast food chains, long lines for lattes at Starbucks, pan-piping buskers… So it’s refreshing to see the English language is still being mangled magnificently in other countries, as these gems illustrate:

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What’s outside your window?

How daydreaming can help the creative process…

It often pays to get your head away from the page, particularly when it comes to conceptual work, or ideas jobs like brand naming, straplines and taglines. You might not have the privilege of a rolling landscape or an eclectic metropolitan pastiche outside your window, but simply sitting back for a moment and letting your mind wander – or just keeping your thoughts ticking over while you pop out for a sandwich – can open up avenues of thought that just won’t come otherwise.

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Yes. But what do you do?

Without fail, week after week, we will receive client copy to work with that goes on at length about quality, innovation, value, customer focus and all the other abstract clichés of modern corporate speak. It may go on for paragraphs at a time, sometimes even pages, so after a while you just scream out “Yes, but what do you do?

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When plain English is a matter of life and death

What good is exclusive jargon or management mumbo-jumbo in emergency situations? Not a lot, when it affects the clarity and efficiency of communication between individuals and groups trying to protect property and people. But it does provide an irrefutable case for removing silly and frustrating ambiguity from language. And not just in adverse circumstances.

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Have you got rhythm?


De-dum de-dum de-dum de-dum, de-deum de-dum de-dum de-dum. De-dum de-dum de-dum de-dum, de-deum de-dum de-dum de-dum…

Having several consecutive sentences the same length can really suck the life and pace out of your writing. It’s like talking in monotone. That’s why rhythm is so important when you write.

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Why four eyes are better than two

Any copywriter with any sense, and someone they can ask, will get a second opinion on their work before they expose it to the client. Even the most detail-obsessed scribes need a quality control safety net. But a second pair of eyes will see much more than typos – especially if it belongs to another experienced copywriter.

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You’re the expert – that’s one good reason to use a decent copywriter

Why should you pay someone to write about your business, when you understand it better than anyone?

Good question.  (more…)

A Writers guide to social media for business

Writing for social media is a bit like fishing. You need a juicy worm to lure your readers away from all the other hooks. Of course, writing clear, compelling, relevant copy with a strong call to action is no different from writing for websites, brochures or direct mail.

But the big difference with social media is that your message can reach an exponential audience in minutes. Or be heard by no-one – in seconds.

Used wisely, social media (eg. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Four Square, Google+, Digg et al) lets you share stories like never before, and create ongoing conversations around them. It’s the online equivalent of a TV phone-in or talkback radio. And like talkback, it’s a tiny minority who bother to respond, share, re-tweet, vote, ‘like’ or leave comments.

So how do you write content for a medium that can be as powerful as it can be unforgiving?  (more…)

The power of words

Words have the power to influence our behaviour, our beliefs, our ideas.

This beautiful short video shows what a difference the right choice of words can make…

 

 

Writing an annual report

As a veteran writer of more annual reports than I care to think about, I’m often asked how best to write one. I find it helps to keep in mind at all times the four basic questions below. Here I’m talking about companies traded on a stock market, though much of what I say relates equally to not-for-profit organisations.

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Don’t be boring

“We’ve got this website, but we just need to make it more… engaging.”

Nine times out of ten, our copy briefs ask us to make the copy more engaging. We’ll pretty much assume this as a given really, because if it doesn’t engage the audience it’s not likely to persuade them to take action.

Engaging copy is interesting, inspiring and energetic. It can hold the reader’s attention and make them want more. Yet a lot of business writing is, quite frankly, boring.

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True tone of voice: stranger than fiction?

Most brand owners these days claim their treasured asset has a distinctive tone of voice, expressing a unique personality. But how many have actually achieved this? How many make full use of the variety, subtlety and complexity of language to create a style that really is different, and memorable for being so?

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Copywriting training courses – do they work?

Teaching people to become better business writers seems to be something of a growth industry. Most copywriting companies – including ours – offer writing courses, and many training specialists do the same. Add in all the books, articles and blogs on the subject, and you’d be forgiven for assuming that everyone’s thirsty for copywriting knowledge.

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