Thursday 16 February 2017

Does the message matter?
When you read something which is a bit clumsy does it bother you? Or when you see a word or phrase used incorrectly, do you feel mildly irritated? When a comma is used in the wrong place, or left out, does this make you slightly itch for the red pen? My feeling is that more and more people care less and less about slack or imprecise communication if only because there is so much of it – and the same mistakes are repeated like the bad habits they have become. It seems that provided we can all just about get the gist of the message then we are not overly concerned about how it is presented. And most of us are guilty in our daily outpourings of what might once have been considered horrendous verbal shortcuts or downright solecisms. 
If this is the case I suppose I should be concerned. Mainly because my profession as a writer for business and government, and for individuals who need or want things professionally written, would be considered of little or no importance. I would eventually have no use in a world which is quite happy to throw anything at the page so long as some of it sticks. I must admit I have noticed that among the people who would normally come to me in the first place to commission publicity, or to ask for something unwieldy to be rewritten or edited, there are more who are looking for something different, a new angle, a hook, rather than something that is clear, correct and easy to read. I have also noticed that there are fewer companies determined to adopt and adhere to a house style in their written communications. Some companies might even be baffled by the very idea.  
Fortunately, a commission to write something different, the new angle and fresh perspective, are fine by me. That’s what I like to do. But I also enjoy straightening crooked prose, putting rhythm back where the elastic has gone out of the beat and doing other things which used to be the domain of the old-fashioned editor.
My main argument to anyone out there who ever needs to describe their business, to articulate their skills and services, to launch a new model or a product in a competitive market, is that good writing helps them to be distinctive. Do it well and you will stand out from the majority who mostly do it badly.
In a competitive market, such as in a profession like accountancy or law, where much of what you have to offer bears a close similarity to the services of others in the same sphere, you need to strike the right note consistently to be noticed. You need to work hard to give assurance, demonstrate your experience, show your best side and engage people in the special story of your expertise. It is my hard-won belief that you also need to ensure that all those working for you pay heed to the clarity and tone of their communications, both to each other and to their clients.
I might well have answered my own question here. Yes, I think writing accurately and well does matter. We need to pay attention. We need to check and reread and try harder. Above all, we need to stop ourselves slipping into bad habits just because so many of them are widespread. 

Thursday 9 February 2017

Beware the dreaded apostrophe!

Beware the dreaded apostrophe!

I've just seen it again. The apostrophe used in the wrong place and sticking out like a banana in a bouquet of roses – actually it was part of an otherwise thoroughly intelligent article which also had three or four literals, all in the space of fewer than 600 words. All of which is totally unnecessary. Rule number one must surely be, please check what you write: it represents you, your skill, your company and what you are offering.

But the worst point is the use of the apostrophe when all you need is a plural. In this example, the offending item was the term Call To Action, denoted as CTA. There's nothing wrong with this so far, but then you really must not continue the story by referring to "CTA's"; it should simply be written as "CTAs".

I've seen this increasingly common mistake everywhere, even printed on expensive signage on the front of large retail and trade premises: "Top of range BMW's at great prices". I ask you. It's like saying 1960's instead of 1960s. When you are advertising for PAs do you write PA's? No, because in the latter instance the apostrophe would either denote possession as in 'The PA's pen dropped with a loud clang as she walked towards the office door', or an abbreviation of the verb 'is' or 'has', as in 'The PA's the one you should be talking to'. If you want more personal assistants, what you are looking for is more PAs. If you want to explain how to make your Call To Actions effective, please don't refer to them as CTA's. 

It is just slack. It is also slack to let an otherwise useful and informative article be published without checking it thoroughly first. Believe me when I say your words as much as your actions and services make you credible. Even today, when so many rules are broken and less heed is paid to good writing, the quality of your communications is one of the first things that a potential customer will notice. It starts the journey to engage people's trust.