Copywriting 911

Copywriting Guidelines, 2nd installment

Stylish Copywriting

“A good style should show no signs of effort.
What is written should seem a happy accident.”

W. Somerset Maugham

The key point of this quote is the word ‘seem’ which means that those ‘happy accidents’ are thoroughly prepared. Inaccurate spelling here, a missed punctuation mark there – and things can turn into a ‘serious’ or even ‘fatal’ accident for your copy. I’m not going to say that WHAT you write is less important than HOW you do it, but repeated stylistic mistakes can divert all of your prospects, unless they are completely illiterate themselves or blind (the latest survey showed they weren’t).

Tame your style before it starts ‘biting’ your income. Enhance your copy in 10 easy steps:

1. Ampersand (&)

Though ‘and’ and ‘&’ stand for the same thing, you shouldn’t abuse the latter. Follow the rule: the ampersand sign is used for trade names and radio station frequencies.

  • Dolce & Gabanna
  • JSM Radio 93.2 & 108.1 FM, 1005 & 1284 AM
  • Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

2. Contact Details

Be precise. Such introductions as “Bond. James Bond” went out of fashion about thirty years ago. Scrupulous web users want to know where exactly they can find your amazing products, services or whatever you offer them. So, disclose all these step by step:

  • Name;
  • Postal address (addressee’s name, company, building name, number and street name, town, country and postcode). Separate it by starting a new line or by putting a comma;
  • Telephone number (dialing codes are given in one block, without brackets);
  • Fax number;
  • Email;
  • Website (give the shortest URL possible and make sure it works by loading it in a web browser. Omit ‘www’ in unclickable URLs but use it in links)

3. Foreign Words and Characters

If a word or phrase aren’t generally accepted in the language, you should use italics. ‘Generally accepted’ means they have become a part of English. Consult with the dictionary, if necessary. Make sure foreign symbols are identified correctly: readers are unlikely to guess that ‘aa,ii eona oi?ioi’ stands for:

  • clientele (this French word is now a part of the English language)
  • si vales bene est ego valeo (a Latin phrase)

4. Italics

Apart from foreign words, italics are used for titles of TV and radio programs, books, albums or songs, plays, paintings, newspapers, magazines etc (yes, that is etc, not etc). Italicize ‘the’ when it is on the masthead:

  • The Economist
  • Monet’s Poppies Blooming
  • Eminem’s Encore

5. Lists

The most critical thing with lists is to keep parallelism. Don’t jump from one grammatic structure to another, for example, don’t write like this

To make finger-licking cookies we need:

  • 2 tbs cinnamon
  • 0.5 kg sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • to add 4 eggs
  • to heat the oven
  • kneading dough

Even if your grandma had known of this delicious meal from Queen of England, that’s a fat chance your prospects appreciate the recipe: it looks absolutely illiterate.

  • Instead, write:

To make finger-licking cookies we need:

  • 2 tbs cinnamon
  • 0.5 kg sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • a well-heated oven
  • kneaded dough

Or just list all ingredients and after that describe the cooking process: “Heat the oven well. Knead the dough.”

6. Money

Write the names of currencies in lower case, adding two digits after the symbol if it isn’t round:

  • 300.75 pounds
  • 50 dollars

Hold down Ctrl+Alt+E to insert the euro symbol in Word. If you mention sums of million and billion throughout the text, it is better to abbreviate them, without leaving a space:

  • $34 billion – $34bn


7. Numbers

Basically numbers from one to nine are written in words, as well as any numbers put at the beginning of a sentence and approximate ones. Don’t forget about the comma in numbers from 1,000 upwards:

  • Three Men in a Boat was published in 1889.
  • Today the company’s turnover equals to $500,000 yearly.
  • Usually we eat little for dessert – about four or five chocolate bars and coffee with cream.

8. Time

If you use the 12-hour clock, the hour and minutes are separated by a full stop. As ‘am’ and ‘pm’ refer to ‘before noon’ and ‘afternoon’, it is useless to write ’12am’. Have the 24-hour clock? Separate the hours and minutes by a colon:

  • 22:45
  • 7am
  • 12midnight, or just midnight
  • between 8am and 14pm.

9. Titles and Honors

When a widely respected person is mentioned for the first time, you should give his/her title in full. Starting from the second time in text, you can write only a shortened version:

  • His Majesty King Lear – The King

10. Weight and Measures

Make sure you chose the proper – upper or lower – case:

  • MHz (megahertz)
  • MB (megabyte)
  • km (kilometer)

Don’t overuse imperial measurements, giving more preference to standardized metric or at least giving the equivalent in brackets:

  • 22kg (48.502 pounds)

Summing up all the above… You know, sometimes the difference between literacy and tedium is very subtle, so whatever you have just read in this guideline, try to keep it within your own style.

Image by Aquilant

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 at 5:55 am and is filed under Copywriting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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