Do you mind your manners when you write?

For a few weeks before Christmas, I spent much of my time helping my wife with her fast-growing online business. For a couple of months, she spent 18 hours a day making lovely ceramic gifts while I looked after the logistics of sending hundreds of orders far and wide.

For a long period, our lead time for orders was around 3 weeks. This was clearly marked on the product pages and in the confirmation e-mail when customers placed

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an order. For most people that was fine but, as you would expect, a handful of people got in touch to ask if they could receive their order a bit sooner.

This is typical of the emails I was receiving from clients:

Hi there

I recently ordered a personalised necklace for my mum’s Christmas present. I note from the email that the estimated date of dispatch for this is 17 December which will be after I last see her before Christmas. Is there any possible way of a quicker dispatch?

Kind regards

On the face of it, this seems like a perfectly polite request. But look closer. Nowhere does the customer use a small but important word: ‘please’.

For a few weeks I was receiving several of these emails every day. Clearly we couldn’t prioritise everyone’s order, so I developed a simple rule. If the customer said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, I’d prioritise it. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t.

Now. I appreciate that this may seem a bit picky and a bit arrogant. However, it actually got me thinking about how easy it is for manners to go out of the window when you write. Had any of these people spoken to me about their order, I expect all of them would automatically

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have said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

I then began to notice that I wasn’t saying ‘please’ in my own emails and correspondence either, even when I was asking quite a favour. This is something that I’ve immediately tried to remedy.

As copywriters, we spend days asking people to ‘call us now’ or ‘get in touch today’ without ever saying ‘please’. I appreciate that it’s not relevant (or indeed appropriate) in all cases, but wouldn’t your copy be

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a little bit warmer and more polite if you just said the magic word once in a while?

Have you had any success with using the word ‘please’? Do you automatically include it? And does your copywriting mind its manners? Please share your thoughts below.

————————————

Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 11 January 2013

Choosing an e-mail subject line to guarantee readers

Here’s something that I’d really appreciate your help with.

I’m writing a monthly newsletter for a client of mine who runs a

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catering company in London.? They produce lovely breakfast and lunch platters of sandwiches, wraps, cakes, pastries and fruit for meetings, conferences and so forth.? The newsletter is intended to go to existing customers and subscribers by e-mail.

I’ve written the copy which is broadly in four small pieces:

  • A personal piece from the owner (a sort of ‘Happy New Year’ and an introduction to the rest of the newsletter)
  • A focus on one of his products relevant to the time of year
  • A ‘did you know?’ piece with some random trivia and facts
  • A special offer for newsletter subscribers

The template he has is lovely and the newsletter is easily readable and not too long.

My issue though is this: I’m not sure what to put in the subject line of the e-mail.? I have been racking my brains this morning for something catchy that would encourage recipients to open the e-mail and read the newsletter immediately.? Part of me thinks that focusing on the one main benefit (the exclusive

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discount) would be the way forward, whereas part of me thinks it should have something to do with the subject (so a New Year reference, so when I do next months the subject can be whatever I choose to write about in February (probably Valentine’s Day)).

Does anyone have any ideas

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or experience of this?? What works best?? Please share in the comments below.? Thanks!

While-ing away the hours

Hello, and Happy New Year to you.

I rarely make specific New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, I find the idea a bit silly, and I rarely keep to them anyway.? What I do sometimes, however, is use the New Year to make a concerted effort to change small things.? Perhaps I’ll cook at home a bit more.? Perhaps I’ll drink a bit less.? And, this year, I plan to try and spend a bit of time learning more about my trade.

So, I’m planning to become a better writer by gobbling up the advice of many other talented people and by improving my general standard of English.? I reckon it’s already pretty good, but learning some new words and making better use of the words I do know are two of my aims for 2012.

And, along the way, I hope to share some of what I learn (which may, of course, be second nature to you anyway…!)

While v whilst

It dawned on me over Christmas that I wasn’t sure what the difference is between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’.? I always thought that ‘while’ related

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specifically to two things happening at the same time (‘he watched TV while she knitted a scarf’) whereas ‘whilst’ was a term with a meaning more like ‘whereas’.

Anyway, after a bit of research it turns out that the terms are generally interchangeable – at least when you are using British English.? American English doesn’t tend to include ‘whilst’ and so if you’re writing for a US audience, the advice is to only ever use ‘while’.

If you’re writing for a British audience, using ‘while’ will also generally mean that you won’t be wrong.

With the word gradually dying, though, I am keen to keep it healthy!? There are three pieces of advice I have found which are useful:

i) ‘while’ can be a noun (‘in a while’) whereas ‘whilst’

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ii) ‘while’ can mean either ‘during the time when’ or ‘whereas’ while ‘whilst’ has only the first of these meanings

iii) ‘while is often used for activities happening in parallel (‘While I was preparing lunch, my wife was gardening’) whereas, in contrast, ‘whilst’ is used where there is more of a contradiction (‘Whilst it may be necessary or desirable to protect populations from cruel and corrupt governments, it is not necessarily our business to undertake regime change.’)

So, it seems that there isn’t much of an issue using either word when writing for a British audience.? And, taking point iii) into account, it appears I was pretty much right after all….

Anyone else have experiences or advice on the best way to use ‘while’ and ‘whilst’?

Elision decision

A couple of weeks ago, I was working on a short piece on behalf of a fellow copywriter and good

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was going in a newsletter for an accountancy firm.

So, I did some research and came up with

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a piece that we both agreed perfectly suited their requirements.

Before sending it to the client, however, I got this note from my colleague.? “Just what I was looking for.? I’ve taken out as many brackets as I can to help it flow and I have included a few more elisions.”

Now, I appreciate I’m reasonably new to this industry but I had never heard the term ‘elision’ before.? So, I headed online for a definition.

Elision: From the Latin elisio meaning “a striking out.” The omission of a vowel or silent consonant at the beginning or in the middle of a word (example: you’ve for you have or ne’er for never), or the omission of a vowel, consonant, or syllable in the pronunciation of a word or phrase.

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In orthography, the omission is indicated by an apostrophe.

So, can’t, shan’t, you’ve, we’ll, it’s – all elisions (and some are contractions, but I’m not going to start trying to get to the

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Ease of reading vs word count

Any student who has handed in essays or dissertations will know that avoiding elisions is the oldest trick in the book.? And, when writing pieces with a specified word count it’s easy to use “we will” rather than “we’ll”.? It’s twice as many words for your efforts, obviously.

However, I had never really considered before that contracted versions of phrases might actually be easier to read.? In the piece I had provided, subtle changes such as using “it’s a tax…” and “if you’re a VAT registered business…” had replaced my original text.

Which is best?

As with any sort of copywriting, the tone is often determined by the target audience, the client’s requirements and countless other different factors.? However, having never considered the notion copy which uses “you’re”, “we’ll”, “don’t” and “it’s” is easier to read and more personal, I now wonder whether that should be the norm rather than the exception.

What’s your approach?? Do you automatically use elisions in your work, or only when the job demands them?? lease let me know what you think in the comments below.? I’d be really grateful for your advice and input.

The Mary Poppins Guide to Copywriting

For forty five years, children and adults alike have been spellbound by the story of the world’s favourite nanny, Mary Poppins.? While the main purpose of her flying visit (pun intended) was to repair the fractured relationship between Jane and Michael Banks and their uptight, stuffy father, the supernanny also taught the children important lessons about priorities, how to behave and, of course, the basics of copywriting.

Well, I can’t be sure the last bit is exactly what P.L. Travers or Walt Disney intended, but, you have to admit, Poppins was something of a copywriting guru.

A Spoonful Of Sugar

For every task that must be done, there is an element of fun.? It’s not a song about cleaning up the nursery; it is one of the basic rules of copywriting.? You have to give the reader a personal benefit.

A spoonful of sugar in itself doesn’t sound all that appealing.? Even if it were described as an ‘award winning spoonful of sugar from a company that’s been in business 35 years’ it still doesn’t really offer you anything of any value.

However, a spoonful of sugar that will help you by making your medicine go down?? Now you’re talking.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. ? Wise words, indeed. ? Copywriting isn’t a game of ‘spot how clever you are’ – it is a game of making people understand what you are saying.

You might know that your product is a great tasting beverage; to others it’s merely a drink.? You might want to purchase or acquire something; most of us just buy it.? And, you might be offering customers the very best ‘flexible, reusable storage solution’ but a four year old will tell you that it is just a cardboard box.

If you are writing a University essay or something for the Financial Times, then let your vocabulary run riot.? If not, the sound of ii will be something quite atrocious.

Stay Awake/I Love to Laugh

Copy is not designed as a cure for insomnia.? ? ? It is supposed to engage readers; to make them interested and excited about your product or service.? Too many websites contain long, boring descriptions of product features that are neither customer focused or in the slightest bit interesting.

Make your copy snappy, personal, amiable and, in some cases, funny.? The more you laugh, the more you fill with glee; the more the glee, the more we’re a merrier we.

A British Bank

…is run with precision (well, at least it was in 1910, perhaps not so much today).? A British home, requires nothing less.? And, of course, a copywriting agency also requires accuracy and precision.

Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools, without them – disorder! Catastrophe! Anarchy! In short, we have a ghastly mess!

Make sure that you double and triple check all your work before letting a client see it.? Proof read and spell check it – and even get a colleague to have a look over it to pick up on any errors that you might have missed.? If a client finds a mistake in your work, your integrity is instantly damaged as they will immediately wonder what other blunders they haven’t spotted.

So, follow all of Poppins’ rules and both you and your clients will be happy.? They will improve their web traffic and sales, and you will be free to, oh, I don’t know – go fly a kite?? Feed the birds, maybe…?

……………………………………………

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. If you need web copy, articles, books or press releases, get in touch with Nick now at info@nickparkhouse.com

Nick’s first book, 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s, is also now available through Author House, Amazon and Waterstones.

Clients? 2 Things That Will Make Your Copywriter Cry

copy writingCopywriting is often seen as a last resort.? Whilst clients often pay a designer a fortune to come up with a stunning, interactive website, they often only turn to a professional copywriter once they’ve had a go at writing the content themselves.

Good quality, compelling sales copy is worth its weight in gold.? So, hiring a copywriter should be one of the first things on your agenda.? And, developing a good working relationship with your copywriter is crucial.? It’s a two-way process and a good copywriter will work with you to ensure the end result is exactly what you need.

Mind you, there are a couple of things that will drive your copywriter potty.? If you want to develop a great working relationship with your writer, here are two things to avoid….

Adding random extra punctuation

A copywriter’s job is to provide compelling, engaging copy that grabs your reader’s attention and helps to sell your product or service.? It’s not just the words themselves that represent brilliant copy; it’s the way they are structured, the emphasis and the punctuation.

So, don’t decide to re-punctuate your copywriter’s work.

For example, don’t think you know more about where to place an apostrophe than your copywriter does.? Don’t liberally add apostrophes – your copywriter will already know where they go!

And, one thing that is sure to make a copywriter weep into their cup of tea is adding exclamation marks to the end of straplines, sentences and headlines.? A client of mine once used all the copy I wrote but insisted on adding an exclamation mark to the end of each sentence.? The client had a great product which she was rightly proud of, but adding a ‘!’ to the end of each sentence just undermined her confidence in the message.

Let your writer deal with the punctuation.

Rewriting their

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work and then asking for advice

Rewrites are a key part of a copywriter’s job.? It’s rare that the first draft is absolutely perfect and changes, alterations and amendments are part and parcel of copywriting.

If you’re not 100% happy with your writer’s copy, get in touch to discuss how it can be tweaked to better suit your requirements.? Writers appreciate feedback on how they can change the copy so it’s exactly what you need.

The worst thing you can do is to completely rewrite the text yourself, and then send it to the copywriter to check.? Asking a copywriter to check over a load of text that they haven’t actually written is a bit like asking an artist to put their name to a forgery.

Don’t get me wrong – a copywriter worth their salt will work alongside you for as long as it takes for the copy to be perfect.? However, sending them a load of copy that you have written yourself and asking them to amend it is NOT the same thing.

If I revise the text you send me, it’s going to end up looking and sounding like the original text I sent over.? If you didn’t like it then, you probably aren’t going to like it now.? So, work with your copywriter; don’t alienate them by thinking you can do better and asking for their

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approval.

Join the debate.? What gentle advice would you give your clients?

4 Easy Ways To Open Your Article With A Bang

copy writerWhat’s the MOST important part of any article?

If you said it was the title, or the headline, you’d be correct.

So what’s the second most important part of an article or blog entry?

After the headline, the most important part of any sales letter, blog post or article is the opening paragraph.? Ezra Pound once said “The secret of popular writing is never to put more on a given page than the common reader can lap off it with no strain whatsoever on his habitually slack attention.”

Grabbing a reader’s attention with a stunning headline only to lose the momentum when they start reading is like winning the lottery and then discovering you have lost the ticket.? Here are my top four tips for making sure you grab your reader’s attention.

Quote

Bo Bennett once said “There is a misleading, unwritten rule that states if a quote giving advice comes from someone famous, very old, or Greek, then it must be good advice.”

Quotes are great. Despite what Bo says, quotes are

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frequently wise, funny or accurate.? Joe Vitale, freelance writer and bestselling author of Hypnotic Writing advises the inclusion of quotes because readers want to see quotation marks in your writing.? Dialogue makes a copywriters’ writing come alive.? Find a quote that is short, relevant and by someone your readers will recognise and you will instantly make them take notice.

Why Not Ask A Question?

Opening an article with a question should do two things.? Firstly, if the question is directed at the reader it will have the word ‘you’ in it, which, as we have established, is the most important word you can use in copywriting.

Secondly, a rhetorical question connects with a reader.? It makes them curious and gets them thinking.? They’ll subconsciously answer the question…and then want to know what comes next.

Metaphors and Similes

Similes kick like a mule.? Using a common analogy, an easy to understand metaphor or simple similes put topics in language that readers can understand and relate to.? They are some of the most powerful methods that copywriters can use to grab a reader’s attention.

Shocking Stats

As long as you can find one that is relevant to your article, add an interesting or shocking statistic to your piece.? On average, British consumers use 290 plastic bags a year.? 35% of Brits admit to using mobile phones whilst on the loo.? Nearly 90% of a food’s flavour comes from its smell.? Statistics have been proved to be 97.3% effective in illuminating an article.? Probably.

……………………………………………

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. If you need web copy, articles, books or press releases, get in touch with Nick now at info@nickparkhouse.com

Nick’s first book, 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s, is also now available through Author House, Amazon and Waterstones.

Rewards

Credit Card RewardsHaving worked in retail financial services for fourteen years, assisting a client with the creation, design and content for a credit card comparison site was a job perfectly tailored to my skills.

Credit Card Rewards has quickly grown to become one of Australia’s most popular card comparison sites thanks, in no small part, to the 70 odd card reviews and almost 200 articles about cards, fees, banking and charges that I have provided the site to date.? Combining my knowledge of financial services with my writing ability has been almost the ideal job.

(Incidentally, and annoyingly, about the only thing on the entire site that I didn’t write was the homepage welcome text, which I don’t like very much.? My version was (in my humble opinion) *much* better…..!

The site continues to grow and is now quite the resource – as well as dozens of cards to compare it contains

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a huge amount of information.? I’m pretty proud of the way it has turned out, and my client is delighted with it too.

Having written countless articles about how to avoid credit card and identity fraud, I actually took some of my own advice today.? When an obviously fraudulent ‘phishing’ e-mail turned up in my inbox today, I researched the provider it was purporting to be and forwarded the e-mail to their security department.? Practice what you preach, and all that….

And now this project is up and running, the same client has turned his attention to an altogether more, er, ‘adult’ online market. More of that in due course….

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of local and international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well finance, property, politics and cinema writing.

The Number One Tip To Writing Great Copy

copywritingSeneca, the Roman dramatist and philosopher, once said that “the best ideas are common property”.

Do you know what my one golden rule is for any copywriting jobs? Use words that have been proven to work.

There is no point in you spending hours writing your own great copy if it isn’t effective. You might think that it is the best thing you have ever written but if it doesn’t work, no-one will care how fantastic it is.? It will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Anyone who provides copywriting services should have a file, folder or scrapbook with examples of proven, successful sales copy.? You will have seen great sales

copy in books or articles.? You will no doubt have read the famous sales letters that have shown their effectiveness by generating millions of pounds worth of revenue.? You’ll have received direct mailings from businesses that have forced you into action.? You will have seen headlines and articles on the Internet that have been proven to work.? Keep them, and use them.

Context

The key to great copy writing, of course, is not that you transcribe these examples word for word. The secret to great copy is to adapt them, filter them, and use the relevant pieces for the copy that you are writing.? Context is everything.? You might have an example of a great direct mail letter for selling wine but it might not be the best way to market double glazing.

What you should do, though, is start with a template of something that has proven efficacy and then build your copy from there.? There is absolutely no point in reinventing the wheel.

Use the language others are using

Sites like Google and Twitter are full of people’s personal thoughts, feelings, dreams and aspirations.? ? By accessing them you can find the specific language people are using today.? Listen to your readers, and respond to them in your copy.? Your writing can talk to them directly in a way it has not been possible to do before.

A combination of proven words that you have assembled over the years and an understanding of what your target market is looking for can generate hypnotic sales copy writing.? ? Use words that work in your writing jobs but remember to make the most of the context.

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well property, politics and cinema writing.

Are You Scared By Strange Looking Jobs?

How many times have you turned down a writing job because you didn’t like the look of it? Or because it was on a subject that you have no interest on or no knowledge about?copywriter jobs

When I began looking for writing work in 2009, I was initially put off by the range of writer jobs I could find. There were loads of projects on offer which I ignored because I simply thought there was no way I could write about them. What do I know about finding a personal injury attorney in Miami? What’s SEO copywriting?

After a short while though (and partly out of necessity) I started to take some of these jobs. Articles about van insurance, MotoGP and something called ‘multi level marketing’ followed and I started to realise that it wasn’t quite as difficult as I thought it would be. Some of it was a bit like the comprehension I used to do in my English class at school – read a passage and pick out the salient points.

I then did a couple of months writing press releases about everything from fencing and underfloor heating to Turkish villas and herbal Viagra.? You could fit what I don’t now know about Neuro Linguistic Programming and office partitioning on the back of a very small frameless, double glazed office partition.

And then the work started to flow, and I started doing some brilliant jobs. The MotoGP and boxing work meant I secured a deal to write a load of sports previews for an international bookmaker which has now resulted in me being in charge of their World Cup 2010 content.? So, hang on, that means I am being paid to write about the World Cup, and all because I was bold enough to take on an unusual looking job?

Before Christmas I took on the strangest job of them all for an Irish client of mine. He was in charge of running the town pantomime, which people come from far and wide to see. It was Aladdin, this time, and so my job was to write their entire website. A synopsis of the Aladdin story, character shorts and was one of the most enjoyable things I have done.

Since then I’ve written books about bankruptcy, personal finance pieces, articles for small business owners, direct mail letters, websites, pieces on the music from James Bond films, sales brochures, copywriter jobs and the Boris Johnson blog. It’s been varied, enjoyable and, more importantly, interesting.

How about you?? Have you ever taken any weird and wonderful writing jobs?

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. He provides articles, copy, press releases, books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well property, personal finance, politics and cinema writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. He provides articles, copy, press releases, books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well property, personal finance, politics and cinema writing.