Tips on using apostrophes

Catastrophie – apostrophe tips

The apostrophe is one of the most clever devices to signal meaning in the written English language. Yet for many it is seen as too complex to learn or, at worst, completely unnecessary. To that extent some local authorities banned the use of apostrophes on road signs, and caused something of an uproar from grammarians.

So, why are apostrophes seen as so difficult? Here’s a quick fire guide to getting them right.

Possession is 9/10s of the law

This is also true when it comes to apostrophes. When it comes to defining possession – that is, when an object belongs to a subject – most of the time there’s an apostrophe involved.

So we may have something like this:

The cat’s paws.

The paws belong to the cat – so we need an apostrophe.

When there is more than one cat, then we have this:

The cats’ paws.

The paws belong to the cats.

The most common mistake is confusing a plural with possession. If the cats are chasing birds… and take a pause… we do not need an apostrophe. It’s a simple plural. So…

The cats pause.

There are several other examples of simple plurals when apostrophes are not required. The common ones:

1970s.  So… funk music started to become popular in the 1970s. It can help to spell out the word and see why it doesn’t need an apostrophe: seventies. If something happened in a specific year, then we may need an apostrophe. For example:

1976’s seminal disco funk classic Good Times was released. (So Good Times belongs to 1976).

Similarly if you learn your ABCs or enjoy BBQs, you do not need apostrophes.

The 1/10th that can be a bit confusing is the use of its.

If you have the cat’s paws, you have its paws. No apostrophe, even though it feels like we need one.

We’d only see an apostrophe in its when we contract ‘it is’ – so we may see:

It’s Paul’s cat. (It is Paul’s cat).

Other common contractions can include he’s and she’s; he is or she is.

So, remember our cat if you want to use apostrophes correctly – and avoid a grammar catastrophe.

Dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dash, dot, dot, dot

SOS punctuation errors

Microsoft Word is the copywriter’s new best friend, automatically detecting your spelling, grammar and punctuation errors and correcting you where necessary – but what if we can’t always rely on Word to do the right thing? You can’t send out an SOS, so let’s see if we can help.

State-of-the-art technology

Word is fantastic at automatically detecting errors, but when it comes to dashes, dots and hyphens, it’s not so high-tech. Word will happily let you get away with using the wrong punctuation at the wrong time, and unless you’re keeping a careful eye out for it, you might find yourself using one, where you should be using the other.

Back to basics

When it comes to dashes and hyphens, you firstly need to make sure you understand the difference between them.

If you break up a sentence, then it’s a dash: –

If you break up a word, then it’s a hyphen: –

Secondly you need to find them on your keyboard. You can get a hyphen by just using the hyphen key, and to get a dash its alt-hyphen.

It’s quite simple, really, but an easy error to make if you are typing in a rush or not proofreading your work.

Then there are the dots.

Dotty for dots

When we are quoting, or want a sentence to trail off, we often use an ellipsis: …

However, Word has a fun little gimmick that will let you put in as many dots after a sentence as you like. This is despite the fact that typically an ellipsis consists only of three dots

Although we wouldn’t say it’s as much as a crime as the dash/hyphen ruling, it can look pretty peculiar when your ellipsis has more than three dots….

Make sure you pay attention to what you type, and maybe double check what Word decides to put in for you, otherwise you may find yourself in a sticky situation with your punctuation.

Putting ‘magic words’ into your copywriting

copywriter uk magic words

We all learned the magic word for getting our way when we were children. But copywriters learn that there are several. Cleverly placed, they increase conversion rates exponentially. Here’s a Copywriter UK guide to the magic words to pepper your copy with.

Magic word #1 – ‘You’

This is the number one magic word. It’s far more important than any of the others. Even ‘money’ and ‘sex’. Most of us know the secret of being popular. It is simply to get people talking about themselves. And it’s no different with copy. Customers don’t want to hear about you, your company or your product. They’re busy people and are bombarded with hundreds of advertising copy every single day. No, what they’re interested in is how your product or service will benefit them. Make them feel that you understand their problems, and have the solution, and you cannot fail. Peppering your copy with the word ‘you’ reminds you to focus on your customer and their needs.

Magic word #2 – ‘New’

Humans are curious creatures. It’s what led us to to fly to the moon. We’re constantly learning and adapting and that drive is fuelled by our curiosity. Social media researchers have recently discovered that it’s this insatiable urge which drives our addiction to Facebook and blogs because the thrill of finding something new triggers a dopamine rush in our brains. Even the mere promise of something new will do this – which is why the word ‘new’ is so powerful. What you’re writing about doesn’t have to be new. It only has to be new to the reader. Using the word, ‘announcing’ or ‘discovery’ will do the same thing. Place the word ‘new’ in a headline and you’re far more likely to get them to read on.

Magic word #3 – ‘Easy’

Humans are also lazy. This is also what drives our ability to learn and innovate. We’re never satisfied until we’ve made life as easy as possible. And we’ll invent gadget after gadget to take the toil out of things. Your customers are busy, tired and frazzled. They want you to make things easy, from the shallowness of the navigation on your e-commerce page, to the simplicity of the product itself. But they’re never going to find out how you’ve spent hours making your product or service easy to use if you don’t tell them. ‘Quick’ and ‘simple’ are other words which will have the same effect.

Magic word #4 – ‘Guaranteed’

When it comes to committing to buy, your customer becomes acutely aware of the possibility of loss. For as start, they’re about to pay money over to you. That is a form of loss. And they don’t want to make a mistake or be made a fool of. That’s why the word ‘guaranteed’ can make the world of difference at the point where they’re committing to a sale,. After all, you’ve made it so that they have nothing to lose. To make this work however, you must honour your guarantee promises. Other words which build trust in your customer are ‘safe’, ‘results’, ‘proven’ and ‘approved’.

Magic word #5 – ‘Now’

When your prospect reads your copy, there’s every danger that they’ll get distracted or simply forget to act. You have to provide some sort of urgency or there’s every chance they won’t act at all. Words like ‘now, ‘quick’ and ‘hurry’ all inject pace and encourage the customer to act promptly. These are even more powerful when used in conjunction with a limited offer.

Magic word #6 − ‘How to’

Life hacks never lose their appeal. As we’ve already worked out, your customer is busy and probably tired. Anything which gives them the information they need fast and all in one place is welcome. That’s why the phrase ‘how to’ will grab their attention. Smart copywriters manipulate the ‘how to’ format to convey the information they want the customer to hear.

Magic word #7 − ‘Free’

All of us like to get something for nothing. Whether we want the item or not, it just feels good to our hunter-gatherer instincts. People will buy more just to get free shipping or choose a free gift over and extra that costs them a nominal amount, even if the latter is worth many times as much. Crafting a good offer around the word ‘free’ is a great way to grab attention. Just be careful that you don’t trigger spam filters by using a spam check tool before you hit send.

Sadly, making your copy magic isn’t just a case of re-arranging the magic words. If you’re still stuck for copy that gets results, give Copywriter UK a call today on 0845 2606 255. We’ll give your copy the magic touch.

8 grammar rules that all good copywriters break

copywriter uk guide to copy rules

Unfortunately, good grammar simply doesn’t reflect the way people speak. That’s a real problem – even for good copywriters – who need to stimulate a primal urge to buy in the reader. Writing copy that grabs the reader’s attention and compels them to keep reading is an art. And like all artists, the copywriter knows the rules and ignores them when necessary. Here’s the Copywriter UK guide to the grammar rules you should be ready to break.

copywriter uk rules

Grammar rule #1 −Contractions

Contractions are the essence of informal speech. We use them all the time in conversation. While it’s true that they may not be correct for formal writing, they can and absolutely should be used in most B2C sales and marketing copy. Customers do not want to be talked down to. Or rather they don’t want to be talked down to.

Grammar rule #2 − Fragments

Headline and strapline writing would often be impossible without sentence fragments. They convey an intimate form of shorthand between the brand and the reader, because the reader has enough familiarity or context to know what the fragment means. Fragments within articles and blogs allow readers to skim short sentences and pick up snippets of information without having to read all the body copy. And they create excitement and rhythm. So long as each fragment is a complete thought, they won’t disturb the flow. In fact they’ll just enhance it. Calls to action can also seem less intrusive and friendlier when presented in this way e.g. “Call today.”

Grammar rule #3 – Prepositions

The rule about not ending sentences with prepositions such as ‘with’ or ‘on’ is another which just doesn’t represent everyday speech. This comes from a desire to make English to conform to Latin standards. It simply doesn’t and is all the richer for it. Many famous writers have rejected this one. As Churchill, who wrote all his own wartime speeches, said: “This is the kind of impertinence up with which I will not put.”

Grammar rule #4 – Conjunctions

Starting a complete sentence with a conjunction like ‘and’, ‘or’ or ‘but’ is a useful way to draw attention to it. Or to remind the reader of a separate benefit. (See what I did there…?) Another reason sentences starting with conjunctions are so popular with copywriters is that they’re a useful way to break up overly long sentences. Most readers skim rather than read these days, especially online. We need to have a way to make long or complicated arguments without losing them.

Grammar rule #5 – One-sentence paragraphs

These are something print journalists have always relied on, especially in narrow columns. Often they’re the only way to break up large blocks of text. Besides, paragraphs should be used to make a single point or argument. Sometimes, one sentence is all that’s needed to do that, particularly if it’s a long one. They’re also a useful way to transition between sections, make a point, or give the reader a mental rest.

Grammar rule #6 – Slang

Copywriters have to be very careful when using slang. Get it even slightly wrong and your copy will fall completely flat. However, using slang or jargon can be very useful if you’re writing for a niche audience that you know well. It establishes the writer as an expert, or as being part of the right ‘tribe’ e.g. blogging for sci-fi fans.

Grammar rule #7 – Split infinitives

The trouble with never using an adverb before the verb is that it puts the emphasis on the verb. Sometimes what you want the reader to notice is the way someone did something rather than what they actually did. So with the now infamous ‘to boldly go…’ The point is not that the crew of the Enterprise went where no man had gone before. The point is that they did it ‘boldly’. And by putting the adverb ‘boldly’ before the verb ‘go’ that’s just the message the audience gets. This is a particularly important tool for copywriters, where they may be trying to generate new emotional connotations with mundane actions associated with the product we’re selling.

Grammar rule #8 – Passive voice

Breaking this rule may surprise you as all copywriters are told that the active voice is best. However, there are times when the passive voice is very useful. Using an active voice produces attractive, crisp, dynamic copy, but it’s only one tool in the smart copywriter’s tool-kit. The passive voice is just as useful if you know when and where to employ it. They put the recipient or receiver of an action first, and the performer of the action second. Passive voice can be used when you are trying to sound objective, when you are putting the benefit first, to enhance SEO and to slow the reader down so they actually read your copy.

By now you should be breaking the rules of grammar with confidence. But if not, our expert team of copywriters know just how to craft copy that speaks to your target audience. Give Copywriter UK a call today on 0845 2606 255.