Writing Topics: How not to write

Get to the point

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I received a letter through my door last week. It was from Royal Mail, so you might have hoped they’d know a bit about letters. No such luck. Here it is. See if you can work out what it’s about. “Dear Customer Important information about changes to Royal Mail services in your area I am […]

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Proofing and credibility

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I’ve just been reading and thoroughly enjoying The House of Silk, the new Sherlock Holmes novel, written by Anthony Horowitz. My enjoyment was only spoilt by the publishers’ apparent refusal to engage the services of a proofreader. I winced to read illiteracies such as “I remembered Carstairs telling Holmes and I that…”. Yet the grammatical […]

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You literally don’t know how to use that word

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If there is one word that is literally jumping off the page asking to be used properly, it’s “literally”. I’m sure all of you spotted the deliberate mistake in the previous sentence: words don’t actually jump off pages. Most of the time, they do things “figuratively”, the opposite of “literally”. There are some terrible offenders, […]

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The value of clichés

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I went to see an extraordinary new play recently – London Road at the National Theatre. It is a verbatim record of interviews with neighbours in London Road, Ipswich, in the aftermath of the murders of prostitutes by serial killer Steve Wright – performed by actors and set to music. The words themselves are unremarkable […]

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Write for the guy who stole the chickens

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JUDGE: The charge here is theft of frozen chickens. Are you the defendant? DEFENDANT: No, sir, I’m the guy who stole the chickens. Why is is so hard to persuade corporate types to write like human beings? Answer: they’re terrified of getting into trouble with the Legal department. And ever noticed that the less status […]

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How committed are you?

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy] The one thing you can say about corporate types is that they’re not commitmentphobes. In fact, it seems that every other company is committed to something – whether it’s quality, excellence, innovation, success or, in the case of PepsiCo, “Performance with a Purpose”. What’s clever about […]

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Marketing segmentation: how not to do it

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy] You! Yes, you! You want a celebrity body, don’t you? Look at that gorgeous girl above – isn’t that a body that screams POWER!! What’s that? You’re over 55? Oh, I’m sorry, we’ve got a different leaflet for you. Here, take this one: Yes, yes, I […]

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How not to write a job advert

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy] A reader forwarded the following job advert to me. I believe it to be genuine, so if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with him. Reporting directly to the CEO, and functioning as critical member of the global senior leadership team, […]

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“Around”: the preposition that can make your writing sound slippery and bureaucratic

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy] Last week I reflected on the tendency for business types to favour the invasive-sounding “into” over the correct “to”. Today, I turn my attention to another preposition you should be careful with: “around”.

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What’s with this word “into”?

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy] If I were to go round claiming that the square root of 100 is 15 or that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1783, I’d quite rightly be thought a fool. What’s more, I’m fairly sure most people wouldn’t hesitate to inform me of my […]

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