The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

How one writing error can instantly damage your business’s reputation

Posted by rachelwriter on January 27, 2010

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Greg-ography

Embarrassing, but true: a few days ago, I spotted at least one glaring grammatical error on each of the Web sites of two well-known business schools here in Georgia.

The first was a subject-verb disagreement: “Each are….” instead of “Each is….”

The second was an embarrassing typo-turned-malapropism: “Perquisite” instead of “Prerequisite.”

And, I’m not talking about a hastily-scribed blog post, either.  I’m talking about the universities’ primary marketing copy.  The meat of the schools’ Web content.  The stuff that’s supposed to make prospective students salivate at the mere thought of enrolling.

Now, I don’t know about other people, but I wasn’t salivating much after stumbling upon these errors.  Blushing in embarrassment, perhaps.  Wide-eyed and flabbergasted, maybe.  But definitely not salivating.

Because, to me, these errors not only represented a flagrant carelessness concerning the schools’ brands and academic reputations, but they also suggested a rather low-quality education and academic environments that celebrate mediocrity over excellence.

Not true?  Perhaps.  But by now, that’s irrelevant.  Sloppy copy on the schools’ most important marketing tool—their Web sites—overshadowed everything else I read and, unfortunately, created a perception that these schools are not quality academic institutions.

Anyway, the lesson, folks, is this: perception is everything.  If your marketing copy isn’t crystal clear and error-free, you’re sending a message to your prospects that you’re careless, unprofessional, and inexperienced.  Oh, yeah—and totally not worth the money.

Is that really the reputation you want to create for yourself and your business?  Just some food for thought.

–Rachel

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5 Embarrassing Malapropisms and Spelling Screw-Ups

Posted by rachelwriter on January 13, 2010

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/zen

As a language lover, there are few things that I consider more painful than witnessing someone unintentionally misapply a word or phrase.  Sure, it’s cute when a toddler refers to the library as a lie-berry or insists on seeing the polo bears (instead of polar bears) at the Zoo.   

But as literate grown-ups, there’s simply no excuse for making such egregious errors in our speech and writing.

Here are six gaffes that make me cringe:

1. “Supposively”

    “Supposably”

The word is SUPPOSEDLY, people.  Yes, -EDLY.  You may want to repeat that once or twice and jot it down for future reference.

2. “Must of”

     “Should of”

     “Could of”

     “Would of””

No, no, no, and no.  It’s HAVE, people.  You must HAVE.  Should HAVE.  Could HAVE.  Would HAVE.

3. “Irregardless”

Um, I’m pretty sure you mean REGARDLESS or IRRESPECTIVE, ‘cause what you just said is not a real word.

 4. “For all intensive purposes.”

Surprise!  It’s actually “for all INTENTS AND purposes”!

5. “Pacifically”

If you’re referring to something in particular (yes, even if it’s on the West Coast), then what you mean is SPECIFICALLY. 

What other language blunders can you think of that rub you the wrong way? 

–Rachel

Posted in grammar | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Why bad grammar is *sometimes* okay

Posted by rachelwriter on December 23, 2009

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Ed.ward

I was at a popular department store last night picking up a few odds and ends when a holiday advertisement caught my eye.  It read: “More Trendy.  Less Spendy.”

My first reaction, as a grammarian, was to cringe. 

More trendy?  An abomination!  It should say trendier!  And spendy?  That’s not even a word! 

It took a while for my boiling blood to cool, but when it did, I was able to see things in a new light.  I reminded myself that copywriting isn’t simply about knowing and applying all the rules of grammar.  It’s also about knowing how and when to break those rules.  Not arbitrarily, but strategically. 

Don’t think for a second that the copywriter behind that department store’s advertisement really confused the comparative form of “trendy” for “more trendy.”  Or that s/he really thought “spendy” is a synonym for “expensive.”

No, the copywriter knew precisely what s/he was doing when writing that slogan.  After all, the store’s brand is very spunky and down-to-earth; keeping the advertisement pithy and punchy and not better-than-thou was right in line with the company’s image.  It was a catchy, memorable blurb that told consumers exactly what they wanted to hear: that they were getting caviar fashion on a tuna fish budget.  And in no more than four “words.”

So, while my inner wordsmith nearly suffered a heart attack last night, the creative copywriter in me—the one who understands that rules are sometimes meant to be broken—was empathetic.  After all, in advertising, you do what you gotta do!

My only hope is that children learning to read and write don’t go around saying their clothes are “more trendy” and “less spendy” than those of their peers.  Oh, the horror!  🙂

Happy Holidays! 

–Rachel

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What copywriting is… and isn’t.

Posted by rachelwriter on June 25, 2009

Courtesy: massdistraction/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: massdistraction/Flickr

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending the morning with two of Atlanta’s brightest and coolest creative marketing professionals—Stephanie Frost and Erik Wolf of Zero-G Creative—as a guest on their weekly radio show. The topic of discussion? You guessed it: content and copywriting.

Along with fellow Atlanta-based copywriter Emily Capps, one of the things we talked about was the general public’s view on professional writing.  Unfortunately, there’s a widespread misconception that writing is nothing more than a mechanical skill—something that can be learned and taught by rote, much like typing or riding a bike.

But, the truth is… writing is so not something that the average Joe Schmoe on the street can do. (Well, okay, I take that back: Joe Schmoe can probably hold a pen and scribble a few words and letters on paper. He may even be able to type legibly. But he certainly can’t string together meaningful, impactful words to deliver clear, concise, actionable copy. Does Joe Schmoe even know what that means? I doubt it.)

Yes, writing is so much more than pulling random words out of the air and ploppin’ ‘em down on paper. It’s a carefully honed craft, people! One that requires forethought and strategy. Creativity and objectivity. Awareness of audience and brand. A mastery of grammar and punctuation. And, yes, good old-fashioned wordsmithery.

So, to help clear things up and avoid any further confusion, I’ve decided to continue the conversation by shedding some light on what professional copywriting is—and what it isn’t.  Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive breakdown. I’d be here ‘til next week just trying to fill in the blanks. That’s why I encourage you to add your is-s and isn’t-s, too.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Copywriting isn’t…

• Like writing an AP English essay, a senior thesis, or a PhD dissertation—even though all three are difficult in their own right, and even though you earned an A++ on each.

• As arbitrary as updating your Facebook status or Twitter feed, and not really caring who reads it or what they take away from it.

• Like that time you wrote a song for your 10th grade crush, inspired by The Cure.

• As fluffy as the resume and cover letter you just posted on Monster.com.

• As wordy as that contract you signed when you financed your new car.

• As easy and as routine as texting your BFF…while driving.

• As simple as replacing every word in a sentence or phrase with another, more “smart-sounding” word from the thesaurus (whose definition, by the way, you probably never even knew before).

• Haphazardly adding extra, polysyllabic (<–you like that one, don’tcha?) words because you think it makes the copy look and sound more “professional.”

• As emotionally unbridled as that ranting, raving e-mail you sent to your supposed best-friend in a moment of blood-boiling ire.

• As intimate as that deeply profound sonnet you composed in your 7th grade poetry class.

• Writing when you feel “inspired” and only when you want to.

• Like riding a bike.

Copywriting is…

• Understanding precisely who your audience is. Every time. Copy for the nation’s most lucrative furriers is going to be very, very different from copy for the nation’s most ardent PETA supporters.

• Having the ability to write in a myriad of voices and in various tones. Will your copy by youthful, lighthearted, and witty? Or sobering and serious?

• Knowing what questions to ask—about your client, your client’s business, your client’s product, your client’s market, and your client’s competition—and using that knowledge to help shape the style, tone, and type of copy you write.

• Realizing that as few as two or three carefully chosen, impactful words—heck, even one!—can be enough to effectively get an actionable message across. (That’s right, people: more doesn’t always mean merrier.)

• Knowing when and how to turn on your inner editor and start putting unnecessary words on the chopping block.

• Having the ability to distance yourself from your business, product, or service and see things through the objective (sometimes skeptical) eye of the consumer.

• Knowing the difference between your product’s features and its benefits.

• Understanding why and when it’s appropriate to break the rules of grammar and punctuation. (Sorry, grammar haters: you still need to know how to use a comma and a semi-colon correctly.)

So… What else is copywriting?  What else isn’t it?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, below.

Thanks for reading and joining the discussion!

–Rachel

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