It is easy to forget the frame of mind of people visiting our organisation/business website.
When we write our website text, and tweak words here and there, we can forget what matters most. For example:
- People dart in and out of websites very, very quickly. — Speed
- They are often searching for particular things and key words (though they may not have formulated them precisely in their heads). — Search
- They make snap decisions as to whether or not a website (yours) can help them. — Snap
Don’t agree? / Agree?
If you need a little persuading, cast your mind back to the last time you used the web to trawl through several websites, for example to find a budget holiday, or choose somewhere to stay.
Think how quickly you made judgements of different websites, and their offers. And how quickly you decided whether or not to spend more time investigating any given website.
Did an attractive PICTURE (e.g. a luxury bedroom, or tasty-looking buffet) or CATCHY HEADING (‘River view’, ‘Convenient for …’) lure you into looking further… or maybe to book?
I make those comparisons as a reminder that people browsing websites are reading so fast that your text has to engage with them in a flash, and/or catch their attention immediately.
‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ – the saying goes.
But the right words can achieve the same ‘pull’.
Mistakes to AVOID
With this in mind, here’s the main heading on 5 homepages of websites that I reviewed recently – followed by my comments and suggestions.
1) ‘Finding clients for our customers’
How effectively does that engage with target customers. Instead, I’d suggest ‘We find you more clients. Guaranteed!’? — Be absolutely clear with your main message
2) ‘Increase your online presence in Style!’
What is that about? Putting something like this requires reader to read further in order to find out. But will people bother? — Make sure you have an impact.
3) ‘No sooner said than done’
That was used by a promoter of voice recognition software. But I’d argue it is a little cryptic. Instead, I suggested something clearer, like ‘Discover how to type at double speed – no course required.’ — Don’t try and be too clever.
4) ‘Welcome to …’
Looks a nice greeting, but people have already typed in your url, or selected it on Google, so do they need it? Plus, it means they are crowding out their main message. — There is no need for such ‘Happy talk’ on websites.
5) ‘Working with small and large businesses in the UK. No job is too small’
Don’t a lot of companies claim things like that? Does it distinguish you enough, I asked them? — Try and be unique, if you can
Advice for your homepage
The way to engage people, and lure them into your website, is by making sure your homepage’s words ‘speak to’ the reader in one of two ways:
- Pick up on ‘problems/issues’ that they are looking to solve/answer
- Highlight the benefits that your product/service can do for them.
For further information
This is one of a series of articles to help you ‘self-test’ your website and the effectiveness of its writing. In my next article I will look at how to Engage more clients through your text.
We encourage you to consider using a professional copywriter to draft the text for your new website. Here are eight reasons why, connected with the written content and the production process :
- Correct perspective – Being external to your business, a copywriter will see things from the perspective of one of your customers, not one of your staff. So there’ll be better able to describe your service/product, and its benefits, and create copy that engages well with target customers.
- Freer to ask questions – Because they are not one of your staff, freelancers are freer to ask questions that may arise when writing about your business – questions that a staff member might find awkward or hard to ask of colleagues or their boss.
- Appropriate tone of voice – The way your website speaks must reflect your brand, the culture and values of your business, and match your customers’ expectations. A copywriter can ensure your tone of voice is consistent across all marketing collateral, and draw up tone of voice guidelines if you don’t have any.
- Will go the extra mile – As ‘wordsmiths’, copywriters love playing with words. So they have the experience, and are willing to go the extra mile, in order to find just the right words, phrasing and tone for your new website.
- Refresh/recycle existing content – If the text on your existing website has got a little tired or dated, a professional copywriter can refresh it and give it a new lease of life.
- Websites are more powerful when the design and text work together – Your new website will use visual and written media, and their messages are more effective when the graphic design, images and words are created alongside one other. This can be achieved by your design agency and copywriter working closely together.
- A perfect fit – Another benefit of developing design and written content in parallel is that approximate word-counts for body text can be agreed in advance, which means that draft text fits well first time around, rather than needing lots of cutting and editing later on.
- Avoid delays to your new website – Most copywriters can write with ease and speed. Not least because, once contracted, they will clear their diary for the job in hand. Plus, they don’t have the everyday distractions and commitments of employees, which can sometimes hold up the launch of your new website.
It is is not easy to get the right tone of voice, for example to politely decline when we are asked to go somewhere with someone, do something for someone , be at a certain place at a certain time, etc.
At times like these, many of us are overcome by guilt and responsibility; we feel we really ought to say ‘Yes’ … but really, we want to say ‘No’.
Allow yourself to say ‘No’. Here are 10 ways to answer those difficult and embarrassing questions …
1. Use modal verbs – could, might, should, would
I would have loved to have come, but I don’t think I can – I might have come, but I have another engagement
2. Put things into a questions
Would it be OK if I came on another occasion? – Might/Could I come back to you?
3. Express some doubt
I don’t suppose you could ask me again in a few days time?
4. Be apologetic, even for small things
Sorry to disappoint you, but I might not be able to attend.
5. Use If – If followed by will, would, can or could
If you don’t mind, I will look at my diary and come back to you – If you wait a few days, I could get back to you.
6. Use past tense, even though talking about the present
I thought we could have a chat about it – I was wondering if we could talk about it? – I wanted to ask you a question about it.
7. Include the person’s name
Robert, I am awfully sorry but I don’t think I can come.
8. Use polite phrases, eg Sir/Madam etc
Madam, can I consult my diary and get back to you.
9. Be approximate and indirect, rather than specific
Would it be OK if dropped in more of less around midday?
10. Use longer words for things
Could I ruminate over that and get back to you?
Clear and effective written communication is an essential requirement of any business – be it for reports and proposals, press releases, marketing brochures, websites, or even everyday jobs such as email and letters.
The cost of poor writing is miscommunication, but also lost business opportunities, and a damaged company image and reputation.
Good writing isn’t as hard as writing in a foreign language, but there are some essential skills for all of us to learn. For example, how to
- Write a press release that will grab media interest;
- Compose web pages, reports and proposals that will engage and influence readers;
- Write emails that get those everyday jobs done efficiently and smoothly.
Experienced trainer in writing skills
As an experienced trainer in business writing skills, I can offer SMEs a fairly unique blend of experience – described below.
- As a former journalist (five years writing features for the Guardian and The Telegraph), I can show directors and managers the tricks and techniques used by professional writers – so your writing is clear, engaging and effective.
- My wide employment experience – I have worked as a manager in local government and the voluntary sector, and a private sector consultant – means I can relate well to many different types of business/organisation, their ethos and way or working … and their writing style.
- Indeed, I have delivered training for high-profile clients such as the World Trade Organisation and European Commission, several high-street clients, and the University of Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education, for whom I deliver six business writing courses every year.
My training style is engaging and interactive.
According to people’s needs, I can run intensive, bit-sized, 90-minute sessions through to day-long courses.
A full list of my course repertoire is available here, on my website.
Would any of the topics already mentioned be of interest – or an amalgam of some of them, such as these?
- Winning reports, proposals and press releases
- How to attract and engage an audience – Marketing materials and press releases
- Making your working day smoother – Tips for effective emailing
- How to write with ease and speed
‘Hard Brexit’, ‘Max-fac’, ‘Passporting’ … What do they mean, and do they mean the same to all of us? Hum.
These Brexit terms are a reminder that using unfamiliar and undefined jargon runs the risk of confusing and annoying customers. And they can also be interpreted differently by staff. If you give instructions to ‘reach out’, for example, are you telling staff to speak to an organisation, invite them to a meeting, or form a partnership with them?
And with more and more pressures on people’s time, and Social Media enticing and forcing us to use ‘shorthand’, the use of jargon is undoubtedly escalating. Despite its risks and consequences. So, here are my tips – drawing on my experience of what works.
- Paint your audience – As you write, think of someone who characterises your target audience – ideally someone you know well. Imagining they are seated in front of you will help you tune into your audience’s needs, and stick to everyday language.
- Ditch your suit – Believe it or not, how you are feeling and how you are dressed will influence your writing’s tone of voice. It is true. So, wearing a suit and tie could be at the root of your problem?
- Find a hero – We absorb the writing styles of what we read around the office, just as children pick up their parents’ accents. However, if you keep examples of writing styles you want to copy, and read them before you start writing, they will rub off on your work.
- Decide your style – Decide on three adjectives you’d like your writing to sound like, and then identify their extreme opposites that you want to avoid (e.g. confident – extreme opposite, arrogant). Use these adjectives to guide your writing.
- Beware of nominalisations (abstract nouns) – It’s common for businesses to use these instead of what are their verb and adjective equivalents (e.g. notification compared to ‘to notify’; precision compared to ‘precise’). However, they make your sentences wordy, unclear and bureaucratic – so ditch them!
- Read your text out loud – This is a great way for spotting anything unintelligible before you share it wither a wider audience. Long sentences, clichés and jargon should leap out at you as you read – for your immediate treatment.
In summary … Write clearly, and you won’t pay the cost of jargon
Business organisations and websites
‘getAbstract recommends keeping this handy guide on your desk.’ getAbstract
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‘Business Writing Tips is a book that promises to ease the transition to a better way of writing.’ Small Biz Trends
‘A solid resource in this business writing genre, and a useful addition to your bookshelf.’ procopywriters
‘Packed with a wealth of information presented in a lively, engaging and attractive format.’ – L Gordon.
‘Comprehensive, easy to use … to appeal to anyone who needs to produce fact or fictional text.’ – MD.
‘A must for the book shelf of a business oriented writer. Considerable aspects are covered plus more. This is a Business Writing Tips bible for inspiration and success.’ – K Villet.
‘I’d recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who needs help to get going.’ – S Parsons
‘There are few things in life that far exceed their monetary value, and for £9 this book does that.’ – D Perrin
‘Well written, and easy to read and understand… clear and concise, and easy to follow.’ – S Collins
‘Easy to dip in and out of … should be on everyone’s shelf.’ – B Scobie
‘Short, sharp and to the point. It is an excellent guide for all people in business who need an easy to read reference book.’ – A Tomkinson
If you want more details about my book, which you can buy here .
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‘Which side of the bed did you get up this morning?’
That’s the question that several people attending my training courses have been asked by their bosses.
And anyone who works in public research will know that once two or three people say the same thing there is probably some wider truth in it. (In the same way, MPs know that it is time to sit up and take notice of us once they get a handful of letters reporting the same thing.).
After reading a piece of my training delegates’ writing – a report, blog post, whatever – their bosses said to them, “What mood were you in when you wrote that?!”
So, what exactly did they mean?
And what do we conclude?
Answer: That the tone of voice of our writing is dependent not just on obvious things (see later) but also on which side of the bed we get up.
Not literally of course …
The boss’ meant: whether the trains were running on time and the sun was shining, did their team win last night, and did they had time to grab their favourite frothie semi-skimmed latte with sprinkles on top before getting to work.
There are 3 conclusions of the boss’ feedback:
- We need be aware of – and careful – if we find ourselves in an extreme mood, either positive (e.g. excited, jokey, spontaneous) or negative (depressed, annoyed, fed up) as this will impact on our writing – quite possibly sending it away from the style we wanted. Yes, unless we are careful, what we are feeling like, have been watching or reading, whether or not we have plans for the evening/weekend, and our relationships, will all have an impact.
- So, before picking up our pen, we should ‘get into the mood’ we want to convey in our writing. For example, if you want to come across as business like ‘dress the part’ – don’t write when still in your pyjamas on a Sunday morning, lounging around on your settee. It won’t work.
- And finally, recognise that – because of the above – there may be times when we need to stop, adjust, and get into the right ‘zone’ before we pick up our pen … otherwise we’re signing up for an awful lot of unnecessary time later, editing.
Tone of Voice – Components
All of which is important for anyone wanting to effect the right tone of voice.
Wake up, readers, if you ever have to write any of the following: a persuasive proposal, the minutes of a legal or important meeting, some marketing text (print or digital), finely-balanced notes e.g. for a staff appraisal, etc.
The other, more obvious, ingredients to your writing’s tone of voice are these 3 things:
- What you say – the content.
- How you word it – your vocabulary.
- And how you say it – the grammar.
Let’s look at an example …
Suppose you write a blog about how you, unexpectedly, won a half-marathon last weekend. Well, that will be pretty inspiring to many people – especially if it was during bad weather and you won against all odds.
But if you litter it with some inspiring words – struggled, overcame, fought, won – it will be even more inspiring to your readers.
And you can affect the tone one step further with your grammar, by which I include the following:
- Sentence length – long sentences tend to sound more formal that short ones, which keep your voice more casual. The latter are also easier to read, and a great place to put key points you want to stress. Like this.
- Active or passive sentences – the latter make sentences longer (see above), as well as being not the natural way most people speak.
- Use of pronouns – using we, you and I, etc., will make your writing more engaging to the reader compared to referring to Mr X, Andrew (or avoiding using people’s names completely).
- Contractions – we’re (instead of we are), can’t (instead of cannot/can not), etc. Again, the former ones will give your writing a softer tone.
- Punctuation – semi-colons are not your everyday punctuation, as well as resulting in longer sentences.
Moral of this story .. for your tone of voice?
Say ‘No’ to jumping out of bed ‘on the wrong side’.
For help with tone tone of voice, how to write persuasively, and other help, contact PerfectText.
Is your email inbox overloaded – or do you spend too much time on your emails? READ my 6Ps for making your emailing day a lot lot easier.
1) Use the 3-Part structure to save time on emails
Many people get 30+ emails every day – their inbox is overloaded. And dealing with so many emails is time consuming and not easy.
If an email arrives that is long, unattractive (bad layout) or complicated to interpet, the receiver will quite likely – and quite reasonably – leave dealing with the email until later.
And who would blame them?
Whereas, if your email is well structured – so the receiver can speedily digest your content – it will be answered and actioned much more quickly.
Just what you want.
To help your emails get attention, use this effective 3-part structure:
First, give some brief context to the email – e.g. I am following up our meeting on Monday.
Then go into the details. Keep related information together, separate the details using paragraphs, and use sub-headings or numbers if appropriate.
End with the Action you want from the receiver – Can you get back to me before Monday?
Take advantage of the fact that readers’ attention is greatest when they first open your email and read your opening paragraph.
Capitalise on this by drawing readers’ attention to any important points in your email, eg. Sorry this email is a little long … This is really important … Please read the email carefully, etc.
I have pooled together my training experience and tips from my book on Business Writing Tips into 20+ Expert Briefs on Writing. Here is a list of the topics covered. Contact me for copies of any of the briefs.
HOW TO WRITE WITH EASE AND SPEED
- Effective writing is as easy as ABC
- Do your writing jobs take too long? The 5-stage POWER model is your answer
- Find writing frustrating? These 4 Ps will make it considerably easier
- ‘Less is more’: 10 things to delete from your sentences
- How good is your writing? Find out in this short and revealing test
- Calling all writers: Your ‘Duty of Care’
ATTRACT AND ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE – KEY INGREDIENTS & TECHNIQUES
- Learn from writing’s pros: 12 indispensable techniques used by the maestros
- Write like a real master – The 5 artist’s principles
- Eight Essentials for good copywriting: The HOGWARTS school of Wordcraft
- Ten Reasons for employing a copywriter
- Three Great writing techniques for writing with speed, structure and style
- Be a professional writer: Follow these 16 practical tips
WINNING REPORTS & PROPOSALS
- The 6 ‘false starts’ made in business writing – Don’t be BOSSIE!
- Write that winning report: 12 ways to get more attention, impact and influence
- Seven tricks to persuade and influence target readers
MAKE YOUR WORKING DAY EASIER – TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE EMAILS & WEBSITES
- The 4 dangers of emailing – PESTs to watch out for
- Feeling email pressure? 6 Ps to make your working day a lot, lot easier
- ‘Quick Wins’ for improving a website: The 5 Ss that will get more readers’ attention
THE ESSENTIALS OF MINUTE-TAKING
- The 7 essentials for easy and effective minute-taking
POLISHING DOCUMENTS – EFFECTIVE EDITING & PROOFREADING
- Grammatical Myths – 4 lessons from schooldays that you can safely ignore
- How to transform a draft. Follow these 5 As to power-up your editing
- Punctuation made really, really simple
- Say ‘No’ to proofreading slip-ups – Follow these 3 foolproof techniques
CONTACT me if you would like any of these briefs.