Less vs fewer. A simple tip to get it right every time
There are two types of people – those who are irritated by supermarket Five items or less signs (Fewer! It should be FEWER!) and those who don’t know the difference. Do you know the super simple tip to tell them apart?
Use LESS for things you can’t count:
- less sunshine
- less work
- less coffee
Use FEWER for things you can count (like the items in your shopping basket):
- fewer words
- fewer buttons
- fewer cupcakes
So there you go. If you can count it, use FEWER. If you can’t, use LESS.
More tips = fewer mistakes + less confusion.
Once you know that things you can count are called ‘count nouns’ and things you can’t count are called ‘mass nouns’ you can apply the same logic to MANY and MUCH.
Use MANY for things you can count, and MUCH for things you can’t.
- Using too many words can confuse your message.
- Too much confusion can prevent customers from choosing your business.
Want more writing tips?
Don’t get caught out by the apostrophe in time expressions
I’m often asked whether expressions such as one one week’s holiday and five years’ time need an apostrophe.
The answer is yes.
These are called time expressions – or, if you want to sound impressive, temporal expressions.
So, where does that pesky apostrophe go?
It’s simple. If the period of time is singular, the apostrophe goes before the s:
- One week’s notice
- One month’s holiday
- One year’s experience
If the period of time is plural, the apostrophe goes after the s:
- Two weeks’ notice
- Two months’ holiday
- Two years’ experience
Oh yuk – must I really?
Not everyone likes that tricksy little apostrophe, but now you know it’s earned its place you can’t leave it out for fear of looking silly, right?
Don’t worry – if writing “I have 20 years’ experience” on your website or LinkedIn profile makes you pull a face, just replace the apostrophe with OF.
“I have 20 years of experience.”
Easy as that.
Why failing to proofread is losing you business
Whether you like it or not, mistakes in your marketing cost you customers and sales. Online errors can affect your search rankings, and sloppy spelling drives potential customers to question your credibility, and buy from your competitors, instead.
We’ve all seen examples of pitiful proofreading that make us cringe. How do you make sure your business isn’t next in line for the hall of shame?
We’re all under pressure – our inboxes are full of unanswered messages, our ‘to do’ lists get longer when they should be getting shorter, and there are never enough hours in the day… it’s no surprise we end up cutting corners.
You’re too close to your own work to proofread it yourself, and your colleagues are just as busy so there’s no point asking them for help.
Avoid the pitfalls of pitiful proofreading
Your marketing literature, website and social media accounts are often the first contact potential clients have with your business. You budget for design and print – even copywriting – yet how often have you risked your investment by skimping on proofreading… then found embarrassing typos in the finished product?
A 2013 study revealed that 59 per cent of UK consumers wouldn’t use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material because they wouldn’t trust the company to provide good quality service. Others were put off due to an obvious lack of care, and considered the business to be unprofessional as a result of the mistakes.
So you don’t have time to proofread but you’ve run a spellcheck so it’s okay, right? Wrong. Spellcheck doesn’t know if you’ve repeated a word, or left one out, neither does it know if you’ve used the right word – it only knows whether the words you’ve used are spelled incorrectly (that’s one C, two Rs).
Computers can’t check context: they don’t know if you meant there, their or they’re, affect or effect, loose or lose. And – oops! – you just spelt manager as manger. Sorry, it won’t spot that either. P45 anyone?
Each time you rely on spellcheck you risk mistakes and errors in your writing. Homophones – words that sound the same, but have different spellings and different meanings, like the examples below – are partly to blame:
- your, you’re
- to, too, two
- there, they’re, their
- sight, site
- board, bored
So, don’t sack your spellchecker, but don’t rely on it to do your job for you – it’s never a substitute for proofreading. Consider professional proofreading as security on your investment. It may be another expense, but it’ll pay for itself many times over.
As the saying goes, ‘There’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it again.’ Don’t learn the hard way.
10 bitesized tips for better business writing
Check out my top ten quick and dirty writing tips, for clever copy and compelling content that gets your business noticed for all the right reasons.
Attract attention by summarising the key points of your message up front. You can do this using a benefit-led headline, or an introductory paragraph that summarises the who, what, when, where, why and how of your message.
Keep it short
These days we’re all overloaded with information. Your writing needs to cut through the communication chatter. Keep it brief. Use short, punchy sentences and paragraphs, and avoid filler words that add nothing.
Keep it simple
Communicate your message clearly using simple language and plain English. Avoid business speak, buzzwords and jargon. See my plain English cheat sheet.
Know your audience
It helps to have a good understanding of who you’re writing for. Once you know your reader, thinking of your writing as a conversation with your audience will help you get the tone right.
Be professional, not formal
Business writing doesn’t need to be formal or stuffy. Aim for a professional and informative tone to keep your audience engaged and interested.
Focus your writing on the benefits to your audience – the “what’s in it for me?”. Engage your readers by talking about benefits, not features (remember, Canon don’t sell cameras, they sell memories).
Include a call to action
Your communication should aim to inform, entertain or inspire action. Be clear about your goal: what action do you want your reader to take as a result? This could be signing up for email updates, buying a new product or attending a meeting.
Check, check and check again
Don’t undo your good work by spelling your boss’s name wrong, or including the wrong date for your event. Check your language, spelling and punctuation. Get a colleague to read it, or hire a professional proofreader – a fresh pair of eyes will spot things you’ve overlooked. And never rely on your spellchecker as a substitute for proofreading.
Say it loud
When I finish any copywriting job 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 in your head. I don’t know why this works, I just know it does. Try it!
Sleep on it
If you have time in your schedule, review what you’ve written the following morning. You’ll be surprised what you’ll spot when you reread your document after some time away.