“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.

Style and grammar

Cyber what? Why consistent style isn’t everything

typewriter

Photo by Bob Newman on Unsplash

As writers and editors, we live in perpetual dread of errors, typos and inconsistencies appearing in our copy. After all, this is our business. We’re meant to be professional.

We’ve written about this before: Pragmatism and clarity should always come before consistency.

It’s just sometimes hard when you see inconsistencies in your copy. Or at least things that readers and clients take to be inconsistencies. Think of it as a kind of mild grammar anxiety.

­

So if we’ve talked about this before, why bring it up again?

Well, two reasons. First, because it’s advice to last the ages and never gets old.

Second, at Collective Content we are blessed to have a number of cybersecurity clients. We write a lot about cyberthreats, cyber risks, cyberattacks and cyber resilience.

See the problem?

How do we apply this to writing about cybersecurity? Or cyber security? Or even cyber-security?

The general rule of thumb we use is that if the phrase is in common usage then one word is better than two. So cyberattack, cybercrime and cybersecurity are always one word.

If the phrase is less common, then we split it in two to avoid the reader stumbling over it. Think cyberintelligence.

Another general rule is that when the first letter of the second word is ‘r’ (e.g. cyber resilience and cyber risk), we use two words, otherwise it just looks weird (cyberresilience and cyberrisk).

We’re not big fans of hyphenated words. Full stop. Or period.

Remember clarity and legibility are more important than consistency. We want to get the message across clearly without the reader stumbling across new words in an ever-evolving language.

I just felt compelled to explain this rule to a client and it made me feel a whole lot better. I thought sharing it with a wider audience might help spread the love even more.

So if you see these little ‘inconsistencies’, just know there is method behind the madness.

I hope this was as cathartic for you as it was for me.

 

(Ed: Don’t get me started on do’s and don’ts.)

 

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

 

Read Further

Should I say ‘on-premise’ or ‘on-premises’ IT?

Not every writer enjoys being a scold about grammar and usage. Here at Collective Content we’re willing to give the occasional pass for saying things like, ‘Every attendee should have their receipt on hand…’ (mixing the singular ‘every’ with the plural ‘their’) or ‘The data confirms that…’ (using the singular form of ‘confirms’ for ‘data’, which is the Latin plural for ‘datum’).

But even non-pedants have sore spots about certain bad writing habits, and here’s ours: describing information technology infrastructure as being ‘on-premise’. And we hear that a lot, given the main area where Collective Content operates is B2B IT.

According to the OED, this would suggest that your IT is on ‘a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion’. And that, obviously, is doubtful.

No, when people write ‘on-premise’, the term they’re really looking for is ‘on-premises’. As in, the IT equipment is located on the site of a ‘building… occupied by a business or considered in an official context’.

We get it. ‘On-premise’ is shorter, quicker and a bit easier to say than ‘on-premises’. But it’s a usage that’s just a bit toowrong…, even when compared to other bad writing habits. For instance, some of us might snicker when we see business copy using ‘service’ as a verb (see definitions 2 and 2.1for why). But the verb ‘service’ does have a legitimate alternate definition that means to ‘perform a service or services’. For now, at least, there’s no such alternative for ‘on-premise’.

Beyond being grammatically wrong, saying your IT is ‘on-premise’ is also imprecise from a technology perspective. And that’s not an impression any tech company should want to make. Customers seeking good, secure, up-to-date IT want highly specific things: 99.999 per cent uptime, laser-sharp focus on security, low mean-time-to-detect and mean-time-to-respond, and so on.

Even if just a few prospects are put off by something as wrong as ‘on-premise’, you could hurt your chance of winning new business.

The problem is, the use of ‘on-premise’ has become pervasive in some corners of the tech world… to the point it’s becoming standard. Before it’s too late to reverse this trend, could we suggest a few solutions?

First, just try making a point of saying ‘on-premises’. It’s really not that difficult or time consuming – certainly not for an industry that loves using ‘utilise’ instead of ‘use’, or ‘incentivise’ instead of ‘encourage’.

If not, perhaps a shortened form – ‘on-prem’ – might be better? It’s a variation that’s also appeared frequently in the tech world, and it avoids the whole ‘premise’ versus ‘premises’ problem entirely.

That’s a premise that works for us, no matter whose premises you’re talking about.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

 

Read Further

4 ways to write marketing copy that stands the test of time

Out of all of the millions of things that humans have written over the millennia, very few can be described as ‘timeless’. And those typically falling into that category tend to be literary or philosophical – think Shakespeare’s plays, Plato’s dialogues, the Bhagavad Gita – rather than marketing materials.

On the flip side, when we think about marketing materials from times past, we often find them comically quaint or embarrassingly retrograde. Think, for example, about all those famously awful sexist and racist ads from the 20th century. (And, yes, you can still find far too many examples of both today.)

While marketing content is written with very different goals in mind than are, say, philosophical treatises or epic scriptures, there are ways to help make it more enduring. And, hopefully, less cringeworthy to current and future audiences. Here’s how:

  • Use specifics, not generalisations – The strongest content features information that’s focused, well-researched and well-substantiated, rather than leaning on stereotypes, clichés, tropes and other writing crutches. Consider the following two examples, and think about which one better grabs your interest:

‘People are using mobile devices more than ever to work, play and live…’

or

‘More than three-quarters of US adults today own smartphones, and nearly half also own tablets…’ (Source: Pew Research Center)

  • Zero in on your audience’s needs – Consider this ad for sewing needles: “[W]e buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles to be ready for use at home in no time.” Sounds pretty good, right? It also sounds amazingly modern, considering it was written on a copper-plate ad sometime during China’s Song dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). What makes this copy timeless is the fact that it speaks to a specific market with a specific need, telling them what the business can do for them.
  • Write with the long view in mind – Social conventions, attitudes and beliefs evolve over time. So tread lightly in your references to current trends, memes and ‘common knowledge’ that might prove to be neither common nor correct. This is especially important in a time of ‘fake news’ accusations, social media manipulation and targeted messaging by actors with ulterior motives.
  • Most of all, be as transparent as possibleTransparency is one of the best ways to build trust today, writes media critic and New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. While Rosen’s list of transparency-supporting strategies is aimed primarily at journalists, his advice applies to anyone producing content for an audience.

Whatever your business and whatever your brand, your audience expects you to be thinking about their needs, not yours. And that’s as well as the words you use need to reflect that, as BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti recently noted:

“In the past, consumers were loyal to brands – brands created distant, aspirational images and we strived for them,” Peretti wrote. “Increasingly, the balance of power has shifted and consumers have more control. Today, brands need to be loyal to consumers.”

Read Further

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