“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.

Tag: writing

Quality work – why I constantly assess our agency model

On my mind: How to describe team members at our content marketing agency. That’s partly because we’re preparing a new website – nothing radical, just something every company does. But it’s also because of an article from a partner at a VC firm.

The founding general partner at Eniac Ventures talks about team slides in decks that companies use when they’re seeking seed-stage investment. Several things caught my eye, as they relate to Collective Content (although we’re not looking for investors). Number five on his list is “If you have shared history, make that very clear” – so we’ll be doing that, for example.

Our core team averages about 20 years working with B2B content, as writers and editors. That’s across a mixture of agencies, such as PR and content marketing, and working for B2B companies. But mostly we’ve all worked in journalism (another way we’re different from other agencies). Even our wider roster of part-time specialist writers and designers tends towards the higher end of experience.

This is in contrast to agencies where a team of junior writers often means lower prices, along with a we-can-turn-our-hands-to-any-content approach.

 

Process affects

How does all this affect the way we work with clients? There’s one obvious way and it goes like this: Collective Content works to a four-step process for much content – a white paper or e-book, say. Other agencies, often where content is produced by a faceless ‘pool’ of writers (have you heard about our ‘farm fresh’ content theory?) will feed content back into a cycle of edits and other amends numerous times.

This happens because each stage isn’t as well planned, and because their model is based on cheaper, less experienced writers who iterate again and again. I don’t want to mention Shakespeare’s monkeys. But I just did.

 

The difference

The results – to be honest – can be the same. In one model (ours), a group of experienced writers and editors takes fewer stages to get the right outcome. In the latter model, where a larger group takes several more rounds of work but at a lower per-employee cost, the overall price tag to a client is similar.

Clients don’t necessarily have a preference. They just want a good result.

But I prefer doing things thoroughly at each stage, with the highest-quality people and fewer stages, to keep everyone’s blood pressure at a healthier level.

There is always a trade-off across speed, quality and price. Focusing on quality doesn’t necessarily make you slower – but it can maintain project sanity.

 

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Copy-wise: It’s only one word, but where you place it matters

only“Only I have eyes for you.” “I have only eyes for you.” “I have eyes for only you.”

Read each of those sentences above again and think about how they differ. While they vary in the placement of just one word – ‘only’ – they convey very different meanings. And, for most reasonable people, only the last one’s meaning makes sense.

Grammar mavens recommend placing the word ‘only’ closest to the word or phrase it’s intended to modify. For example, here’s the American Heritage Dictionary’s advice:

“The surest way to prevent readers from misinterpreting ‘only’ is to place it next to the word or words it modifies. Many usage sticklers view this policy as a rule that should always be followed but in many cases it sounds more natural for ‘only’ to come earlier in the sentence, and if the preceding context is sufficiently clear, there is scant likelihood of being misunderstood.”

Still, the dictionary acknowledges, “The adverb ‘only’ is notorious for its ability to change the meaning of a sentence depending on its placement. Consider the difference in meaning in the following examples: ‘Dictators respect only force; they are not moved by words.’ ‘Dictators only respect force; they do not worship it.’”

While context can help, especially in spoken conversations, some uses of ‘only’ can still cause confusion. Here’s how linguistics blogger Neal Whitman – who describes ‘only’ as “the most insidious misplaced modifier” – explains the ambiguity:

“‘John only hit Peter in the nose’ can have at least two meanings. It could mean that John hit Peter in the nose and didn’t do anything else. He didn’t trip him, call him names or put a ‘Kick Me’ sign on his back. On the other hand, if I say, ‘John only hit Peter in the nose’, I mean that John hit Peter in the nose and did not do anything else to Peter’s nose. He didn’t pinch it, kick it or kiss it.”

Here’s a trick that can be helpful for avoiding ‘only’ angst: try replacing that word with this phrase – ‘nothing (or no one) else but’ – and then decide whether the resulting sentence makes sense. Let’s see how this works by applying it to the sentences that started this post:

“No one else but I have eyes for you.”* “I have nothing else but eyes for you.” “I have eyes for no one else but you.”

Make more sense? As noted early, it should be clear now that only the last sentence has a meaning that’s reasonable, realistic and not creepy.

* Yes, if we’re going to be real sticklers here, that should say, “No one else but I has eyes for you.” But that’s a Copy-wise post for another time.

* photo credit: Bus lane on Wall Street. Curb bump out for improved bus stop via photopin (license)

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