“We wrote our first blog post before we wrote our first line of code.”
- Jon Miller, founder, Marketo

Blogging is important for every business. So we don’t just offer ghostwriting services for others. We blog for ourselves. Why? To discuss big issues such as content strategy, commissioning and ROI, as well as tactics for effective copy creation or editing, not to mention news about Collective Content.

Remember, over a third of marketers say blogs are the most valuable content type. Let us know what you’d like to read about here.

How to…

How to… develop a style guide

photo credit: With Associates The review part 6 via photopin (license)

Do a Google search for ‘how to develop a style guide’, and you’ll find tens of thousands of results. Rather than spending hours clicking links and browsing through various sites, you can save a lot of time by starting with a proven resource: an existing style guide.

As we’ve covered in the past, a style guide is designed to provide your organisation with a roadmap for clear, consistent communication. And—whatever your organisation does, whatever types of content you produce—you’ll likely find a useful, ready-made model to start with in one of several standard style guides aimed at different audiences.

For example, if you target a general-interest audience based primarily in the US, a good starting point will be the AP Stylebook. First issued by the Associated Press in 1953, the AP Stylebook is now updated annually and available online and via a mobile app, as well as in spiral-bound paperback form. For a slightly more formal style, there’s also the Chicago Manual of Style.

On the other hand, if your content tends to focus more on a UK/European audience, you could choose either The Economist’s or The Guardian/Observer’s style guide as a jumping-off point for your own in-house manual. And if your audience is technical or scientific, your options can include guides from Microsoft, the IEEE or the American Psychological Association.

 

Make it your own

Whichever style model you begin with, how do you go about making it your own? Experienced editors recommend kicking off with the style issues that have dogged your organisation most in the past. Are there certain types of corrections your in-house copy team regularly must make? Do company writers and freelancers repeatedly ask the same questions about preferred spelling or capitalisation conventions? Is there any unique rule or guideline you always apply during a final edit of marketing materials?

During her presentation on ‘Developing a House Style Guide’ at the 2016 conference for the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), Megan Rogers—communications assurance specialist for the National Court Reporters Association—said organisations should follow several guidelines when developing their own stylebook:

  • Decide which resources (other style guides, dictionaries, in-house style sheets) to start with and use as a guide
  • Choose someone to be in charge of the process
  • Involve your writers and editors
  • Focus on “unique specifics, deviations or missing pieces from primary guides, hard-to-remember rules”
  • Make sure your final stylebook is easily accessible to those who need it, and re-evaluate your guide on a regular basis

Throughout the process, also keep in mind why you’re developing a style guide in the first place. Ahead of The Guardian style guide’s 75th anniversary in 2003, then-assistant editor David Marsh wrote this:

“A style guide should be much more than a list of grammatical rules, enforced by what Steven Pinker calls ‘language mavens’. Rules change, and many (for example, those forbidding so-called split infinitives or constructions such as ‘hopefully it will be fine tomorrow’) are baseless. We follow a style guide to be consistent, coherent, and to make fewer mistakes, but above all because the style of a newspaper should complement what it stands for—in the way we write about such issues as gender, race, and disability, and the respect with which we treat those we write about.”

Language changes all the time, as Marsh noted. What’s important is making sure that how you use language reflects your organisation’s priorities and values as well as possible.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a new corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

Read Further

What is… editing?

Writers tend to be solitary creatures but bringing writing to life is more often a group effort. That’s especially true in B2B communication.

Whatever the business writing project—a blog post, a white paper, an e-book or a script for a video—there are usually at least a few other people, if not whole teams, who have a say on the final product. But, just as too many cooks can spoil the broth, too many editors can turn a promising written work into a mess.

To avoid that outcome, it helps to understand a bit more about what editing is and isn’t.

First off, it’s definitely an art and not a science. Unlike two chemists told to produce the same compound, two editors—no matter how skilled—aren’t ever likely to produce the same results. There’s no one way to correctly edit anything.

While the process of mechanical editing, also called copy-editing or sub-editing, corrects spelling, capitalisation errors, noun-verb disagreements and other fundamental language errors, substantive editing or line editing focuses on the content itself and how it can be fine-tuned to make messages clear and effective.

Here’s how The Chicago Manual of Style, one bible of the editing world, describes the substantive editing process:

The editor will know by instinct and learn from experience how much of this kind of editing to do on a particular manuscript. An experienced editor will recognize, and not tamper with, unusual figures of speech and idiomatic usage and will know when to make an editorial change or simply to suggest it, when to delete a repetition or simply to point it out to the author, and many other matters. Since every manuscript is unique in the amount and kind of substantive editing desirable, no rules can be devised for the editor to follow.

Despite the ‘no rules’ description, editing is not an invitation to a Mad Max-style attack on someone else’s words. Whether you’ve asked an in-house writer to craft a short statement for a press release or commissioned an agency to ghost-write a book for your CEO, it helps to remember some guidelines during the editing process:

  • Respect the writer’s unique voice—As the Chicago Manual notes above, it’s often best to preserve personal wording and phrasing choices if your alternative isn’t more accurate or more appropriate for in-house style. One person’s ‘hodge-podge’ is another’s ‘smorgasbord’… but either is OK.
  • Keep your focus—While suggesting changes to copy, keep your eye on the goal of the final piece. For example, a product brochure needs to provide brief, user-friendly reasons for a reader to place an order or contact your company for more information; editing here shouldn’t involve adding material that’s better included in a lengthy white paper.
  • Offer useful suggestions—“No query to an author should sound stupid, naïve, or pedantic,” the Chicago Manual advises. “Nor should a query be so phrased that it seems to reflect upon the author’s scholarly ability or powers or interpretation… Every author has a right to expect conscientious, intelligent help from an editor.”

Editing, as New York Book Editors says, “addresses the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. But the purpose of a line edit is not to comb your manuscript for errors—rather, a line edit focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. Is your language clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read? Does it convey a sense of atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Do the words you’ve chosen convey a precise meaning, or are you using broad generalizations and clichés?”

Consider all these things. And don’t feel shy about asking for expert help when you need it.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a new corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

 

 

Read Further

How to… ghostwrite

WHAT IS GHOSTWRITING?

Ghostwriting involves using a professional writer to create works in another person’s name. It could be a column for a newspaper or online publication, all the way through to a whole book or screenplay. It’s usually about more than simple copy (“Welcome to our ‘About us’ page…!”) and quite often involves an external specialist.

In our world, ghostwriting is usually for senior executives at companies, and takes the form of columns and various social media posts including blogging, rather than, say, white papers or reports, which tend to carry a company’s name as their ‘author’.

 

WHY USE A GHOSTWRITER?

Most senior executives don’t have enough time to write. Many don’t have the inclination. Even those that have both of those, as well as some writing skills, probably need some help – and we’ve written before about considering an editor in that case rather than the full ghostwriting process.

Think of ghostwriting as outsourced writing but for a specific person. That means the ghostwriter gets to know the voice of the person they’re ghosting for and builds up a relationship over time – through regular contact, ideally sometimes in person.

Whatever the exact set-up, ghostwriting should take away pain from an individual and organisation looking for consistent, informed content.

Whether orchestrated by someone internal at an organisation or by an outside agency, understand that ghostwriting comes with a number of key decisions. Let’s look at some of them.

 

WHO NEEDS A GHOSTWRITER?

The assumed answer to this is usually “The CEO”, or a departmental boss, or perhaps the highest paid person in the room. But ghostwriting isn’t just for the higher-ups. Consider other members of staff whose thoughts and experience are worth sharing with the wider world, especially that wider world sizing up your company and what you sell. How about when they want to hear from your engineers or those on the factory/shop floor? They could all benefit from some help.

 

WHAT KIND OF ORGANISATION NEEDS A GHOSTWRITER?

We could argue: All of them do. But the honest answer is that it’s preferable for the author whose name is on a piece of writing – the ‘byline’ – to have done the writing. For reasons already mentioned, that’s not always possible. But we’d even go as far as to say that some authentic writing that isn’t perfect can work well in certain situations – for example, on a start-up’s blog when it’s from the founder. In other cases, quality has to be higher. Professionals need to be involved.

 

THE GHOSTWRITING PROCESS

Where to begin? Our first recommendation is for contact between the person whose name appears on any piece of content and the ghostwriter. You’d think that’s obvious. In some cases, where the ‘author’ is very important, that doesn’t happen. That’s not just a shame, in terms of what it says about priorities, but it can affect the quality of output and even has ethical dimensions. Even if there is only one meeting, at the beginning of any ghostwriting process, it’s a big advantage compared to no contact.

So start with contact. Break bread. The ghostwriter gets to look the person they’re ghosting in the eye and start getting a sense for how they talk and maybe how they think. This is the launch pad for something longer term.

 

Regular contact

But beyond the initial phase, regular contact is ideal. But not only is it regular – say, once a month, for 20 minutes – but it is accepted at the beginning that the subject matter expert brings at least one idea to the table every time he or she speaks with the ghostwriter. And the table is of course metaphorical. These subsequent stages usually happen over a call.

But having an original idea and actually speaking are important, rather than attempting the process on the fly or in writing – through email, for example.

A lot of good writing – certainly blogging – is about expressing one idea at a time and expressing it well.

And trying to get a feel for what someone means and thinks is much easier over the phone. You hear where they’re unsure, for one thing, and can seek clarifications and ask follow-up questions.

Not to mention, asking someone who by definition isn’t a writer, to write down all their thoughts, is slightly bizarre.

Much more likely is that an intermediary – someone in a marketing department or in PR – will try to convey these thoughts. An experienced ghostwriter will seek to hear the thoughts first-hand.

 

Plan the output

Lastly, we’d say have in mind the type of output from any call between expert and ghostwriter – blog post, book foreword, guest article in an industry publication and so on. Know when this is due to appear and how it will tie in with other pieces of content, not necessarily all ghosted or from the same author.

Proper contact, expertise and planning are the bedrock of a successful ghostwriting relationship.

 

To recap:

  1. Getting to know you: There should be a relationship between named author and ghostwriter. Meet in person at least once, or more often, if possible.
  2. Keep talking: Continue with regular contact but never just in writing. Monthly calls are ideal. The expert should bring ideas to each interaction – one ideaper item of content is enough.
  3. Plan, plan, plan: Know where the resulting content will appear. Ideally have a calendar that shows type of output, destination and date.

 

The ethics of ghostwriting

Ghostwriting happens all the time. But it’s not usually transparent to a reader and rarely do we see any discussion of how ethical the practice is. Much writing by company executives and celebrities in mainstream media is ghost-written. The most common hat tip to that is at the foot of columns by famous sportspeople, with an italicised line saying something like: ‘[Named author] was talking to [journalist at publication who ghosted the opinion piece]’. That rarely happens when on a CEO’s blog or when a company submits an article by their head of X to an industry publication. Is that OK? This whole subject comes down to the idea of authenticity. There’s a line of thinking, more common in certain parts of US media and marketing, that ghostwriting is ethically wrong. Or at least has big problems. The Collective Content take on this has already been alluded to in the accompanying blog post. To ghost for someone with no knowledge of that person’s thinking is bad. Contact is key. Worse still – and this happens even less often – would be when the ‘author’ has someone ghosting for them but doesn’t know that. This is rare but can happen at the largest organisations. Bottom line: Completely making up words and thinking for someone who might have them – but just can’t properly express them – is a no-no. But communicating what they’ve told you – under their name, through ghostwriting – is legitimate.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

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Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

Facebook: facebook.com/CollectiveContent

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/collective-content

Phone:  0800 292 2826