Archive for the ‘Copywriting’ Category

One of the questions I see quite often is “How do I write for a female audience?” I don’t know the answer to that question, in fact, I’m not sure that question should ever be asked, let alone answered and definitely never answered by a guy. I have two reasons for thinking that men shouldn’t try to write for a female audience.

1. You can target age groups, ethnic groups, political groups, techies, gearheads, animal activists, conservationists, sports fans, etc. In all of the above groups, and almost every other group, you will find both men and women.

Any attempt by a man to write for a female audience is almost certainly doomed if the man writing thinks that something special needs to be done to gain the interest of female readers. If you target their interests, there’s no need to target sex.

2. Men don’t understand women. We like to think we do, but we don’t. That’s why we lose so many arguments. Watch any guy in an argument with a woman. Eventually, he’ll get louder, wanting to express himself, not even noticing that the woman is no longer listening. The woman will wait until she knows she’s being heard before saying anything. The man wants to express himself, the woman wants to be listened to.

Now if you’re starting to think that I’m going to claim that I understand women, you’re wrong. I don’t even begin to understand them and that fact became painfully obvious to me when Hillary won the New Hampshire primary.

When she got weepy on national TV, and found some sympathy from Obama, I thought her political campaign was over. Even the sympathy she got from Obama was a bit back-handed as he said, “the campaign trail is tough”. When he said that, my first thought, and the first thought of the guys I was having dinner with was, “Oh bull, how will she deal with a real crisis”?

So when the pundits announced her victory in New Hampshire I was shocked. Where did the support come from? Women. Her crying bit apparently made her seem a bit more human. Not weak. Not fake. But caring and thoughtful, more real if you will.

My first words were, “Oh, suck it up already”. Which was quickly followed up by a female diner that said, “Well, at least she really cares”. Which made me want to cry…

Small words have the largest impact. Small words can become the hammer to drive your point home, while big words tend to soften the blow.

Culled from a recent paper: “The panel felt the Senator was being disingenuous.”

What? Lacking in frankness or candor? He prevaricated? Equivocated? Misrepresented? Fabricated? Do any of those words come close to the power of, The panel felt the Senator lied? Everyone understands the word lie. None of the other words carry the clear meaning that lie conveys.

Large words tend to creep in when we write because we’re showing off, or we think our writing sounds better, or we look smarter if we use large words. Trade your syllables for clarity.

Instead of utilize, use.

Trade terminate for end. Don’t eliminate larger words, get rid of them. Don’t substantiate the facts, prove them. People aren’t impecunious, they’re poor. The writer wasn’t assiduous, he took great care. The lady at the DMV wasn’t obstinate, she was stubborn.

No one wants to read the words of a lexiphanicist…

Take a look around some Web fora or blogs, or just listen to people talk for a short period of time and you’ll notice a lot of people calling other people stupid. Politicians and celebrities are the usual targets, knocked around by everyone.

Celebrities call politicians stupid on a regular basis. Well, at least the politicians they disagree with. Students call their teachers stupid, and behind closed doors teachers talk about the dumbing down of the student population. Get any two kids together and they’ll end up talking about how stupid some other kid is. Get two webmasters, SEMs or SEOs together and they’ll start talking about how stupid ‘the average surfer’ is.

So it is pretty much a given that no matter how smart you think you are, someone, somewhere thinks you’re stupid. So along comes Ditech and starts telling people that they’re smart. And that makes people feel good about themselves and people that feel good about themselves are much more likely to listen to the message than if you make them feel stupid.

So the next time you have a message to communicate, try making your recipients feel better about themselves. Try it out in your next blog post or your next bit of sales copy. Let me know if you think it was a smart choice.

It doesn’t matter what you blog about, grabbing and holding your readers’ attention is always a priority. With that in mind, Yoav Ezer has created an excellent Firefox Plugin that will help you write better titles, create more informative and interesting blog posts and even help you out when you find yourself out of ideas.

In his words,

“Imagine reading an article about blogging from your favorite blogging guru. After a couple of sentences you become excited. The article is really good. It contains an amazing technique. A technique that will make you a better blogger. Using this technique, you immediately whip out a shining blog post.

When it’s time to write another post you use the technique again, and again the results are great. But since you don’t want to be monotonous/boring, you avoid using that technique for a couple of weeks. And then a new really good article captures your attention and the old technique is forgotten.”

Lots of good advice in this plugin, found in excellent posts all over the Web and now gathered together and available to you with a click.

Check out PostWisdom and make sure to give Yoav your feedback. You’ll find advice from ProBlogger, CopyBlogger, Successful Blog ChrisG and more. (I may have a post or two linked in there as well)

The Cliché Finder

 

Rooting out clichés makes me happy as a clam. In this day and age, there’s simply no excuse for allowing clichés to clutter up your writing, so let’s put those clichés in moth balls. That’s right, deep six them. You can bet your boots your writing will be the better for it.

If you need some help weeding out those pesky clichés, try this handy cliché search I found. It’s the best thing since sliced bread.

 

dictionaryIf you look around the Web you’ll find many sites that tell you how to write, what to write, when to write and what words to use. It’s much tougher to find sites that tell you which words and phrases to avoid. What follows is a list of my favorites, words to avoid that is.

Core of my being – If you run across this in written form just click the back button or close the book. If you actually hear the phrase spoken aloud you need to exit the coffee shop immediately and make sure the woman wearing the Sylvia Plath tee isn’t following you.

Think outside the box – If you can’t think of another phrase to use then you should be stuffed inside a box because you’re brain dead.

Quantum leap – Unless you’re a physicist you should avoid the word ‘quantum’ period.

Paradigm shift – Finding a new way to shaft the consumer is not a paradigm shift. That’s business as usual. If you actually encounter a paradigm shift, feel free to use the term.

Granular – If someone says a report needs to be more granular, don’t hesitate, kick them in the balls. Hard. Granular is a word used by corporate weenies because they think it makes them sound more intelligent.

Confidence is high – If you’ve ever used that in a sentence you were high.

Manage expectations – What that really means is “we don’t know if this will work so let’s make sure if we fail we can say that we expected it might fail”. Say what you mean. Let people manage their own expectations.

Credibility gap – Political speak for calling a group a bunch of goddamn liars. Why group? Because there’s no such thing as an individual act in politics. If you don’t trust someone, say so, lest your readers identify a ‘credibility gap’ between you and them.

Less than stellar – As in Keanu Reeves’ less than stellar performance in, well, everything he’s ever been in. Just say it sucked.

Critical mass – Again, unless you’re a physicist, stay away from their lingo. This one is most often used to mean ‘self-sustaining’ so why not just write ‘self-sustaining’.

Irregardless – WTF? I still don’t know what that non-word is intended to mean. Just don’t use it.

Bellwether – Used to refer to leaders or indicators. Doesn’t anyone know that a wether is a castrated sheep? I’m not following the guy with no balls, especially if he’s wearing a bell…

 

AblockSpelling has been the bane of many a student. People that have trouble with spelling grumble about ‘meaning’ while people that have a knack for spelling torment the non-spellers by solving crossword puzzles in ink. While I was looking for a list of the most commonly misspelled words, I ran across this list at Waxy.org that’s a compilation of some of the most commonly misspelled words on the Web.

BblockDo people write differently for the Web? Are the misspellings different? Possibly. But only because a keyboard is involved and the Web is considered an ‘immediate’ medium. In short, people don’t tend to edit when they write for the Web. I’ve only seen a few misspellings that are peculiar to the Web. ‘Noone’ comes to mind. What’s interesting about the list from Waxy though is that it’s nearly four years old. Has anything changed since then? Let’s take a look.

Cblock- transexual (2860k)
– didnt (1230k, via Matt)
– doesnt (1080k, via Evan)
– seperate (804k, via Bill)
– calender (727k, via Graham)
– definately (693k, via Shannon)
– recieve (667k, via Matt)
– offical (366k)
– managment (359k)
– goverment (317k)
– commerical (277k)
– Febuary (245k)
– enviroment (242k)
– occurence (186k)
– commision (167k)
– assocation (134k)
– Cincinatti (70k)
– milennium (32k)

Compared to today’s numbers:

  • - transexual (4,330,000)
  • - seperate (18,900,000)
  • - calender (18,400,000)
  • - definately (19,700,000)
  • - recieve (13,200,000 )
  • - offical (7,230,000)
  • - managment (16,900,000)
  • - goverment (8,360,000)
  • - commision (3,210,000)

DblockAnd let’s just stop there. It’s apparent that the numbers have increased, but that doesn’t tell us if the number of poor spellers has increased, just that the Web has grown. However, there are a couple of interesting bits of information I noticed while doing the comparison. First, I had to omit ‘didnt’ and ‘doesnt’ because Google simply ‘fixes’ that search to include the apostrophe.

Take a look at ‘transexual’ though. Google doesn’t provide the well known “Did You Mean” phrase when a search is performed for that misspelling. Managment and Commision also seem to be accepted spellings. At least by Google. ‘Managment’ is quite possibly a result of following the tradition that makes ‘judgment’ or ‘judgement’ okay but ‘commision’ looks like a result of sheer numbers. Spell it incorrectly often enough, and Google simply treats it like a correct spelling. Which leads me to wonder if Google will ever become the authority on spelling and grammar.

Stands to reason that if language is dynamic, that a dynamic search engine might reflect the language of the day better than a static dictionary. So all you poor spellers out there, rejoice. Keep misspelling words and eventually you’ll gain Google’s approval.

 

quillI stop in at Word Wise on a daily basis, Dan Santow always has something interesting to say regarding words, grammar or writing as a craft. I find myself agreeing with what he writes more often than not.

Today though, he had a post on punctuation and quotation marks and remarked that, “commas and periods should always go inside the quotation marks”, regardless of any grammatical logic. Now any time someone decides to throw logic out the window in favor of some arbitrary rule, I get just a little twitchy. Especially if I think that the ‘reasoning’ behind the message is nothing more than prescriptivism.

Any of you traditional print guys feel free to jump in and correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that whole ‘period inside the quotes’ rules due to some typesetting best practice so that the little periods wouldn’t fall out and get lost?

Even if that’s not true, let’s not toss logic aside. Take a look at one of his examples:

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” said Rick, “she walks into mine.”

Personally, I think it makes much more sense for the period to be placed outside of the quotation marks in the last bit of that sentence. The period signifies the end of the entire sentence, not just that little quotation. I even prefer that the comma in the first part of the sentence be placed outside the quotation marks. After all, Rick wasn’t using the comma, the author was.

And what about this one? “In American English single quote marks are used in only a few instances – and the only one that most of us ever encounter is when a quotation occurs within another quotation”.

Sorry. I use single quotes quite often, In fact, I only use double quotation marks when I’m quoting someone.

These rules strike me as coming from the same group of old, dead people that insisted you shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ or end a sentence with a preposition. And I think that’s simply absurd.

Lazy Words – Fire Them

The easiest way to lower the word count in your copy is to eliminate the words that aren’t doing any work. Non-working words are easy to spot but you actually have to look for them. Wait a minute, one just slipped in. See it back there? Hiding between ‘you’ and ‘have’? Yep, that’s it, ‘actually’ isn’t doing any work.

Words like actually, suddenly, basically and shortly rarely do any work. They simply don’t help you move your story forward. Oh, there’s another one. ‘Simply’.

Watch for those lazy verbs too. Was, are, have been- slackers all. Want to know something else? Lazy words breed more words. For example,

“How can you tell if your words are working or not”?

Or

“Do your words move the story”?

11 words in the first sentence, 6 in the second. Now we’re getting somewhere.

But what about the first sentence in this post? .

“The easiest way to lower the word count in your copy is to eliminate the words that aren’t doing any work”. 21 words

Not too bad, but how about,

“The easiest way to lower the word count in your copy is to eliminate non-working words”. 16 words.

Better, but still cluttered.

“Lower your word count by eliminating non-working words”. 8 words.

Even better, but I think I can make it shorter.

“Improve your copy. Eliminate unnecessary words”. 6 words

It’s difficult to remember to inspect your copy for non-working words. I forget frequently. But remembering will improve your writing.

GF 4.8

Last night, over a very later dinner of Orange Roughy and seafood Alfredo, a question was raised.

What is the most effective word you can put in a headline?

Several words were offered up, with the word free topping the list. I disagreed, though I do believe that ‘free’ has its place. I said that the most effective word that can be used in a headline was contained in the question.

You. Headlines live and die by getting you to react. They are written to engage you, to get you to think, to get you to take action. You simply don’t care what I have to say unless it affects you or can benefit you. Why should you?

So my suggestion is this. When you proof your copy, look for those words like I and mine, and figure out how to replace them with words like you and your. Your readers will love you for it.

If you would like some examples, considered by Jay Abraham to be some of the most effective headlines ever written, keep reading. Below are a few samples from his list of 100 of the Greatest Headlines Ever Written .

THE SECRET OF MAKING PEOPLE LIKE YOU

ARE YOU EVER TONGUE-TIED AT A PARTY?

DO YOU MAKE THESE MISTAKES IN ENGLISH?

WHY SOME FOODS “EXPLODE” IN YOUR STOMACH

YOU CAN LAUGH AT MONEY WORRIES — IF YOU FOLLOW THIS SIMPLE PLAN

WHICH OF THESE $2.50 TO $5 BEST SELLERS DO YOU WANT — FOR ONLY $1 EACH?

DISCOVER THE FORTUNE THAT LIES HIDDEN IN YOUR SALARY

HOW OFTEN DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF SAYING: “NO, I HAVEN’T READ IT: I’VE BEEN MEANING TO!”

IS THE LIFE OF A CHILD WORTH $1 TO YOU?

DO YOU DO ANY OF THESE TEN EMBARRASSING THINGS?




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