Writing better copy

SimonGeneral9 Comments

A core skill for marketing and public relations professionals has to be writing high quality copy.

Several years ago I realised that this was a particularly weak area for me.

Most of my writing experience had been from school, university and then writing strategic papers in my first job. What I lacked was being able to write marketing and public relations copy.

Since then I’ve been trying to learn more about copywriting. I’m never going to be able to write journalist or copywriter-quality text, but I think I’ve improved my writing skills significantly.

Writing more (including this blog), proofreading and reading copywriting books and blogs have been just a few ways I have managed to enhance my writing skills.

If you’re looking for blogs that can help you improve your writing, my top three from my blogroll are:

While I’m on the subject, I should note the most common mistake I see when I’m proofreading copy: confusion with singular and plurals.

For example:

The council are responsible for emptying the bins.

The council is a single entity – there’s only one council, so it’s singular, even if it comprises many people, vehicles or buildings. It should read:

The council is responsible for emptying the bins.

The same applies to teams – such as “the marketing team”:

The marketing team are responsible for booking all advertising.

should read

The marketing team is responsible for booking all advertising.

The only exception seems to be sporting teams where it seems to be accepted practice to refer to them as plurals, for example:

“Manchester United are flying to Germany for their next European match.”

reads more comfortably than

“Manchester United is flying to Germany for its next European match.”

even though strictly speaking Manchester United is a single team.

9 Comments on “Writing better copy”

  1. Neville Hobson

    Nice examples, Simon. To me, “Manchester United is flying to Germany for its next European match” looks more comfortable.

    And what about this one – mixed use of “I” and “me,” as in “you and I” versus “you and me.”

    I always say “you and I” which often provokes criticism (usually by Americans) who say correct usage is “you and me.”

    Maybe it is in the US.

    One of the great things about English, though, is that no matter how you mash up your syntax, people will still understand you. Generally speaking of course.

    In any event, do strict rules of grammar really matter anymore when not only is English in common usage worldwide in places where it’s not the original language but also where language usage is increasingly informal?

    Just asking 😉

  2. simon

    Thanks for the comment Neville.

    It’s interesting – as native English speakers we all still have different takes on what is acceptable in written English. I’m Devon born and bred – is it a regional thing according to background and experience?

    In many places (eg the web) strict grammar is less important, but for those of us who still produce printed materials as well it’s important as it’s more difficult to “get away” with – what works in a blog post doesn’t necessarily work in print.

    The problem is that many people don’t/can’t alter their writing style depending on where it is.

    For me it’s about writing copy that’s appropriate for your audience and the place where they’ll read it.

    Sometimes that means strict grammar (eg annual report) and other times that means being a bit easier with the rules and being more informal (eg blog posts or emails).

  3. Heather Yaxley

    It is important to take the audience into account, but there are also some personal standards that public relations practitioners should consider.

    I am very comfortable writing, but believe you can always improve and the best way of doing this is to read widely and learn to distinguish good from bad.

    Having a personal commitment to reflect a high standard of writing is essential, I believe.

    I’ve spent most of the past few weeks undertaking assessment of PR student work. Unfortunately, few papers revealed a love of language or clear communications. Not only was the error that Simon notes present, but there were many worse sins.

    P.S. I agree with Neville over Manchester United is… but my motto is that if something doesn’t sound right, change it. So maybe Manchester United players are…

    My rule for “you and me” or “you and I” is the correct option is whatever applies if you ignore “you and”.

    Some details of grammar such as split infinitives are probably not that important as English is a living language, but that is no excuse for not at least trying.

  4. Jeremy Jacobs

    Nice Blog. Will certainly check out soemof the links you’ve highlighted.

    Would have preferred “Margate FC IS good enough to be in the Football League” – as opposed to are.

    (Old personal joke)

  5. simon

    Thanks for the comments Heather and Jeremy.

    Heather – I can’t disagree with what you say – having a personal standard for writing quality is important, although I think there’s always some variation in those standards depending on where you write/who you write for.

    Jeremy – welcome to the blog – glad you like it. Nice to have another local reader – I think your Margate example was probably missing the words “I hope” at the start!

  6. Brendan

    Hi – very interesting comments, and it’s good to see the writing blogosphere expand! Also interesting to see that you subscribe to the same three key copywriting bloggers. You might like to have a quick glance at my blog from time to time – not necessarily the nuts and bolts of writing but an insight into how copywriters work within PR.

  7. Pingback: When core skills go bad « The Friendly Ghost - A copywriter in PR

  8. simon

    Hi Brendan – thanks for the comment and trackback – your blog looks very interesting so I’ve added it to my reader

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