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Even worse than using clichés …

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

… Is mixing up your clichés! A couple of years ago I was rewriting some web copy for a client (who shall remain nameless) and couldn’t stop smiling when I got to the existing ‘About us’ page. The company had created a brief biography for each staff member and one man was described as “really coming out of the box to help you”.

It was so endearing, I was tempted to leave it in. But seeing as the company wasn’t an undertakers and didn’t make ventriloquists’ dummies, it didn’t really work.

Have you come across anything unintentionally funny on a website?

jack-in-the-box

[Image courtesy of AkaraKingdoms.]

Happy 2012 (and be nice to your readers)

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Happy new year from Good As Gold! My Facebook newsfeed this morning is filled with complaints about sleeping badly, the miserable weather or returning to work (or all three). I hope you’re feeling more positive than the majority of my friends … although I suspect their updates may represent the mood of the nation at large.

One of my 2012 business resolutions is to blog more, so I thought I’d kick off with something that I tucked away this time last year.

Imagine my delight when, on 5 January, I received an unsolicited email newsletter from a leadership management company, with this opening:

Ahhhh the start of another year and all those New Year resolutions have probably already been broken. Back in the same old groove after just 5 days are we? Fancy a change? Fancy something new? Want to try something different? It will take more than a promise to yourself at midnight on New Years Eve after a couple of glasses of shampoo!!

Not only is this badly written, but - worse - it’s patronising, makes assumptions about the reader, and … well, it’s a teeny bit rude. I’d been to the gym that day! I’d eaten my five portions of fruit and veg! I even resisted that enormous slab of Christmas cake at lunchtime.

OK, I’m lying about the cake - but I hope you get my point. Be friendly. Be self-deprecating. Even be personal. Never insult your reader.

Here’s to an Olympic year ahead.

New Year 2012

Readability: the Simple Measure of Gobbledegook

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Whatever organisation you work for, it’s important that your written communication is easily understood by your audience. Using complex sentences or difficult words can put readers off.

Recognising this, NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) has worked with Professor Colin Harrison at the University of Nottingham to develop a tool which analyses the ‘readability’ level of text. They have called it SMOG: the Simple Measure of Gobbledegook.

How complex is your writing? Try pasting a sample of your own text into the SMOG calculator:

http://www.niace.org.uk/misc/SMOG-calculator/smogcalc.php#userguide

When interpreting your results, it’s worth looking at the scores for a typical piece of editorial in the following newspapers:

* The Sun - less than 14

* The Daily Express - less than 16

* The Telegraph and The Guardian - more than 17.

This free NIACE guide has more suggestions for interpreting your scores and boosting readability. You can download it here:

http://shop.niace.org.uk/readability.html.

[Footnote: Just checked this blog entry and it scored 16.7. Which is fine because I know you're a high-brow bunch!]

Metaphors (allegedly) from GCSE English papers

Friday, May 1st, 2009

It’s exam season for many people soon. To celebrate (commiserate?), here’s a list of funny metaphors allegedly taken from GCSE English papers. Like a comedian who does stand-up shows in a holiday camp and therefore never has a holiday, this list has been playing the forwarded-email circuit for years …

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two other sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
 
His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a tumble dryer.
 
She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
 
The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
 
McMurphy fell 12 storeys, hitting the pavement like a paper bag filled with vegetable soup.
 
Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.
 
Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the centre.
 
Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
 
He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
 
The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
 
Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left York at 6:36 pm travelling at 55 mph, the other from Peterborough at 4:19pm at a speed of 35 mph.
 
The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the full stop after the Dr on a Dr Pepper can.
 
John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
 
The thunder was ominous sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
 
The red brick wall was the colour of a brick-red crayon.
 
Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.
 
The door had been forced, as forced as the dialogue during the interview portion of Family Fortunes.
 
Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
 
The plan was simple, like my brother Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
 
The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
 
’Oh, Jason, take me,’ she panted, her breasts heaving like a student on 31p-a-pint night.
 
He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
 
Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
 
She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
 
It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.
 
The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Glenda Jackson MP in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Robin Cook MP, Leader of the House of Commons, in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the suspension of Keith Vaz MP.
 
The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a lamppost.
 
The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free cashpoint.
 
The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.
 
It was a working class tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with their power tools.
 
He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a dustcart reversing.
 
She was as easy as the Daily Star crossword.
 
She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature British beef.
 
She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
 
Her voice had that tense, grating quality, like a first-generation thermal paper fax machine that needed a band tightened.
 
It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

‘Great rules of writing’

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

“Do not put statements in the negative form.

Gold penAnd don’t start sentences with a conjunction.

If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.

De-accession euphemisms.

If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.”

- William Safire

Normalising the predictors of beaconicity: LGA’s list of 200 ‘banned’ words

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

I was interested to hear news this morning of the Local Government Association’s list of 200 ‘banned’ words for councils across the country. The list was released to help public organisations communicate more effectively with local people. I scoured the internet for a definitive copy … it was surprisingly hard to find.

This PDF file containing the complete list of 200 ‘banned words’ was sent to me directly from the author, Richard Stokoe. Enjoy!

200_banned_words_and_their_alternatives2

And in case you don’t have time to open the PDF file, here is a quick A-Z of my favourites:

Across the piece = everyone working together
Bottom-up = listening to people
Cross-fertilisation = spreading ideas
Democratic legitimacy = voted in
Edge-fit
Fulcrum = pivot
Going forward
Horizon scanning
Incentivising
= creating an incentive
Joined up = working together
Level playing field = everyone equal
Meaningful consultation = talking to people
Normalising = making normal
Overarching
Predictors of beaconicity = ??
Quick win = success
Rebaselining
Shell developments
Thinking outside of the box
Upward trend
= getting better
Visionary = ideal/dream/belief
Worklessness = unemployment.

Charge up your copy

Friday, March 13th, 2009

White plug

 … and win more business!

Whenever I write website content, advertising copy or a new brochure for a client, I start by researching their competitors’ literature. It’s important to see what other people are saying and doing … and then make sure my client’s copy says and does more.

I’m always amazed by how much waffle there is out there, though: empty words, clichés and meaningless phrases about how “with 326 years’ experience, we’re uniquely qualified to bring you quality solutions and a personalised service”. Now what does that actually mean?!

With a little more thought, it’s easy to turbo-boost well-worn words and phrases and make them work harder for you. The trick is to extend the features of your product or service into benefits for your customers. Sometimes you have to - not hit them around the head exactly - but really spell things out for them.

So here are my top ten ‘empty phrases’, and ideas for charging them up …

01: LOCAL

So - you’re local. How does that benefit people? Can you offer them a better price? Maybe your customers like the idea of supporting the local economy, or prefer their goods to have a lower carbon footprint.

Also consider your use of the word ‘local’ when writing for the worldwide web (the clues are in ‘world’ and ‘wide’!).

WEAK:

  • “We are a local firm.”

CHARGED:

  • “Because we’re local to you, it’s easy for you to come and see us.”
  • “Being local means we can offer you fresher cabbages and, with so few food miles, a cleaner, greener conscience.”
  • “We like being local - it means we can build great relationships with our clients.”

02. QUALITY

A bit of a ‘nothing’ word unless you expand on it … high quality, superior quality, excellent quality! The word ‘quality’ is also over-used, so may be meaningless unless you explain why your product or service deserves acclaim.

WEAK:

  • “We offer a quality service.”

CHARGED:

  • “Because our leather is of such high quality, it lasts for years, offering excellent value for money.”
  • “You’ll know instantly that our service is of a superior quality because our receptionists are always smiley.”
  • “The reason our snowmen accessories are of such a great quality? We use only the finest carrots and coal.”

03. BESPOKE

These days, everyone seems to be offering ‘bespoke services’. A more personalised approach to business can only be a good thing, but unless you shout about them, the benefits of your tailor-made offering are in danger of being overlooked by potential customers.

WEAK

  • “Our products are bespoke.”

CHARGED:

  • “Because we offer a bespoke service, the final result will be uniquely yours.”
  • “Our sofas are bespoke, offering you your perfect size, shape, fabric, colour and level of sinkability.”
  • “All our training programmes are bespoke, addressing the particular needs and goals of your employees.”

04. MARKET LEADERS

It’s great you’re at the top of your game. But being a ‘market leader’ doesn’t mean much unless you say why you’re the best, or who deems you the best. For all your customers know, you might be market leaders in taking extended tea breaks and leaving callers on hold.

WEAK:

  • “We are market leaders.”

CHARGED:

  • “Having spent 20 years proving ourselves to be both reliable and innovative, we are proud to call ourselves market leaders.”
  • “We believe we are market leaders in writing Christmas-cracker jokes because we go that bit further than our competitors.”
  • “Our loyal customers deem us the market leaders, so we work hard to maintain our reputation.”

05. FLEXIBLE

Flexibility is an asset - it means you listen carefully to your customers and respond to their needs. People appreciate that. But how can you make your copy sing and dance about your willingness to please?

WEAK:

  • “We take a flexible approach.”

CHARGED:

  • “We keep our approach flexible, constantly listening to what our clients want from us.”
  • “We’re flexible: simply tell us what you like in a doorknob and we’ll design one to suit your budget.”
  • “We welcome fussy clients! Our flexible way of working allows us to create spot-on solutions for everyone.”

06. EXPERTISE

Expertise is important; often it’s your strongest selling point. But everyone’s an expert in something! Make sure your expertise sounds relevant to your business, and is backed up with further information.

WEAK:

  • “Our staff are experts at what they do.”

CHARGED:

  • “Having undergone rigorous training, our staff have the expertise and confidence to deal with your every enquiry.”
  • “Our experience and proven expertise in cat grooming means you can relax, knowing your furball is in safe hands.”
  • “Our expertise comes from ten years’ experience and a continual desire to learn; we’re keen for you to benefit from our knowledge.”  

07. UNIQUE

‘Unique’ is what is known as an absolute adjective, so saying something is ‘completely unique’ or ‘very unique’ adds nothing to the meaning (and may even weaken what you’re trying to say). Try to reserve ‘unique’ for when something really is one of a kind.

WEAK:

  • “We offer a unique service.”

CHARGED:

  • “As far as we know, this service is unique - you won’t find it anywhere else.”
  • “Each of our hand-painted fishbowl castles is unique, making an excellent gift for the fantail in your life.”
  • “Every dress in our boutique is unique, so you’ll never encounter your ‘twin’ at a party.”

08. INNOVATIVE

Ah, innovation! All well and good so long as it benefits your customers … some people don’t like change, remember? So show ‘em why it’s for the best.

WEAK:

  • “Our approach is innovative.”

CHARGED:

  • “We’re innovative - unafraid to be different in order to improve.”
  • “We are innovative, constantly researching ways to make getting dressed in the dark easier for you.”
  • “This innovative approach to lunchbreaks makes for fewer arguments and happier employees.”

09. SKILLED

A lot like expertise, really. If you or your employees are highly skilled, then don’t be shy about saying why and how.

WEAK:

  • “We are skilled in this area.”

CHARGED:

  • “Our skilled staff have undergone training to a high level, ensuring they can deal with every eventuality.”
  • “We pride ourselves on being experienced and skilled in balloon modelling; able to create whatever shape of animal you request.”
  • “Our skilled employees have inside-out knowledge of the industry, in order to give you the best service.”

10. SUCCESSFUL

It’s OK to boast a little about your company’s achievements - that’s how you attract bigger customers and orders. But it’s not enough just to say you’re successful. Tell the world why you’re successful too (and make them want to see for themselves).

WEAK:

  • “We are a successful team.”

CHARGED:

  • “The reason we’re so successful is that we’ve worked hard at making customers happy.”
  • “We’re successful because of our first-class ambience and friendly waiting staff (and also because our chocolate puddings are massive).”
  • “We’ve found a successful formula for running our business: ensuring you, the customer, always come first.”

I hope this helps when you write the content for your next brochure, website or advert. Just don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet sometimes, and always turn the features of your product or service into benefits for the customer.

Please feel free to add comments/suggestions below, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you need further guidance: marie@goodasgoldws.co.uk.

 

 

 

 

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for antique lover.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Yesterday I couldn’t help but smile at a Twitter tweet from a friend at a design agency. She was tactfully thinking up alternative phrasing for a client’s copy that read: “… to help display your organisation as a proud member …”

This got me thinking about the funny, misjudged or just plain silly examples of English ad text, signs and labels that we see every day. While it’s my job (and Katie’s) to rid clients’ marketing literature of ambiguity and accidental double entendres, I’m happy these slip-ups still - and always will - exist. For me they unintentionally celebrate the richness of language, the importance of syntax and … well, they’re funny.

Here are a few I’ve plucked from Google for you. Some may slide into urban-myth territory, but they’re amusing nonetheless …

From www.ahajokes.com:

“Now is your chance to have your ears pierced and get an extra pair to take home, too.”

“We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.”

“Tired of cleaning yourself? Let me do it.”

“Mt. Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking backdrop for the Serena Lodge. Swim in the lovely pool while you drink it all in.”

“Used cars: Why go elsewhere to be cheated? Come here first!”

“Our bikinis are exciting. They are simply the tops.”

“Illiterate? Write today for free help.”

“Don’t let worry kill you - let the church help.”

“For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.”

“This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.”

From www.stupidwarningssite.com:

On packaging for an iron: “Do not iron clothes on body”.

On a Japanese food processor: “Not to be used for the other use”.

On Sainsbury’s peanuts: “Warning: contains nuts”.

From www.rinkworks.com:

On the wheel of a wheelbarrow: “Not intended for highway use”.

On a birthday card for a one-year-old: “Not suitable for children of 36 months or less”.

On a collapsible buggy: “Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage”.

On a sign at a train station: “Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted”.

On a 6 x 10inch inflatable photo frame: “Not to be used as a personal flotation device”.

And my favourite source of funny signs, ads and labels? www.engrish.com!

And then you get perfectly clear signs, but people who choose to ignore them! (This picture was taken in Singapore in 2006.)

And then you get perfectly clear signs, but people who choose to ignore them. (This picture was taken in Singapore in 2006.)

 

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