I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Facebook ads – short but important

Proof reading is important – even for short and (relatively) simple things like a Facebook ad.

A Facebook ad that needs proof reading

Unfortunately my screenshot didn’t work (and the ad hasn’t shown again since!) but I saw an ad this morning that seriously needed some help…

Proof read short pieces of writing

Even short pieces of text need to be proof read – or risk embarrassment

The heading of the ad was “New year. New hom.”

For a major company involved in real estate sales, you’d think home is an important word to get right.

I’d also have expected a company of that size to have a process of checking and approving ads before they go live – a one-person business is often at bigger risk of such errors because it is harder to correct your own writing.

The body of the ad included “but hurry – offer ends 28 February!”

Perhaps they meant hurry into your time machine?

That isn’t necessarily a proof reading error (unless they actually got the date wrong!) as it may be an incorrect setting on when the ad is to be run. Either way, attention to detail can have a big impact!

Proof reading matters…

We all do it – we write something and assume it is written exactly as we meant it to be.

But between typing mistakes (typos), thinking faster than we can type and actual spelling/grammatical errors, it is easy to have text that is not exactly what we wanted.

So we need to check our writing for errors. ALL our writing, whether short or long, whether technical, legally required or marketing, whether online or offline. It’s that simple!

And the key proof reading rules are to get someone else to check it and leave some time between the writing and proof reading.

Oh, and don’t rely on spell check to find all your errors, either. For example, in this post I typed ‘won’ instead of ‘own’ and a spell check would have accepted that as fine.[Tweet “Leave time between writing and proof reading, and don’t rely on spell check…”]
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Useful policies are short

If you take the time to prepare a policy or procedure,then you may as well make it accessible to people, right?

Online access and policiesI just read a blog post discussing how the average internet user could spend 76 business days a year reading privacy policies that affect them. 76 days!

That is based on the average policy having 2,514 words. Which is a lot of words for a policy that basically needs to say ‘we will only give your information to Fred under these circumstances’.

And it is an average. Some places have very short privacy policies (for example, if you subscribe to my newsletter you will see a 34 word policy!) so that must mean other places have extremely long policies.

So next time you write or update a policy, keep it as short as possible by

  1. using simple words as much as possible so it is easy to understand
  2. avoiding legalese so it makes sense to everyone and doesn’t look intimidating
  3. think about your reader – what do they want to know and expect to see?
  4. use an active voice as it is generally shorter than a passive version of the same sentence
  5. use bullet points and sub-headings to organise the policy – this is easier to read, often means less repetition is necessary and sentences don’t need to be so complex.

Legally, you may be covered by providing a policy even if people don’t bother reading it (how often do you read the policies you agree to online?) but I wouldn’t be comfortable with including unexpected details that could hurt people later. That is, the legal issue is not always the moral one so I prefer policies people are more likely to read.

As a business owner, do you just want to protect yourself or do you want people to properly understand your policies?

Getting marketing emails read

While there are a number of factors involved in a successful email campaign, I think there are two important points to remember in every marketing email you send out.

1. keep it short – no one is going to read an email that is full of text for pages. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and as few of them as possible, then use white space and images to make it look appealing and quick to read.

2. focus on getting them to do something – usually the call to action is to phone you or visit your website as that is where you can then provide a lot more information

Writing office effective memos

Emails may be replacing inter-office memos overall, but the memo still has its place in many larger companies. Yet many memos (past and present) are not always treated with respect as many have been so poorly written or produced for the sake of having a memo.

So here are some tips to make your memos worth reading…

  1. keep it short – it is not a letter or a procedural manual.  A memo is about giving some important information quickly so get to the point and leave out unnecessary information
  2. remember that you are writing to colleagues not customers so it’s ok to write something like “see Sue for a copy” or “in the main foyer” as everyone will understand
  3. be personal – you know the people you are writing to so it doesn’t have to be very formal. “Call me”, “pop into my office” or “let me know” are much friendly than “don’t hesitate to call me” or “reply by fax”
  4. be polite and show respect, even if the memo is pointing out something negative. Compare “we need to improve customer service so…” with “you are all really bad at customer service so…”
  5. use personal terms – you, me, I, we – to maintain a connection with your readers
  6. be specific so staff know what is needed – “the renovations start on Monday so please clear your desk by 4pm Friday” or “reports are now due by 10am Tuesday” are clear and easy to comply with
  7. make it clear who is getting the memo – I don’t want to waste time passing it onto my team if they already have it but I also don’t want them to miss it; if it is sensitive, it helps to know who else is reading the information
  8. most importantly, don’t write a memo unless there is actually a need to do so – sending out lots of memos loses their effectiveness no matter how well you write them.

Of course, these same rules apply to important internal emails, too.

Have you received any really bad memos? What made them stand out as bad?

Short and sweet

Do you remember writing essays at school where you had to make up content to fill the required word count? Do you prefer to read a long book over a short one?

In business and website writing, the clichés ‘short and sweet’ and ‘less is best’ are better options than writing a lot for the sake of writing.

Why keep text short?

Lots of pages are flicked not read

Long documents intimidate

  • people are busy and want to get the information fast
  • it tends to be clearer and simpler
  • it looks less intimidating so more inviting to read
  • it is easier and quicker to proof read!

Keeping it short means short words, short sentences, short paragraphs and short result.

So ‘about’ instead of ‘in respect of’; ‘Accountants advise businesses’ rather than ‘business get advice and recommendations from people experienced with accounting’; and ‘stocktake sale’ rather than ‘reduced prices at the end of season to reduce our stock levels’.

Of course, short in the extreme is not the answer either. I use the idea of ‘if it can be done with fewer words, then do it’ rather than making everything short.

When keeping text short, remember

  • it must make sense
  • all critical information must be included
  • keep it easy to read and suited to your audience (for example, ‘because’ is actually longer than ‘due to’ but is used more commonly in speech so is often the better choice)
  • avoid jargon your readers won’t know

Links in emails

Email marketing is a valuable tool for any modern business, but it can backfire if you don’t use it carefully.

I recently saw an email that was very short, started with my name and included unsubscribe details – all of which are good points in an email. But it also included three links to a web page they were promoting – not three pages, but three links to one page!

In a short email, I am quite capable of finding the link even if I have read further on – it will stand out!

Over do something like providing links, and I begin to wonder why you are pushing it so hard and  I get suspicious. Finish with “This isn’t hype” to convince me this is hype and not substance.

Add in a comment like “Seriously, this puppy is sick” and the email has no credibility – I deleted it without clicking on any of the three links!

So the lessons from this email are:

  • treat your readers with respect – they can find links in short emails
  • avoid unnecessary repetition – it is boring and raises questions as to why you need to repeat it
  • avoid statements that are cool or trendy – not everyone will agree with you and they age your message quickly. What is cool today is sick tomorrow and wicked the day after, and so on
  • if your content isn’t something (e.g. hype, spam,viral) then you don’t need to write that fact – it is more likely to raise suspicions than allay them

Use your words (and links!) wisely!

It’s still one point

When writing a list of ideas or tips, it is worth making sure each one has enough value to be in the list – it is better to read a short list of valuable ideas than a long list of mostly junk surrounding a few good ideas.

Even if you’re calling your list something like “top ten tips” or “101 things to do with cheese”, don’t get tempted to make the list longer just so the title seems more impressive. Your credibility will suffer if the list doesn’t provide the help or interest people were looking for.

What I find even more annoying is a list of say 20 things which actually turns out to be a list of 10 or 15 things. I’m not sure if these writers are deliberately trying to plump out a short list or don’t realise how repetitive they are being, but either way it wastes my time and I don’t like it.

Here are the common ways I’ve seen people repeat list items…

  • giving the same point in different terms. For example, “use good spelling and grammar” and “don’t misspell words or use bad grammar” as two separate points – obviously, they mean exactly the same thing!
  • making the same point in different words so it almost seems a different point. For instance “remember to market your existing customers as well as potential customers” is really the same as “don’t neglect your current customers in word of mouth campaigns” in a list of ideas for treating customers well
  • breaking one point into two points – neither point fully makes sense alone, but if they are long enough they can look acceptable

Are there are other common repetitions or problems with lists that you have come across? What has been your reaction to these annoyances?

Happy writing!