Cut the waffle: the benefits of plain English

A short, punchy message increases your chances of being heard above the social media chatter.

So why do so many people use long words and complicated language in their blog posts and updates?

Maybe it’s hardwired from our school days. Teachers’ requests for a 5,000-word essay struck fear into our hearts and we resorted to padding and long words in an attempt to sound more knowledgeable than we really were.

It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.

Using plain English, and clear, concise language can make the difference between winning and losing business, or a potential client choosing your company over a competitor.

So, when every character counts, here are 18 waffle-busting ways to get straight to the point:

Instead of writing this… write this
as and when when
we will endeavour we’ll try
in due course soon
we are able to we can
in a timely manner on time
additional information more details
in order to to
we have a requirement for we need
regarding about
a significant number lots
in close proximity near
per annum a year
please advise tell us
prior to before
until such time until
please ensure make sure
at the end of the day ultimately
utilise use

 

13 common confusables and how to get them right first time

The English language contains numerous words that sound alike but have different meanings. They’re known as homophones and they’re easily confused when writing.

Here are some of the most commonly confused words, together with tips for getting them right first time. Which trips you up? 

 

Its/it’s

ITS describes something that belongs to IT:

“The dog chased its tail”

IT’S is a contraction of IT IS or IT HAS:

It’s going to be sunny”

 

You’re/your

YOU’RE is always a contraction of YOU ARE:

You’re going to be late”

YOUR describes something that belongs to you:

“Remember your wallet”

 

They’re/their/there

THEY’RE is always a contraction of THEY ARE:

They’re going to be late”

THEIR describes something that belongs to them:

“They forgot their tickets!”

THERE is a place. Think ‘here’ + T:

“Over here! No – over there!”

 

They’ll/there’ll

THEY’LL is a contraction of THEY WILL:

They’ll be late”

THERE’LL is a contraction of THERE WILL:

There’ll be trouble”

 

Who’s/whose

WHO’S is a contraction of WHO IS or WHO HAS:

Who’s tried the new restaurant?”

WHOSE indicates that something belongs to someone. Try replacing it with WHO IS or WHO HAS. If it doesn’t make sense, use WHOSE:

Whose restaurant is it?”

 

Stationary/stationery

STATIONARY means ‘not moving’. Remember AR, as in parked car:

“The train was stationary

STATIONERY is paper, pens and other office supplies. Remember E for envelopes:

“Please bring your own stationery

 

Affect/effect

AFFECT is a verb meaning ‘influence’ or ‘make a difference to’:

“The rain affects my hair”

EFFECT is most commonly a noun meaning ‘result’:

“The effect of the rain is wet hair”

 

Complement/compliment

COMPLEMENT means complete, match or add a little extra. Remember E for extra:

“That top complements your eyes”

COMPLIMENT praise or a flattering remark, such as, “You have lovely eyes” (think eyes = i).

Always ‘compliments slip’ and ‘with compliments’.

 

Wonder/wander

WONDER means to ponder, or to be curious:

“I wonder how she got on”

WANDER means to drift around:

“I like to wander around the gardens”

 

Accept/except

ACCEPT means receive:

“Please accept my apologies”

Except means apart from, or excluding (think EX):

“Have any chocolate you like, except the caramels”

 

Practice/practise

PRACTICE is a noun – think ICE:

“Have you done your piano practice?” or “We refer to best practice guidelines”

PRACTISE is a verb – think IS:

“You need to practise

 

Principal/principle

PRINCIPAL means main or chief. Remember ‘pal’:

“The college principal

PRINCIPLE is a fundamental truth or rule:

“A matter of principle

It also means morally correct behaviour:

“A man of principle

 

To/too

TO indicates direction:

“I’m going to London”

It also indicates the infinitive part of a verb:

“I’m going to have lunch”

TOO means also:

“Can I come, too?”

It also means excessively:

“It’s too loud!”

 

For regular confusables and other writing tips, follow me on Twitter, or check out my blog.

8 tips and tricks to improve your writing in just 8 minutes

The English language is full of quirks that can trip you up – and when you’re writing for business, mistakes can cost you sales.

These simple tips will stop you falling flat on your face.

Tip 1

A lotas wellthank youno one and all sorts are all two words.

(Unless you happen to be writing about Liquorice Allsorts, which – let’s face it – is unlikely.)

Tip 2

Don’t use here’s (here is: singular) or there’s (there is: singular) when you mean here are or there are: plural. 

“Here are tips”, not “here’s tips”.

Tip 3

Too means also (“can I come, too?”) or excessively (“that’s too loud”).

To indicates direction (“I’m going to London”) or shows the infinitive form of a verb (“I’m going to have some lunch”).

Two is always a number.

Tip 4

It’s usually wrong to say you have two choices – you have one choice, with two (or three, or ten) alternatives.

Tip 5

An ellipsis is always three dots – no more, no less (and never a random number just to fill a gap).

Tip 6

Stop confusing you’re and your.

You’re is short for ‘you are’.

Your means belonging to you.

You’re driving to town in your car.”

Tip 7

Blame pronunciation for this one. Saying could’vewould’ve, and should’ve often leads to writing could of, would of, should of – which is wrong.

Always write could have, would have, should have.

Tip 8

Use fewer for things you can count, and less for things you can’t. Less food = fewer calories.

Ditto number (for things you can count) and amount (for things you can’t).

Want to read more?

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Seven hot tips for writing engaging social media posts

So, you’ve been given the task of writing engaging posts for your company’s social media profiles – where do you start? Here are some top tips for creating compelling content that gets your business noticed.

1: Think social

The key to creating engaging social media posts is in the name. It’s social. Imagine chatting to colleagues around the coffee machine, or discussing new ideas with a prospective client over lunch.

Effective social media is a two-way dialogue, not a one-way monologue. You want your audience to engage with your posts, so ask questions, seek feedback and opinions – even be provocative (within reason).

2: KISS

Short sentences, simple language, plain English – they’re all key to writing engaging social media posts that help your business cut through the communication clutter.

Twitter has its own (280) character limit, but whether you’re updating Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn it’s good practice to keep your updates short and snappy.

Remove redundant words such as very, really and just, and avoid abbreviations and text speak – they won’t make yr biz look gr8.

Your social media writing should aim to inform, entertain or inspire action, keeping your name – or the name of your business – in the front of your audience’s mind. So remember: keep it simple, stupid.

3: Set the tone

If you’re used to writing for traditional channels you may feel comfortable with a certain level of formality – business speak, buzzwords and jargon – and a happy distance between you and your reader. Not so with social media.

Social updates work best when you think of your writing as a conversation with your audience, so keep it light, informal and chatty. Imagine you’re addressing friends, rather than prospects.

Thank people for liking your page, or sharing your posts, and reply to their comments – be active. Consider each post as an opportunity to build relationships, not make sales.

4: Create shareable content

A successful social media profile is one that inspires engagement – sharing, liking and commenting. Thought-provoking, positive and inspirational posts are more likely to be shared, and retweets and likes all help to get your business noticed.

5: Pacify the punctuation pedants

The grammar police are more active on the internet than on any other communication channel – if you screw up your spelling or glitch up your grammar, you’ll know about it.

If you’re unsure of the difference between affect and effect, or principle and principal – check. Not only will you avoid the wrath of the nit-picking word ninjas, you’ll have learnt something new for next time.

6: Say it loud

When I finish a copywriting job, from a complex website to a simple email, there’s one thing I do, without fail, before sending my work to the client – I read it out loud.

Reading aloud makes it easier to identify repetition and inconsistency than reading on screen or hard copy. I don’t know why this works, I just know it does. The same goes for blog posts and even the shortest social media updates. Try it!

7: Sleep on it

Finally, it may sound like a luxury, but try to build time into your schedule to let your copy settle. It’s amazing the things you can pick up when you review what you’ve written with a fresh pair of eyes the following morning.

Okay, so this is neither necessary nor practical when you’re writing a tweet or a Facebook post, but it can certainly help if you’re creating a new blog entry or a company page for LinkedIn.

Start using these simple tips and watch your social media engagement soar.