5 Tips for Writing Spotless Marketing Copy

Did you know that grammatical errors are the number one cause of work-related aggression?

the office movies angry mad

Okay, that’s a lie–but if everyone cared as much about grammar as I did, I can guarantee that misplaced commas, subject-verb disagreement, and improper use of “your” would top the HR incident list.

A degree in journalism, numerous media internships, and nearly two years editing the homepage for America’s most-watched cable news network inadvertently turned me into what I recently told a colleague was “The Grammar Hammer” (copyright pending). To me, editing is like a treasure hunt, and finding each error brings a degree of satisfaction or–if it’s published– immense and somewhat irrational rage.

The fact of the matter is that, at their core, typos in collateral undermine a marketer’s credibility with customers and prospects. If your company doesn’t know the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re,” how are you supposed to be trusted with the hard stuff, like–I don’t know–revenue generation? (For the record, “there” refers to a place or the existence of something, “their” is possessive–like, “Have you seen their new nap room? I am filled with envy.” and “they’re” should be used any time you can substitute it with “they are”–like, “They are going to be so well-rested! I hate them!”)

Yes, typos happen. But if you follow the steps outlined below, you can significantly reduce the number of errors in your work, leading to fame, fortune, and marketing glory:

1. See If It Passes the Jargon Test

You basically invented marketing–that’s how good you are. In fact, there is no industry term, TLA (three-letter acronym), or obscure marketing reference that you’re not familiar with. Well done, you!

Yet not everyone is an expert like you are, so pumping copy full of jargon runs the risk of alienating those in your target audience who aren’t as technologically savvy as you are. You want to sound smart, not pretentious. Your external communications should be engaging and informative, and a major part of this is using appealing vocabulary.

There is a time and a place for all of these “inside baseball” terms–like an in-depth how-to guide. But err on the side of general terms that are easy to read through, especially if it’s on an initial call-to-action. When in doubt, have someone in a different department or job function take a gander at your work. If it leaves them scratching their heads, it’s worth an edit.

2. Let It Sit

You just wrote the copy for what, in your opinion, is the world’s most beautiful nurture campaign, and you’re getting ready to set it up for deployment. Your quest to finesse your language means that you’ve been staring at the same two paragraphs for the better part of the last two hours. What should you do?

Save the copy and walk away. Do it. Tear yourself away. I know you’ve been itching to get this off your plate, but there’s a high probability that if you set it up for distribution now, you’re going to discover once it sends that it’s riddled with errors.

The more familiar you are with text, the less likely your brain will pick up on any subtle inconsistencies. That’s why it’s important to give yourself a break, let your brain focus on something else (maybe this is a good time for a walk or a nap), and come back to the text with fresh eyes. You’ll be shocked by what you catch the second time around.

3. Print, Read Out Loud, Repeat

You’ve just awoken from your nap–now what? Reread your work on your computer?

You could, but–environmentalists, cover your ears!–I recommend printing out what you’re working on. Whether you’re reviewing plain text or the layout of a new ebook, without all that blue light hitting your eyeballs, you’ll be able to focus better. Errors will jump out of the page as obviously as that whale at the end of “Free Willy.”

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And once you’ve printed your work (or even if you haven’t–shame on you!), read it out loud. Hearing the words instead of reading them will give your brain a different perspective and help it to catch additional errors. These can range from typos and misspellings to sentence constructions that just don’t sound right. Try it the next time you write an email–this is the type of exercise that helps you walk that fine line between “The webinar is public” and “The webinar is …” You get it.

4. Ask the Experts

I’ve lauded the power of Google in previous posts, but it’s worth a mention here too. Google is a wonderful source for your grammar needs and can also help to end any editing debates you might be having. It may take some digging, but you’ll usually walk away with knowing what the most common and widely accepted approach is for spelling or punctuation. Just make sure you’re getting your insight from a reputable site and one that is reflective of the grammar in your geographic region.

And think about your internal experts as well, often on your Communications or Content team. Does your company prefer the Oxford comma? What solution names are capitalized? Smart marketing departments will implement a set of brand style guides for everyone to adhere to.

WHAT. You don’t have one? Congratulations, you’ve just identified an important, proactive opportunity to make your mark. It’s like I always say, quality control is everyone’s problem.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

I have literally spent days of my life editing things. DAYS. Do I wish I had been spending this time on a beach somewhere? Maybe. Would my written words benefit from a rich mahogany glow? Absolutely not.

The tips above will help and should become standard practice whenever you’re developing external content. However, the only way you’re really going to step up your error-free game is through practice. How do you do that? Edit everything you can get your hands on. Your stuff, your coworkers’ stuff, your competitors’ stuff–everything. You can even search for practice tests as a fun and informative alternative to Sudoku or Candy Crush. There is no limit to how much practice you can do. Now go forth and conquer typos, you smart marketer, you.

Are you a spelling and grammar connoisseur? Share your tips for writing spotless marketing copy in the comments below!