Books I have enjoyed in 2016-17

Posted on January 6, 2017 in Copywriting, Editing/Proofreading, Writing books

One way to improve your writing skills is to read quality, well written books.  Here are a few books that I read and enjoyed in 2016.  They come with my recommendation (I ditched about half as many again).  Let me know what you think of them.

The books marked * are relatively new (the Burnet book was on the Booker Prize shortlist in 2016); the others are older … but they are all worth reading.

  • I know why the caged bird sings – Maya Angelou
  • Essays in Love – Alain de Botton
  • His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet *
  • Disgrace – JM Coetze
  • The Beginning of Spring – Penelope Fitzgerald
  • The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
  • A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
  • Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • This Boy – Alan Johnson *
  • Common People – Alison Light *
  • Amongst Women – John McGahern
  • Housekeeping – Marilynne Richardson
  • Conrad and Eleanor – Jane Rogers *
  • The Boy with the Topknot – Sathnam Sanghera *
  • Samuel Pepys – Clare Tomalin
  • Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor
  • Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
  • Joy in the Morning – P G Wodehouse



Effective Editing – My 5 A’s for better editing

Posted on November 3, 2016 in Copywriting, Editing/Proofreading, Training

Here are my 5 A’s of how to edit more effectively:

Accept that editing is a normal and necessary part of the writing process.  Quality writing takes time – not even great writers get it right straight away.  I often tell people they should be prepared (and it is normal) for editing to take 20-30% of the total time for getting a text written and completed.

Antennae – To heighten you awareness, read your text aloud, read it without a pen (so that you focus on the ‘big picture issues’ and don’t get sidetracked into making punctuation and smaller corrections).  Ask yourself key questions such is it right for your audience and meeting your objectives.

Attention – Texts often need tweaking in terms of their structure, relevance or style … but if you sort out whichever is failing the most you will make a really positive impact on your text.  How does your text fare against these three?

Alarm Bells – Be alert for things like long sentences, passive sentences, jargon and cliches – and whatever are your writing’s weaknesses … all these can really damage a piece of writing, annoy your readers, and make them pass over your text.

And Again – Editing is not just about having one quick read-through … and ‘Job Done’.  You have to edit .. and again … and again .. and …


OK, now get your red pen out!


Writing is like PAINTING

Posted on September 15, 2016 in Copywriting, Editing/Proofreading, Training, Writing books

When preparing a few things to say for a talk recently, I realised that writers need to be able to switch from reviewing an overall document to checking its micro details – and to be good at both.

Then I realised it was a quality also needed by painters … and then I realised there are a few other parallels between writers and painters, such as being willing to experiment, having perseverance, etc.  And THEN … guess what; I picked up a book that pointed out many of these exact things …

The book was Think Like an Artist, by Will Gompertz.  I have summarised his ideas here, with additions from my writer’s perspective.


Steal ideas from elsewhere

There no such thing as a unique idea, but there are unique combinations of ideas.  Artists train by copying the great masters, and they adapt and steal good ideas that inspire them from elsewhere.  The same is true of journalism: there is no such thing as a new story; there are just new journalists.

An exercise I give to delegates sometimes is to read the first lines of some famous novels – and then write their own first line, copying the novel’s format.  For example: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ (Suspense until the last word of the sentence in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.)  What can you think of in the same vein?

Be sceptical

All artists feel nervous and vulnerable when taking their work beyond their studio … and many writers defer and avoid sharing their drafts with others for the same reasons.  Artists may look confident, but often they are never quite sure about the quality of their work.  There is always a nagging doubt in the back of their mind, says Gompertz.

It is the same for writers.  Some things will work, some things won’t.  Be sceptical; but also be willing to try.

Think big picture and fine detail

As a writer, you who have to be able to get the detail right (spelling, grammar etc.), but also have an eye on your big picture, i.e. the overall document (e.g. the flow, balance of content and tone of voice).  The same is true of the art world.  Take the conservator, who has to work centimetre by centimetre on restoration, while at the same time having an eye on that little bit’s relationship with the overall painting.

‘Cooks reduce to increase flavour; artists eliminate to achieve clarity.’  Will Gompertz

Have a point of view

Journalists often talk about having an angle – a new approach or something interesting to say.  However, having to have something original to say can be a big obstacle.  And if you don’t earn your living by creating things day-in and day-out, it’s no wonder that some of us encounter Writer’s Block.

The solution?  Here are some useful ideas from the author Hilary Mantel:  “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just sit there scowling at the problem. Open a gap for your words, create a space. Be patient.”

Power up your editing – The 5As of Editing
Read my blog post

Be brave

An artist needs boldness to express their feelings in public, especially to a potentially hostile audience.  Boldness is also required by writers to release their ideas – when coming up with a new style of writing, a new format, or just a more original way of saying things.

The status quo is not fixed.  Be brave.  Just do it.

Pause for thought

When you have finished writing, you need to change from being a creator of art into a critic.  For the latter you need to evaluate your efforts. You need to be hypersensitive to mistakes and ways to improve.  And to give time to pause for reflection and revision.

Everyone knows the story of how the English artist J.M.W. Turner added a blob of paint to his painting after he saw it alongside – and therefore likely to be judged against – a work by his rival, Constable.  (The incident happened in the Royal Academy, in 1832.)

My final lesson:  spend as much time thinking (or editing) as doing (writing).

QUIZ for writers 9 Key questions for your wrting 

(This blog has drawn on some of the ideas in the book Think Like an Artist, by Will Gompertz)

Effective headings, titles and openings

Posted on July 29, 2016 in Copywriting, Training

Here are some ideas for engaging, enticing and impactful headings to your articles, posts and Social Media updates.



  • Summarise the article in a way that draws the reader in
  • Give them what they want to hear – use emotions
  • Keep to a maximum of 4 – 8 words
  • Cut out as many adjectives and prepositions as you can (e.g. and, the, a, of)
  • Be clear and precise
  • Be specific
  • Use numbers, especially non-round and large ones
  • Use ‘you’
  • Don’t try to be clever


  • Play on words
  • Use questions
  • Front-load word order
  • Use alliteration
  • Add an element of surprise – e.g. with unusual pleasant things/wordings
  • Prime readers’ curiosity
  • How to … something


  • Use Keywords (but this can make them very boring)
  • Size matters

And now some examples…


Ways with words

Use a question – “How Many of These Italian Foods Have You Tried?”

Use numbers – “Lose 8 Pounds in 2 Weeks”

Cite Facts and Statistics – “More Than Half Medical Advice on ‘Dr. Oz’ Lacks Proof or Contradicts Best Available Science”

Provoke / Make shocking statements – “10 Signs That You Will NOT Make It As A Successful Photographer” 

Play on words – “Otter Devastation”


Provide help, suggest ways to do things etc. (don’t tell)

Promote success / Offer benefits (save money and time etc.) – “How to Have a Healthier & More Productive Home Office”

Offer some inside knowledge – “Which blogger do 20 world leaders follow?”

Make an offer – “How You Can Effortlessly Sell Your Home in Less than 24 Hours”

Explain something – “How to Create a Perfect Blog Post”

Tap into people’s fears/hopes (reduce pain, worry etc.) – “5 costly PR mistakes to avoid” 

Give an invitation – “Invitation to New Year’s Drinks Party”



Make it highly relevant – “The Secret of Writing Killer Blog Content on a Near-Daily Basis”

Time-limited offers/Create urgency – “30% reductions until next Monday”

Announce BIG news – “We WON a national prize today – Come and celebrate”

Tag your story on a person, issue or an event in the news (new hook)


‘Psychological factors’

Use ‘you’ in the wording

Testimonial – “84% of our customers are satisfied”

Curiosity factor – “More of Us May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics’ ”



  1. Put your audience first – think what they want to know.
  2. Brainstorm with a colleague – you won’t get good results at first / first time.
  3. Put keywords at the beginning.
  4. Be specific, use strong verbs/action words, use superlatives and extremes, front-load the wording, use only 8–10 words, intrigue the reader, make it sound plausible/possible.
  5. Don’t try and be too clever!

Email Challenges and Dangers – 7 issues, with solutions

Posted on April 24, 2016 in Copywriting, emailing

The ease and speed with which we can use email (and the internet) is both a massive benefit as well as creating email challenges and dangers – with potential negative consequences.  So, what are the main challenges and how do we minimise the dangers?

1)  Email Danger – Email enables us to work too fast

We can do things so fast on a computer that sometimes we do them too fast – forgetting or not doing what we normally do when we write other documents.  That is the danger of email.  For example, we work so fast we might fail to plan what we want to say.  Or we put less effort into the exact wording.  And we may type overly fast, with errors and typos – also, failing to proofread before we press ‘Send’.

ANSWER:  Don’t rush your email; instead, ‘Pause and Polish’ before sending it.

2)  Email challenge: People are BUSY – Make reading your email very easy 

Some people get 50+ emails every day, so it you want your emails to be dealt with, and not to annoy them etc., it is worth making your email as easy as possible for them to digest.  It is the challenge of writing a good email.  To improve the efficiency of your emails we suggested the following.


·         Use clear subject lines, updating them if necessary to convey the change in the conversation/decision.

·         Keep to one subject per email, which avoids emails becoming long, as well as making it easier to follow a discussion and to find a relevant email later, via the subject line.

·         When you have several points/issues to cover, itemise them rather than putting them all in one paragraph – the latter would make them harder to read and could mean some points/issues are lost, not seen, or forgotten. And if you are answering an email with several points, use the same numbers or put your individual replies in a different colour alongside their text.

3)  Email challenge: Receivers of email just want to SCAN your text

When people receive emails in a busy office environment, or in an ‘office mode’ at home etc., they want to be able to scan the email as quickly as possible.  So that they can see in a flash what the email is, what they need to do, or what is the answer to something that they may have emailed about.

ANSWER to this challenge:  A good way to facilitate easy digestion of your emails by those receiving them – so that they are acted on it and you don’t annoy them – is to following a three-part structure:

·         First, the context to the email (I am following up our meeting …).

·         Second, the detail (Here are three ways I think we can help …).

·         And finally, your sign-off, summary, or what you want the person to do as a result.  (Look forward to seeing you … I hope that answers your query … Can you get back to me by Friday?)

For more advice on emailing read these two posts

Tips for email

Avoiding the PESTS of email

4) A challenge of emailing compared to the PHONE

When we speak we can use repetition plus our tone of voice and body language to help convey what we are saying.  We don’t have such luxuries when emailing, that is the challenge.  So, be careful of what you say in case anything is not clear or there are double meanings.

ANSWER:  To prevent any misunderstandings, always be polite, and use pleasant salutations and sign-offs.  And get the right tone of voice.  That way, they will absorb your overall polite tone and this will prevent any misunderstandings in what you write.  In particular, avoid using negatives (I do not see why you say that… Sorry, we can’t do that…), which can be read that you are unhelpful, blunt – or even rude.

5) Email danger: You can’t retract your email after you press SEND

It is easy to get caught up in the rush of the email environment, but you don’t want any serious your misunderstandings, errors or rudeness written down in print – which could be shared with others to your cost, recorded on your file, or come back to haunt you later.  The dangers of emails, watch out!

ANSWER:  Never send an email when your stress level is likely to outweigh your normal, more reasoned point of view – i.e. late at night, when tired, or last thing on a Friday.  And if you need an extra tip, when you are angry and really want to write something you shouldn’t, type it and then delete – it helps get it out of the system.

6) Email danger: Stop ‘flicking the switch

A temptation of the internet is that we can reply to people incredibly quickly, as though we were flicking a light switch on and off.  But don’t!  Do they really need the email answered NOW, minutes later? NO!

ANSWER:  It is better to take time over your answer – planning your email, thinking what you want to say and proofreading it.  How often is anyone really in that much of a rush for an answer?

7) Email challenge: How to explain technical subjects in emails

As a good general principle, ‘Write in the tone you would like to be written to’.  However, remember that some people have different levels of technical knowledge to you.

ANSWER: Use a concise and conversational tone. Don’t talk down at people, and don’t assume everyone knows what you know. Before you write, think what is the recipients’ knowledge level, and write at that level. Provide more detailed information in attachments, via links to websites, or at the very foot of your email so that it doesn’t lengthen the email and they can decide if and when they read it.

Read 6 more posts on emailingview them here

Happy emailing!

Writing Skills Quiz – with Answers

Posted on April 11, 2016 in Copywriting, Editing/Proofreading, Training

Do you think it is OK to start sentences with “And …..”?

Yes.  However, many of us were taught not to, I think for two reasons.  First, because ‘and’ is a conjunction, and our teachers were also telling us conjunctions were for joining phrases together, so allowing them at the start of sentences would have been contradictory. Second, language has become less formal since most of us were at school, and starting sentences with ‘and’ (which you will see in newspapers etc.) is one example of how language has softened.

What is the generally suggested length (in number of words) for your web pages and blogs?

300–500 words.  Longer ones lose the interest and attention of readers on what is a fast-paced environment.

The passive tense has several flaws and as a result is looked down upon. (a) What is it, and (b) Why is it looked down on, and (c) When is it OK to use it?

(a) The passive has two parts to it: part of the verb to be or to have (e.g. was, have, were, etc.) and the past participle (e.g. seen, left, visited). Hence ‘people were seen’ OR ‘papers were left’.  (b) It is looked down on because it puts the doer of the sentence after the object, compared to our schooldays guidance of Subject – Verb – Object rule.  (e.g. Passive: ‘The grass was trampled on by elephants.’ Active: ‘The elephants trampled on the grass.’) It also results in longer sentences.  (c) However, it can be used when one doesn’t know who the subject is; so, in the examples above, we may not know who saw the people, nor who left the papers.

How would you change the tone of voice of a piece of writing?

Content, vocabulary (words included & excluded), grammar (sentence length, active and passive verbs, contractions e.g. won’t, pronouns, etc.), dialogue.

For more on Tone of Voice
–  see ‘Tone of Voice Function’

The letters A–I–D–C–A represent the suggest order of points for writing advertising or other copy seeking to persuade people.  Do you know what do the letters stand for?

The letters represent the sequential order of the type of phrases to use when writing advertising copy, from the top to bottom of a flyer, poster, leaflet, etc.  They stand for: Grab people’s Attention, make them Interested, increase their Desire, make them Convinced they are doing the right thing, and given them a call to Action, like a phone number of website address to go to. Here’s an example:

‘Give your life a Lift’                             grabs their Attention

‘Next day installation available’         makes them Interested

‘365-day local service and support’    increases their Desire

‘Government endorsed’                           convinces them

‘Tel. 0800 326 5104’                                     provides the call to Action

According to Philip Pullman, what does mankind need most after shelter, food and friendship?

Stories!  Thought provoking eh, and a message for anybody doing some writing.

I ask delegates on my training course what factors turn them off a piece of writing – as research into what things to avoid.  What things do they most commonly say?

Clichés and jargon, long sentences/lack of clarity, waffle, typos and grammatical mistakes, no clear structure/lack of coherence.

Avoid these common editing/punctuation errors Read my blog post

“There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.”  Do you agree or disagree?

Some subjects are certainly harder to write about than others but if you allow yourself to be creative, you can make anything interesting.  A university friend’s first job was on Packaging News, or some such magazine, and her attitude was that if she could write on packaging she would be able to write on anything.

What is a split infinitive?  When is OK to split one?

An infinite of a verb is ‘to go, ‘to have’, ‘to see’ etc.  At school we were told not to split infinitives.  So, we shouldn’t put the word ‘boldly’ within the infinitive ‘to go’, to make ‘To boldly go’ – whatever Star Trek may think!

The rule stems from when Latin was an important part of people’s education and our language, and because Latin infinitives are only one word (ire = to go), you physically can’t put a word in their middle. (Read more on this rule on my blog.)

So, older generations brought up on Latin and people influenced by it will spot if you split one, and disapprove.  Others won’t mind – let alone know.  And anyway, sometimes you want to stress the adverb, so splitting the infinitive helps convey the phrase’s meaning, e.g. ‘To lovingly stroke’ compared to ‘To stroke lovingly.’

How can you measure how readable your writing is? 

Tucked away in Word are ‘readability’ you can set your grammar checker to give you the readability scores for a piece of writing. (Home > Options > Proofing > Set readability scores.)  These calculate a piece of writing’s average word and sentence length, and use these as a proxy for how easy it is to comprehend (Flesch Readability Score) and how many years of education a typical reader will need to have to comprehend it (Flesch–Kincaid Reading Level).

Take another quizAudit your email behaviour

A writing habit

Posted on February 29, 2016 in Writing books


“Habit has written more books than talent.”

The quote caught my attention recently in a talk by Philip Pullman.

Interesting eh?  And how true.

So, if you want to write that book idea of yours, don’t worry about the text needing to be perfect, or that you need something original so say … as Pullman says, what you need more than anything else is to make sitting down to scribble a regular habit. Then, before you know it your book will be written. (Although the timing for setting about the task has to be right as well.)

Here’s the story of how I was inspired to write my book – for those that don’t know it.



Writing – The power of stories

Talking of stories, here are two other quotes from the same talk I heard by Pullman – they are worth thinking about whether or not you like the man’s books:

  • “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
  • “Stories are a particular structure, not random.  Think of interesting events and then put them in an order that makes them interesting.”

The quotes echo what I often tell clients. Look for a story in your case studies, newsletters and reports etc. – they are the most effective way to engage and persuade your readers.


Writing a book – 5 Benefits 

If you are wondering if writing a book is worth the effort, the benefits are huge – as I know from my own experience.

Here are What I have found to be the biggest benefits. (1) You will get increased recognition; (2) Doors will open to new markets and tender opportunities; (3) Your books will be great marketing collateral; and (4) Getting media coverage will be easier.  Plus (5) You will get some sales revenue, of course.


Writing?  Need some help?

If you need any help with your book or other writing, just let me know:

  • Reviews – feedback on a manuscript’s structure, style and content.
  • Checking – checking for typos and ensuring consistency etc.
  • Advice – help with publishing, self-publishing and how to promote sales.

Connected with these, I have a couple of training courses coming up:

Have a good week

Index for Business Writing Tips (my book)

Posted on January 4, 2016 in Training, Writing books

The only real critique of my book, when I gave an interview at a book launch in Blackwell’s Oxford last year …

What about an index?

Well, I spent the quiet days of  January writing one, so the Index is now available  to those wanting it.


The index – what it features 

There are over 130 entries covering 3+ pages/columns, with guidance on the following items standing out – at least in terms of cited references, not actual pages.

  • Great practice examples of copywriting (12 entries)
  • How using quotes can help your writing  (7)
  • The benefits of structure – to speed up and improve your work (7)
  • Examples of grabbing first lines (7)
  • The importance of news hooks to win media coverage (5)
  • Abbreviations – i.e. the book covers grammar and punctuation, but not spelling (5)
  • How to use stories to beef up your writing (4)
  • Don’t forget to emphasise your key messages (4)
  • When and how to start/begin writing (4).

Happy Reading … and Happy New Year



Being an author – Interview with Robert Bullard

Posted on July 21, 2015 in Writing books

Business Writing Tips - Robert Bullard

10 questions on authoring a book …

1.) So, what made you author a book – where did it start?

It all began with a rally car driver, Penny Mallory.  She was giving a motivational talk to a business networking group (LATE BREAKFAST) about setting ourselves a really bold vision, and the need to go outside our comfort zones etc.  It was really inspiring.  So when I got home I asked myself, ‘What is my vision?’  And as part of that I wrote down that I would write a book that summer – and I did.

2.) And what about the practicalities – how long did it take to write?

I did the writing in two phases: I wrote most of the chapters in August 2014 (pretty much one each day), and then added some additional content either side of Christmas.  I did the editing and final proofreading in February, and it was published on 8 March 2015.  In total it took around 10 weeks.  People often regard that as very quick.  But as a journalist, I know how to organise myself and how to write; and of course I was writing about things I knew about.  A lot of it was therefore in my head; it didn’t need any research.

3.) At your book launch you compared authoring a book to having a baby…  

Well, there are quite a few comparisons between the two actually – and I am not the first person to say it.   For example, you only tell close friends at first, in case it goes pear-shaped.  It restricts how much you get out and about, so people wonder where you are.  And as the big day approaches you worry whether or not you have done the right thing … until it all happens, of course, you are on Cloud Nine.

Those parallels are true for many authors/mothers.  There were additional ones for me: I knew exactly when my book was conceived (see above), it took almost exactly 9 months from conception to publication (and the launch was on my Dad’s birthday).  I think I have proved my case!

The content

4.) Where do you think businesses need help with their writing?

Some people lack confidence and think their writing is no good.  Some people are unsure of their punctuation and grammar – like the difference between colons and semi-colons.  And some just need a few good writing techniques, like the impact of putting things in threes, or placing a short, strong word – and your punchy point – at the end of a sentence.

Their biggest mistake is probably to write too much, and to not think enough about their audience. Also, to be worried by ‘rules’ they half remember from school.  The most common question I am asked is: ‘Is it OK to start a sentence with “And”?’  ‘Of course’, I reply.  You were taught not to at school, but that was for simple writing.  In fact, the second sentence of the bible is ‘And God saw that the light was good …’

5.) The book doesn’t cover Social Media or emails; is that an omission?

Well, I wanted each chapter to have 10 tips, but Social Media is a vast area.  It would have needed different chapters on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, … where do you stop?  Second, those channels are changing rapidly, so my comments would quickly have become out of date – or I would have neglected new, more popular channels.  And third, as I am not an expert in those areas, I would have had to do a lot of background reading, and would have felt a bit of a fraud.

As for advice on how to write emails, yes, I could have included that – maybe I will in the second edition.  But I think emails are pretty straightforward – I am not sure I would have come up with 10 tips.

6.) What areas of Business Writing Tips are you most – and least – pleased with?

Well, as well as my text I provide readers with exercises, references for further reading, and I direct them to examples of really good copywriting, from companies like Innocent Drinks and Pret A Manger.  Also, many readers have said they really like the inspirational quotes, and a review in the Self-Publishing magazine said the advert for a shower that I reproduced, by Samuel Heath (page 47), was ‘worth the price of the book alone’.

But I am most pleased with my advice on commas!  I ditched all the usual grammar books’ reference to non-defining relative clauses and subordinate clauses etc. (which of course many people find too hard to comprehend), and distilled it down into advice on terms that businesses can follow – I have a one-page table advising where commas are (1) needed, (2) optional and (3) not necessary (p.153–5).

7.) You dedicated the book to the Oxfordshire Library Service … aren’t libraries a bit old-fashioned?

Well, I have always been a user of libraries, and since moving to Oxford in 2010 I have started reading a lot of fiction – and nearly all of my books have come from the library.  But I am also a fan for other reasons.  I am a big user of their facilities (PCs, scanners and copiers), they are a good place to work, they supply free books for our Book Group, and they are great for finding out about theatre, concerts and talks etc. going on.  As I do in the book, I would also like to praise their staff, who are always have time for customers, and are very helpful.


8.) Now the crunch questions – how are sales going?

Well, a little slow, but there again I haven’t really pushed them.  The real aim of the book is wider goals we can talk about.  And actually, feedback from readers to date has given me some good ideas for how to market it to others.  Plus, I now have some excellent reviews on Amazon that I can build on.

9.) So, evaluating your book, has it worked for you?

Yes, I am pretty sure it has – even only a few months on and without much advertising.  First, people are always impressed when you are an author, even if they are not interested in the subject.  Second, it has raised my profile.  I have been on That’s Oxford TV and in July did an Author Talk at the Blackwells Business Book Group, which in August will be repeated at their shop in London.  And thirdly, I think it has help me capture additional training clients, and got more work from my existing ones.  All that seems pretty conclusive to me…

10.) Finally, do you have plans for another book?

Well, I always fancied writing a biography one day, so yes.  It will mean ‘living with’ that person for a few years, so I am waiting for the right person to come along.  But bearing in mind this book came out of nowhere, it may not be long.  I just need to keep my eyes open, and my ears to the ground.  And I reckon Oxford is a pretty good place for that.

Thank you.

And if you buy the book, please tell me what you think – and please post a review on Amazon.


Copywriters – 10 reasons why to use one

Posted on June 18, 2015 in Copywriting, Training


 1.)  Copywriters don’t make the most common, fatal mistake

ALL of us see our business from our own perspective. So, when writing promotional material it isn’t easy to jump out of that mindset and into our customers’ viewpoint – which is of course what business need to do when writing brochures, website text, newsletters, etc.

2.)  Copywriters ask the key questions

To write about a business, copywriters have to ask lots of questions, and quite often this includes questions that employees (because of No. 1 above) have not seen or realised (like, ‘Have we told customers we have that experience?’), or are too embarrassed to ask the boss (‘Why don’t we do things this way, instead?’).

 3.)  Copywriters quickly spot a business’ USP

It might seem counter-intuitive, but an outsider will often see a business’s USP far better than someone inside it. Or they will see some of the business’ qualities that it is not stressing, or not making enough of, to customers – e.g. their years of experience, after-sales support, product certification/recognition, etc.


 4.)  They know how to write

As a copywriter for more than 10 years, I sometimes say to businesses, ‘You may be better at making money than me, but I am probably a better writer!’  In choosing to make a career out of writing, the chances are a copywriter will do a reasonable – excellent, hopefully – job.  They know their p’s and q’s, and can write in the style a business wants, e.g. chatty and light, formal and academic, etc.

 5.)  … and the tricks of the trade

Some writing jobs require specialist knowledge or ‘tricks of the trade’ (e.g. the writing of sales and marketing copy, or website text), rather than just writing skills. A good SEO writer, for example, will be up to date with how Google works, and know all about keywords and how people read/behave online – essential ingredients for writing an effective business website.

 6.)  Plus they have the stamina to get things right

It takes several drafts to write something really good. Expressing clearly what we mean, finding the right words and putting them in the best order, isn’t easy. (It’s hard enough to do that when talking, so no surprise people struggle in their writing – which they do far less.) But in loving words – and playing around to get them concise, persuasive and impactful – copywriters are happy to do the extra mileage often required to get some text spot on.


 7.)  Copywriters can see the wood for the trees

When editing and proofreading their own writing, most people lean towards correcting the minutiae (e.g. ‘Shall I put a comma in here or not?’). As No.3 above, an outsider is more likely to ask the more important, ‘big picture’ questions (e.g. ‘Is this piece structured right?’ Or ‘Will it persuade our customers?’), which a business may otherwise forget to ask of its text.

 8.)  They know all the punctuation and grammar stuff

You know what I mean: dangling participles, split infinitives, commas, and the difference between colons/semi-colons, etc.

 9.)  Copywriters prevent the costs of miss-spelling and poor writing

Mistakes, errors and misspellings can cause damaged reputation, lost business, print re-runs … need I go on? In this article on the costs of misspelling on online sales, the revenue from each visitor doubled after the spelling mistakes were removed.


10.)  How good is your driving? 

Many people are happy to pay for business coaching, sports training, relationship counselling …but far fewer pay for help with writing. But in the same way that passing a driving test doesn’t make you a great driver 10–20 years later, passing school/college English exams doesn’t make a great business copywriter. Please, please, don’t pour good money, in the form of an expensive print run, into bad, i.e. poorly written text.

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