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When the words really matter

Mar 18, 2014
Sloppy English! You can get away with it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, text or email. But when it comes to a brochure, a website, a sales letter or a piece of direct mail, it isn’t so simple. Then you have to get it right. By Steve Jordan

I started writing sales copy for the moving company I worked for in the 1970s. Then I used a typewriter, a piece of paper, Tippex to correct my mistakes, and a dictionary as my spelling was so shocking that I had to look up every other word.  My grammar and punctuation was OK, I thought, after all I had got reasonable marks in Mrs. Mills’ English classes and she was no pushover.  I was wrong of course; that I learned later.


I didn’t know it then but it turns out I had a bit of a knack for writing.  I didn’t know because I assumed that if I could do it, so could everyone else. Wrong again. Most people, it seems, find it very tricky indeed. What’s more, they really don’t have the time to be struggling over something that isn’t natural to them, so many important projects get delayed or don’t happen at all.


On turning professional in 1992 the quality of people’s writing came into much sharper focus.  I also came into contact with many more people for whom clear communication and correct English was important: that’s why they were employing me. Customers said that they wanted their company literature to communicate the right message, and reflect the quality of their service and their attention to detail. Accuracy was mandatory.  Elegance was subjective, yet required.


Since then we have had the communication revolution.  Today people habitually publish their own work for all the world to admire on the myriad social media sites and blogs.  Most is badly written, ungrammatical, ambiguous, drivel; but nobody seems to mind much.  Most written communication is by email or text – the shorthand typist, who really did know her job, is banished to history. Most e-mails don’t stand up to literary scrutiny either.  Again, who cares?


I don’t like bad English, wherever it appears, but at least I can understand why it has become so accepted.  The problem comes when standards slip in the writing that really does matter. A badly written press release, for example, can cause misunderstanding and condemn your story to the editor’s bin or, worse, confuse the publisher into printing something that’s untrue. Direct mail has seconds to grab the recipient’s attention, its chances of success are poor anyway, badly written it is a waste of time and money. Bad English and typographical mistakes in a brochure demonstrate clearly that the attention to detail you claim, is false.  Search engines look only for words; choose the wrong ones and you have even less chance of getting on page-one of Google.


I will not use the services of any company that does not care enough about its promotional material to get it written properly or, if they write it themselves, get it checked before it’s printed.  I know many people who feel the same way.  When you go to so much trouble to provide the best service you can; when you take so much pride in your vehicles; when you are willing to pay dearly for website or brochure design; doesn’t it make sense to get the words right too?


Yet so many companies fail: insure when they mean ensure; which when it should be that; it’s not its; and schoolboy grammatical errors that would incur the unfettered wrath of Mrs. Mills were she still with us. They all say “This company doesn’t care about quality".  It’s a shame, because I know you do. People often say to me that it’s hard to sell quality in the moving business because everyone does more or less the same.  That’s why it’s such a price-driven industry.  But if it really is so hard to differentiate yourself from the mediocre rest, getting the words right just could make the difference between making money and not – between a job won and a job lost.


If you are planning a new website, brochure or press campaign, raise yourself above the rest, be extraordinary, get the words right. Email me at to find out how.

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