Language Audit For Your Marketing Content

I love helping people fix their words, giving them the power to make their words stand out. I had the opportunity to do that last week for a woman who wanted guidance on how to improve the wording in her marketing emails. As I put together my recommendations for her, a lightbulb went on in my head – why not offer people a Language Audit.

This year I’ve been concentrating on my content training courses, but a course isn’t for everyone. Some people want to learn as they go, and my Language Audit service will give them the opportunity to do that. Basically, I’ll be their writer on top, who they can call on as they create their document for advice on how to add sparkle to the language in their documents.

How the Service Works

You can send me your documents as you create them, so you won’t lose momentum while you’re creating your marketing content. Or you can wait till you’re finished all your documents and send them in a batch before you release them to the world.

I will them draw up a few practical guidelines that you can act on straight away, to help you improve the wording of your documents. This isn’t an edit; it’s about helping you make changes yourself, so you can improve your writing skills and enhance the quality of all the content you create.

Ways to Improve your Language

The guidelines I give you take three forms. First, I’ll highlight ‘weed words’ for you to get rid of. These are words that are used so often that they’ve almost lost their meaning and they lessen the impact of your sentences. If you have too many adverbs or adverbs or too many crutch words like ‘actually,’ ‘obviously’ or ‘seems.’ I’ll flag that and you can weed them out, so your blooms will shine.

This is a pic of a purple weed, with thin leaves spreading outwards on a purple background.
Weeding Out Words: Watch out for words that weaken your language and pluck them out of your content.

I’ll then guide you on words that will strengthen your content, words that create vivid images and evoke colours, sounds and scents. I’ll also encourage you to use action words that convey a sense of purpose. For example, if you say ‘The photographs are taken by me,’ I’ll encourage you to change it to ‘I take the photographs.’ It immediately sounds more proactive.

Some people have problems cutting down the length of their content, because they’re so enthusiastic about what they want to say and they’re afraid their message won’t come across. I’ll highlight ways that they can be more concise. Often, it just means something simple, like cutting down the length of your sentences, or cutting out repeated words. You’d be amazed the difference these changes make.

Why Avail of a Language Audit

This is a great option for time poor people who’d rather learn on the go, and it’s also a budget-friendly way to avail of great content advice. The price of this language is €75 for 5,000 words You don’t have to worry how much content makes up 5,000 words. I’ll set up a tab for you and let me know when you’ve reached your limit. But you’ll usually be covered for all the marketing content you create.

I hope this Language Audit service will be of value to you – it’s an efficient and effective way of improving your writing skill. You can find out more about it by dropping me an email on derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.

Why Children Can Read Dark Stories

A few months ago, I read a comment from a mother in a newspaper article that she would not read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett to her six-year-old daughter, because of its racist overtones, particularly in the early chapters which reference the lead character Mary’s life in India. I was dismayed to hear this. Partly because she was allowing modern-day values to colour her view of the book. And partly because I don’t think she was giving her daughter enough credit. In my experience, children are much better able to handle dark material than adults give them credit for.

The Secret Garden

In a way, it’s easy for me to say that. I don’t have children and if I did, I might feel the same fierce urge to protect them from dark or troubling subject matter. But I’ve given numerous creative writing workshops to children over the years, and children are willing to embrace darkness in a way that adults are not. I also think of my own childhood, when my parents were willing to answer any question I had, and when I came across anything dark in a book or TV programme, they were able to contextualise it for me and take any fear away.

Processing Truths Through Stories

From time to time, you’ll hear parents say that they won’t allow their children to read fairy tales because the material is too graphic. But in earlier eras, parents used fairy tales to explain the world to their children, to teach them lessons about good and evil and about the right way to behave. Stories give children a safe way to process dark and difficult concepts, and this is something children instinctively understand.

It strikes me that stories can be a useful jumping off point for discussion between adults and children. In the case of The Secret Garden, yes, the attitudes to race were somewhat unsavoury. But they were a product of their time. I myself wouldn’t be mad about its portrayal of disability, but again, I have to accept that this was a product of its time. Besides, the book also teaches lessons that are still vital today, about the redemptive power of nature and the value of kindness.

Children Embracing Darkness

In a week’s time, I’ll be giving a children’s Easter creative writing workshop. During the workshop, I’ll do a Chinese Whispers style exercise. The story will begin with the words, “The girl went into the wood,” which tends to conjure up dark fantasies in people’s minds. When I did it with adults recently, they stopped the story just as it was starting to get dark. But when I do it with children, they will be willing to go all the way with the material, taking the story to lots of crazy places. They will thoroughly enjoy the process and, as far as I can tell, emerge from it emotionally unscathed.

What do you think of children reading or writing stories with a dark theme? If you are inclined to shield your children from this material, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. It’s always worthwhile to have another perspective.

Ten Rules for Writing Plurals

The plural forms of English words can sometimes be fraught with confusion. It’s a mystery to me how non-native speakers cope with them. The standard rule is that to make a word plural, you add s or es. You use the verb form is with singular words (describing one thing) and are for plural. But there are so many exceptions to these rules that they are now almost redundant. What’s more, some rules have changed completely. Words that once took a plural are now deemed to be singular and vice versa.

Here are 10 rules to help you navigate the maze of plurals. We’ll start with a basic one.

  1. Some words take an s or es plural at the end, but to make them easier to pronounce, the spelling of other letters in the words changes. The letter f changes to v, so wife becomes wives and hoof becomes hooves. For words ending in y, the y changes to ie, and then you add the s at the end, so canary becomes canaries.
  2. There are some words that were once treated as singular words. These describe organisations that have a lot of people in them, but are considered to be one entity. As a result, you would use the singular is verb with them rather than the plural are. Examples include the government is, the team is or the company is. Officially, these should still be treated as singular, but the use of the plural is now acceptable, because it’s used in spoken English, and it’s less ambiguous. So it’s now correct to say, “the government are” or “the team are.”
  3. Similarly, there are words that once took the plural verb are, but are now treated as singular. Media is a word of Latin origin, which describes multiple mediums of communication, but we now say “the media is.” Again, this comes from spoken English, and people are more likely to know what you mean when you say that rather than “the media are.” The word data now follows a similar pattern.
  4. For most words ending in o, you simply add an s to the end of them. You can speak of hippos and trios. The exception is when you’re describing multiple fruit and vegetables, for which you add es. That’s why you write tomatoes and potatoes.
  5. Just to make things a little weirder, there are words ending in s which aren’t plural forms, but you could be forgiven for thinking they were. Grits is the name of an American breakfast dish. It does not mean more than one grit. And have you ever heard of just one shenanigan? Such a thing may well exist, but the word is almost always spelt shenanigans.
  6. It can be hard to know what to do with compound words, words that combine two or more small words. Should you pluralise the first part of the word or the second? Most of the time, it’s the first word that you pluralise, so it’s mothers in law, not mother in laws.
  7. There are a lot of Latin origins words that survive in English and typically end in um or a. Traditionally, for the plural form, you change the a to ae and the um to a. Officially, you still write stadia and formulae. But now it’s acceptable, and even preferred, to write stadiums and formulas.
  8. Words describing quantities are kept as singular, because even if they are describing large numbers of objects, there is only one quantity. So you would write, the amount is enormous.
  9. For some words, you get to keep it simple, and the plural is the same as the singular. Common examples are fruit, sheep and fish.
  10. It can be very hard to know what to do when combining apostrophes with plurals. I could write a whole blog post on that. It’s usually s with an apostrophe and no second s after the apostrophe. For decades, you just add an s with no apostrophe, so it’s 1970s, not 1970’s.

What unusual plural forms have you come across? What plural forms tend to cause you the most confusion? Share them here and we’ll get to the bottom of the mystery together.

Why Copywriting Is Worth Investing In

It’s hard to quantify the value of copywriting to a business. You could tell a business owner that you could deliver a magical formula of words that would boost their bottom line by 20%, but you would be lying and that wouldn’t be fair. What businesses fail to realise, in their rush to reach that bottom line, is that before you can sell, you need to know what to say, and that’s the value of copywriting.

Investing in Copywriting

If you’re willing to take the time to figure out what you’re about a business, then you will stand out above other companies who did not invest that time. When I do copywriting for a business, my goal is to help them figure out what they want to say, and how they operate either differently or better than their competitors. The content that the copywriter creates gives them a foundation that they can then build into a sales strategy.

copywriting image
Copywriters – their words have the power to sell.

 

In the coming weeks, I will be helping a company go through the process of figuring out what to say and how to say it. I will be creating a service manual, which lays out the fundamentals of the company, so the staff can refer to it in their communications with customers. It will essentially help them figure out what to say, and they can use it to create content. I will also be compiling a style guide, with guidelines on the types of words they can use to describe their company. This guide will tell them how to say it.

Defining Your Message

The goal of the service manual will be to define the company’s core message, and how it delivers on this message. Every company has a goal, a mission behind all the activities it does. Successful companies recognise that behind every business, there is passion and purpose, and the core message crystallises that passion and purpose. The manual then elaborates on how that message influences the company’s activities, how they go the extra mile to deliver customer service, and how they enhance their customers’ lives.

Saying It With Style

In general, a style guide aims to ensure that an organisation uses language consistently, so that their content looks professional. This short style guide will help the staff decide what wording to use when they’re writing their content, the tone they want to adopt and how they will refer to their company. Will they say “we” or will they use the company name? It will also ensure that they are consistent in how they lay out that content and how they use grammar and punctuation.

Copywriters, how do you convince businesses of the power of words to sell? Business owners, have you found copywriting services to be worth the investment?

Three Wordy Ways to Enhance Your LinkedIn Profile

Recently, I polished up a LinkedIn profile for a client who was expanding his business and wanted to let people know what he could offer them. The skeleton of his LinkedIn profile was in place and there was good basic information about his roles and responsibilities, but I was able to add flesh to the bones. A lot of people find it difficult to know what to write in their LinkedIn profile. It can feel like blowing your own trumpet, but that’s the whole point of having a LinkedIn profile.

Write a cracking LinkedIn profile.
Write a cracking LinkedIn profile.

Your LinkedIn profile is your shop window, giving employers and/or potential clients the opportunity to find out how you fit with their goals and what you can offer them. There are lots of practical things you can do enhance your profile, like updating it regularly and making sure all relevant sections are filled, but I will concentrate on three word-based enhancements you can make.

Summarise Your Skills

Be sure to use of the Summary box at the start of your profile to outline the skills and attributes that you have honed throughout your career and/or studies. Like the executive summary on a CV, this is your chance to grab the attention of a busy employer or client. It may be the only part of your profile they read, so make it a good one. Don’t just say that you’re trustworthy, say that you were entrusted to lock the safe at night or transfer cash to the bank. Also, word your summary in terms of what you can offer. Don’t just say you’re a team player, say that you’re able to bring people together and help them cooperate with each other.

Enhance Your Job Description

When you’re listing the different roles you occupied or currently occupy, don’t just write a list of duties. Highlight the skills you drew on and how those skills benefited the organisation you worked for. Instead of saying you were in charge of safety, say that you implemented company safety policy and ensured staff safety at work. Don’t just say

Choose Dynamic Wording

Don’t just rely on words like did, made, ran or had. They’re lazy and they’re not specific enough. Instead, choose words that convey a sense of action and accomplishment, words like organised, implemented or ensured. Also, cwhoose words that convey the attributes you bring to a role, like calm, passionate, creative or meticulous.

What have you done to make your LinkedIn profile stand out? For what it’s worth, here’s mine.

A Little Word Challenge

I’ve always thought that creating a new word would be a great way to achieve immortality. Your word would appear in dictionaries for generations to come, with your name beside it as the inventor, if there were any justice in the world.

The rapid changes in technology in recent years mean that new words are needed now more than ever, to describe the new technology and the new concepts that come with it. One phenomenon that I felt deserved its own word occurs when you meet a person you’ve been chatting to quite regularly on Facebook and Twitter, only to realise you don’t know them. Cue awkward squirming and a rapid exit.

So I set a challenge to the people that I know from Facebook and Twitter, some of whom I know in real life, some not, to see if they could come up for a word which describes this phenomenon. Hopefully one of these words will make its way into the lexicon and ensure immortality for its inventors.

There was a healthy response, with a few noticeable trends in the construction of the words.

Words that combined English with French or German. Words in this category included: FacebookMenschensiewissennichtwirklich, friemd (pun on the German for fremd, or stranger), webconnu and sousreal

Words that combined two existing words and captured the paradox of social media friendships – that people who seem to be friends are actually strangers. These included: franger, strangend, facepal(m), cyberbuddy and alternet.

Words that combined existing words to describe the illusion of social media friendship. These included: sociallusion, realmeet, realreveal, sociofabulation, cyberluded and webmirage,

Some words had slightly different definitions, but were still worthy contenders, including amity-nesia (forgetting you were friends with someone on Facebook) and to e-Frame, meaning only using photoshopped pictures of yoruself online, preferably with an inspirational quote.

A few of my favourites from those lists include the monster German word FacebookMenschensiewissennichtwirklich, friemd, sociallusion and franger.

Which word do you think is a candidate for immortality?

Three Wordplay Writing Exercises

Words are a writer’s stock in trade. Good writers can bend words to their will. For them, words are a second skin. One of the ways they learn to master words is by playing with them. Playing with words is not only fun, it breaks down inhibition and shows you that words are your instruments, which can be used to express whatever you most long to express.

In the first creative writing class, I devote a fair amount of time to activities that encourage participants to play with words. Here are three of them.

Invent a Word

I can’t think of a better way to achieve immortality than to invent your own word, and this activity helps participants achieve this potential immortality. Participants come up with a word and a potential definition for that word, and then they write their word and definition on a big sheet of paper for all to see. This goes down particularly well with children, who instinctively understand that language is malleable and all you have to do to create a completely new word is swap round a few letters.

Story Soup

Playing with words can be a building block to creating stories, as there can be surprising links between words. I do a number of exercises that encourage participants to come up with words and weave them into stories. In Story Soup, they write the name of an animal, a colour and a place on a sheet of paper. They drop the sheet of paper into a hat and then the hat is passed around. They take a piece of paper out of the hat which isn’t their own and write a story that includes those three words.

The Kitchen Sink

Playing with words encourages writers to come up with more inventive images and steer away from clichés. Some of the activities I use ban participants from using certain words, which encourages them to come up with fresher alternatives. In The Kitchen Sink, I give participants a theme, often a seasonal one like Christmas or Halloween. I ask them to come up with one word each that’s associated with that theme. They put the words on a big sheet of paper, and then they write a piece about that theme without using any of the words on the sheet.

What ways have you found to be inventive with words? Feel free to spread the word.

Creative Writing in the Library

Libraries are marvellous places. It’s a cliché to say it, but clichés happen to be true. With little funding at their disposal, they have evolved to become vibrant reading emporiums, where people can access not just dusty books but a whole range of facilities, including creative writing workshops.

I’ve just begun a series of three workshops in libraries in Waterford in South East Ireland. They’re for National Literacy Week and Positive Ageing Week. I delivered my first one last Thursday. It lasted three hours and aimed to give a gentle introduction to the world of creative writing.

Icebreaking Exercises

Four brave souls turned up, and I eased them into the session with a few icebreaking exercises. I showed them my highly fashionable Bavarian hat, now a feature of my creative writing workshops, and asked them to write a sentence describing it. They introduce themselves by pairing their names with the name of an animal, which shared the first letter of their name e.g. Derbhile the Dolphin. Finally, I fried their heads a little by asking them to come up with 26 words to match the 26 letters of the alphabet and writing a little story featuring their three favourite words from the list.

My magical storytelling hat, picture taken by moi.
My magical storytelling hat, picture taken by moi.

Stimulating the Senses

Now the participants were starting to loosen up, it was time for them to tap into their senses. Stimulating the senses evokes strong emotions and memories, and encourages you to come up with more vivid descriptions. The participants told the life stories of curious objects, using the look and texture of the objects to give them ideas.

Then they ate oranges, not out of any great desire to be nutritious, but because oranges work all five of your sentences. They described the experience of eating the orange, through its look, feel, sound, taste and smell. The word squishy features heavily. I then extended the exercise and had them write a powerful food memory, of oranges or any other food that came to mind.

Break

Next came arguably the most important part of the workshop – the break. I’m not being facetious. The break gives participants a chance to relax and get to know each other, and when they feel comfortable with each other, they’ll take more risks with their writing. The library once more proved its excellence when its staff provided tea and biscuits, even though they were under no obligation to do so.

Storytelling Techniques

Now the participants were fortified, it was time to get down to the serious business with storytelling. We started with characters. I talked about how characters are created and the participants created their own characters, based on a picture of a rather hideous looking old man. They then needed to create a world for that character to live in, so they wrote a travel-brochure style piece, selling an imaginary country.

No story is complete without an event, so I talked about the different kinds of plots that writers use. I then gave participants pictures from a calendar I got with a newspaper three years ago, which told the story of significant news events in pictures. I’d removed all evidence of what the events were, and asked the participants to come up with a caption for the picture. I rounded off the workshop by asking them to write about a significant news event that they remembered from their youth.

I have no idea what ultimate outcome this workshop will have. I hope it will plant the seeds of stories in the participants, and they will work on them in their own time. Certainly, it was gratifying to feel the levels of confidence and enthusiasm rising as the morning went on.

If you’re in the Waterford area, and what you’ve read has whetted your appetite, I have two workshops left in the series. Click here to find out more.

Escaping the Writing Desert

I don’t believe in writers’ block. But I do believe in the writing desert. It’s a place where words turn into dust, where mirages of stories dance before your eyes, but vanish as you reach out for them. Being in the writing desert doesn’t mean you don’t write, but you write in circles, like a desert fox chasing its tail.

It would be easy to surrender to the writing desert’s shimmering sands. It’s a place where there is no rejection, no fear. But to stay there would mean betraying tha talent that lies inside you, and thwarting your writing voice. If you stay in the writing desert, you will wither.

No helicopter is going to come and rescue you, so you need an escape plan. I’m going to share my one with you, in the hope that it will help you formulate your own.

 1. Write for Yourself

A lot of writers eject ideas from their subconscious before they’ve had a chance to form because they’re afraid it’s not what the market wants. They’re paralysed by the thought of how daunting the publishing process is and lose heart because they feel their ideas are too puny.

The best action to take is to turn your back on publication. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in the long term, it restores your confidence. Give yourself the freedom to write what you want, and write for a set amount of time each day or each week. You’ll establish a writing rhythm, which will keep a channel open for publishable ideas to flow through. The act of writing itself is powerful. It is an act of faith in yourself.

 2. Write Around Yourself

You can never entirely escape yourself when you write, but if your writing is too introspective, you’ll remain in the quicksand. Expand your reach to the world around you, to the people you meet and the places you know. Draw a map of that world with your words. Use your writing to push past your assumptions and understand that world better. You won’t be taking yourself entirely out of the equation, but you’ll turn your life’s experiences into stories that readers will relate to.

3. When You’re Not Writing, Just Live

When you’re not writing, it’s tempting to spend a lot of time fretting about the fact that you’re not writing. But it’s better to shove writing to the back of your mind when you stop writing, and immerse yourself in the richness of the world around you. Pay close attention to your surroundings. Eavesdrop shamelessly on conversations. This will add texture to your writing, so you can create that 3D effect that allows readers to feel they’ve entered a whole new world. And trust that while you’re getting on with the business of living, your subconscious is churning away and will produce a brilliant idea for a story when you least expect it.

This is not a failsafe escape plan. But it at least ensures that you will write in a straight line, instead of in circles. And if you walk that straight line for long enough, you will end up in the abundant lands where your stories reside.

What’s your writing desert escape plan? Feel free to share your tips.

Writing A Video Script

Over the past few weeks, my copywriting work has taken an interesting direction. I’ve produced two scripts for how-to videos. The company wants to use videos to show their customers how to use their products. I’d always fancied writing video scripts, because I used to work in radio and figured that the writing style would be similar, snappy and informal.

The project was a challenge for me because the company wanted me to select the images as well as write the words, and I had to make sure the script matched the images and made sense to people using the video. Writing video scripts is similar to other forms of copywriting. You get your message across and you give a call to action at the end.

But there are three elements that are particular to video scripts, which may be useful if you’re planning a video of your own, for your business or for a book you want to promote.

 1. Write As You Speak

When you write for video, someone is going to read out what you’ve written, so make sure the language you use is easy for them to read. You can do this by writing in a chatty style, using less formal words and short sentences. When you’ve finished the script, read it out loud. Then you can weed out awkward wording and clunky sentences.

 2. Write Around the Images

In a video, the images tell the story and your script is intended to complement those images. People will grasp the main message from the image, so rather than describing exactly what happens in the image, write a general description that ties in with what’s happening on the screen and enhances it. I had to mention in my script that people could delete their work if they weren’t happy with it. I didn’t tell them how to delete it. I told them it was easy to get rid of their work and start again. People could see what to do from the image, showing a mouse clicking on a rubbish-bin symbol, and my words offered further reassurance that getting rid of their work would be hassle free.

 3. Road Test the Merchandise

This is particularly useful if you’re writing a script for an instructional videos.. You won’t always have a chance to try the products, but if you can, it’ll make your script more accurate. When you’re using the product or service, write down what you did. Then your script will show people how to use it, step by step.

This video script will give you a chance to see these three elements in action. Please share other examples of instructional or promotional videos that you think are effective.