Posts Tagged ‘copywriting’

Lost in Translation?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Communication breakdowns can happen anytime, anywhere—often without a language barrier in sight.  Translation traps exist in even the most innocent of exchanges. Caught in the confusion, your message could either sink without trace or become misinterpreted and misrepresented. Instead of basking in accolades you’ll find yourself fighting fires.

We spend significant chunks of every day interpreting other people’s words. Reading a novel, a website, an email. Listening to a presentation, a speech, a webinar. Networking over an apparently collaborative cup of coffee. The moment we express a thought or make a statement, each audience member has started to translate our words into a unique language. We may share the same mother tongue, but the message has to penetrate many layers of cultural, geographical, educational and experiential interpretation before it successfully reaches its target.

The clearer your communication at the outset, the better its chance of hitting home. But how do you avoid linguistic nightmares? Here are a few ways to tune up your messages before you deliver them:

  • Simple is not so Stupid

Leave complex theories to Nobel Prize contenders and rocket scientists. If we don’t understand your message, we can’t act on it. If you confuse us, we won’t be back for more. Gauge the appetite, understanding and knowledge of your audience. Keep things simple and informative…but please don’t stoop too low and risk insulting people’s intelligence. Leave that to the politicians!

  • It’s OK to be Emotional

Don’t dress your words in a stiff shirt and conservative business suit. It doesn’t make what you say any smarter. Establishing an emotional connection with your audience doesn’t make you weak, vulnerable or open to attack either. On the contrary, it brings you closer to the people you are trying to reach. By understanding and sharing the hopes, dreams and fears of the people you’re communicating with, you will give them plenty of reasons to trust what you’re saying.

  • Declutter and Eliminate the Fluff

You’ll find them littering emails, websites and proposals. I’m talking about the puffed-up words and phrases we use to make our message sound more important. Or the empty sentences we add to fill space on a page. If a word doesn’t add meaning to your message, be merciless and cut it loose.

  • Challenge Your Assumptions

Never assume that someone else’s mind works the same way as yours, or that their knowledge and experience matches your own. The information you’re sharing was once unfamiliar to you, so take the time to spell it out…or at least interact with your audience and check for signs of understanding.

  • Put Things in Context

We all see life through our own lens, but the best communicators have the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Explain what your product, service, opinions, beliefs would mean in their world.

  • Get a Second Opinion

Before you allow your message to lead an independent life, ask someone you trust to take a look and give you honest feedback. Make it quick and painless by asking them to use Track Changes and Margin Comments, so you can see straightaway where any confusion lies.


Amanda O’Donovan is a communications specialist, based in Toronto. You can contact her at 416.456.3859,, LinkedIn or follow her tweets @UnravelBabble and @PECVacations

Take Jay’s Advice on How to Write Effective Content

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Today’s blog post appears thanks to the very talented Jay Eckert, founder of Parachute Design, a graphic design studio that creates beautiful hand-made websites, logos and materials for print. Not only is Jay a brilliant designer, but he also has a great eye for content. His blog today contains some very sound advice for anyone creating online copy. I’ve included his 8 hot tips below. For the Full Monty, take a look at Writing Effective Content for a Positive User Experience on the Parachute website.

Eight Ways to Sharpen Your Content Skills:

  1. Be Sure to Use Sub Headings – They’re a lifesaver for people in a rush.
  2. Remove Superfluous Content – Overly descriptive language can confuse.
  3. Make Important Information Stand Out – Grab attention to drive a point home.
  4. Offer Links within Your Content – Start simple and provide links for deep digs.
  5. Keep Your Content Up to Date – No one wants to read stale information.
  6. Make Sure Content is Readable – Make typography and fonts work for you.
  7. Summarize and Conclude – Remind your audience about what’s most important.
  8. Double and Triple Check – Readers need to focus on your message, not typos.

Amanda O’Donovan has collaborated with Parachute to combine creative content with innovative design. You can follow her on twitter @UnravelBabble, visit her website at and contact her at 416.456.3859 or


Where to Put Your Apostrophes

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I’m always amazed (and amused) to see grown men reduced to a quivering heap at the mere mention of an apostrophe. In a blind panic, they randomly throw these little airborne commas at the page, hoping that some will land where they’re supposed to. I have also come across a few female culprits, but my not-so-scientific survey exposes you boys as the most egregious offenders.

So, with the purest of motives, gentlemen, I’d like to show you where to stick your apostrophes:

Apostrophes Don’t Like Plurals

If the word is plural, leave it alone. No need for this particular kind of punctuation. Butchers, bakers and candlestickmakers are apostrophe-free. So is a litter of kittens, a pack of dogs, a bunch of carrots and a bowl of peas.

Apostrophes are Possessive

One of an apostrophe’s main jobs is to indicate possession. It carves out a sense of belonging or ownership. Amanda’s blog entry, John’s email, the organization’s goals, the dog’s bollocks (sorry, couldn’t resist that endearing English phrase, which is a less polite form of the bee’s knees or the cat’s pajamas). In each of these examples, we’re referring to a single person, entity, animal or insect owning something, so the apostrophe goes before the “s.”

Watch where you put your apostrophe if the word is possessive and plural. When you’re talking about something that belongs to more than one person, place or thing, your apostrophe is the finishing touch. The butchers’ sausages were giant sizzlers (more than one butcher), the dogs’ owners began to look like them (several dogs), the O’Donovans’ cooking obsession is legendary (everyone in the family is a foodie). Watch out for common mistakes and exceptions like this:

Our customer’s needs (do you only have one customer?)

Women’s networking groups (women is already a plural word before you add  the “s”)

James’ skype chat (his name ends in “s,” so the apostrophe comes last…or you could do this: James’s skype chat — just be consistent)

At the risk of causing confusion, although they are possessive, pronouns like yours, his, hers, its, ours and theirs don’t require apostrophes (annoying, isn’t it?).

Apostrophes Replace What’s Missing

Apostrophes jump in when you leave something out. So, along with possession, they also indicate omission. Add them when you make a word shorter:

You are > You’re invited to join us for lunch (don’t confuse this with “your,” as in your baby, your proposal)

It is/it has > It’s time to start losing weight/it’s been good knowing you (don’t confuse with “its”: our company is known for its progressive culture)

Cannot > I can’t believe you don’t know where the apostrophe goes

Do not > Don’t worry, be happy

Who is>  Who’s going to make me a coffee? (don’t mistake this for whose: the person whose coffee I just made)

Of course, there are some more rules, as well as exceptions, but I fear I’d lose you if we ventured into that territory, so let’s ignore them for now. Master the plurals, possessives and omissions, and you’ll already be a step ahead of your peers.

Amanda O’Donovan positions her apostrophes with great care. If you need help with yours, contact her at 416.456.3859 or

Articles, Schmarticles. What About Charticles and Listicles?

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

When was the last time you read to the end of an article? Let’s be honest, some of us can’t even spare the seconds to read a whole blog posting or watch an entire YouTube video. Seth Godin describes this attention deficit as driveby culture. We’re all so busy searching for an experience, that we forget to actually get out of the car and savour the moment.  These days, large swathes of uninterrupted print seem to be the domain of the intellectually replete. The rest of us must content ourselves with scraps of information known as Charticles and Listicles.

A Charticle is all about the graphics. It’s the appealing images, charts or illustrations that attract your attention in the first place. The accompanying text simply rounds out what you’ve already understood from the pictures. Unlike a classic article, which uses graphics for added visual appeal, or to communicate more information (usually through a graph), the ratio of text to images is inverted in a charticle. Like the graphic novel, the charticle presents a contemporary image and a fresh take on the information it contains.

In the context of B2B communication, a charticle can be a great way to introduce new subject matter. You might drop it into a Newsletter, for example, and it could be the start of a breadcrumb trail to more detailed information, such as Case Studies and Whitepapers, which you introduce once the reader becomes hungry for more knowledge.

A Listicle starts life as a series of bullet points. The author then fleshes it out with a few paragraphs of additional content, so that it qualifies as a mini-article. Listicles are quick to produce, and often contain recycled information presented with a fresh slant. It’s hard to put off writing them. Better a published Listicle than a heavyweight article that’s still just an idea at the back of your mind. These diminutive articles can be a great way to present the key messages that persuade your prospects why you are best equipped to solve their problems.

Listcles can be, 1. Ranked — Top Ten, Seven Most, Six Best — 2. Themed — A grouped listing determined by the author — 3. Random — An unstructured list that leaves the reader to draw conclusions:

1.       The Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listicles

2.       Ten Shocking Truths About Listicles

3.       Ten Random Thoughts About Listicles

Just like Charticles, Listicles can be great attention-grabbers. Beware of dismissing either of these lightweight articles for their lack of depth. Used effectively,  they’re anything but shallow, because not only will they drive your potential customers to more substantial educational content, but they can also be a quick way of demonstrating how you can solve their problems — which, after all, is the very reason you’re in business.

Amanda O’Donovan writes light content for newsletter articles, charticles and listicles, as well as more meaty copy for case studies, whitepapers and entire websites. You can contact her at 416.456.3859 or

Seth Godin Knows Your Attitude by Your Accent

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Seth’s nugget of the day dropped into my inbox a short while back, and I felt the irresistible urge to reblog. The posting speaks for itself, and serves as a cautionary tale that accent isn’t all about more info

the spoken word. To find out if your writing has an accent, read Seth Godin’s blog.

Amanda O’Donovan is a Toronto-based freelance writer with an unmistakeable British accent. Talk to her at 416.456.3859 or

Blog Link to Web Ink

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Do you keep your valuable content behind gates, or make it free for all to see? The debate continues about whether registration should be required in exchange for content such as ebooks, whitepapers or research reports. Some say that gated downloads produce valuable sales leads. Others argue in favour of making content freely available in order to raise your profile through the viral spread that follows. Take a look at a recent post by David Meerman Scott, who advocates saying no to squeezing your buyers.

Amanda O’Donovan is a Toronto-based freelance copywriter who creates valuable content for a wide range of B2B clients. You can contact her freely at 416.456.3859 or

Procrastination is the Thief of Content

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

My last blog post was August 10, which may be a hint that I’m an expert on the subject of procrastination! I promised myself that I’d write this entry before I travelled to Europe for ten days earlier this month. When I returned, I was too busy with paid work to give it a second thought…but, again, I promised myself that I’d get blogging by Friday. When I failed to achieve that, I was convinced I would come up with a fantastic topic before the weekend was over.

Needless to say, when Monday morning dawned, I awoke blogless. “No worries,” I said to myself, “My latest project is out for client review, and I don’t have anything else booked in today.” By mid afternoon, (oops! make that late afternoon) I’d still managed to do everything but blog. What’s my problem? If I’d been working on a client deadline, I would have researched, written, reviewed and delivered the job ahead of schedule. Why is it that when it comes to dealing with what’s closest to us, we find every excuse to divert and delay?

Most of the time, it’s because we think we’re too busy to blog regularly, refresh an outdated website, create a whitepaper, interview for a case study or create a needs assessment. We believe that there are other needs that should take priority. The day-to-day imperatives involved in running a business and responding quickly and effectively to client needs outweigh the necessity to create new materials.

However, in a marketing environment that is increasingly driven by content, procrastination is a risky habit. Because other people are going to get there faster…and, if their collateral or their websites are more attractive, engaging and informative to a prospect, you will have missed the opportunity to make that vital connection. You will have failed to establish (and nurture) a relationship that progressively educates people about the value of what you do, and eventually leads to a sale.

When you finally get round to writing the content you so badly need, it will already be out of date.

So, with recession officially behind us, let’s all make a credible, achievable to-do list, and rank effective, regularly refreshed communication as a priority. Without it, however much you have to offer your clients, however brilliant your technology, however outstanding your customer service, only your closest friends will know!

Amanda O’Donovan helps her clients create current, relevant content. For timely intervention, contact her at 416.456.3859 or

Serve Your Content in Bite-Sized Chunks

Monday, August 10th, 2009


Forget about swine flu, the next big pandemic is attention deficit disorder. Nowadays, we need superhuman powers to ignore the daily distractions that prevent us ever reading to the end of a page. Smartphone users, Googlers and twitterers are professional skimmers, absorbing a few lines of your carefully crafted content before hopping to the next message. Forget about thinking big or waxing lyrical. Small thoughts are far more digestible!

Ø  Get Straight to the Point

Don’t spend time building to a crescendo. You’ll end up burying your call-to-action at the bottom of a long page, and may find readers aren’t prepared to scroll that far. Instead, spill your candy in the lobby, in full view of everyone. Use the top of the page to let your audience know how you can help.  An attention-grabbing headline and an intro containing your key messages will work wonders. Once you’ve engaged your readers, you can fill the remaining space with all the juicy details.


Ø  Learn to be a Ruthless Editor

Write your first draft and then cut it in half. It’s as simple as that!


Ø  Tell Your Story in Headlines

Some skimmers only read heads and sub-heads. Make every word count, and use visual tricks to help your headlines pop off the page. That way, anyone who’s just skimming the surface will still leave with the full message.


Amanda O’Donovan spoon-feeds her clients with easily digested content. You can contact her at 416.456.3859 or


Beat the Recession with Cloud Commuting

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Say hello to your newest, smartest resource. The Cloud Commuter is highly skilled, eco-friendly, doesn’t take up valuable office space and won’t be asking for health benefits. California-based elance, the leading site for online work, suggests, “More people are making the online workplace their new office and are logging in to get to work. Three trends have come together to make this possible. Companies are looking for greater flexibility and efficiency, more professionals are choosing to work independently, and managing online work has become easier than ever.”


As budgets are wrung dry, more and more businesses are turning their backs on traditional staffing in favour of hiring independent professionals when they need them. Why take the risk of committing to a permanent headcount when you can drink from the talent pool whenever you want to?


Whatever you’re searching for, there’s a Cloud Commuter who can provide you with exactly the expertise you need — and, when the job’s done, it’s perfectly OK to say goodbye until the next project deadline comes screaming into view. Think of your relationship with your Cloud Commuter as a date. The first encounter may have you coming back for more, but there’s no obligation to put a ring on it!


Feeling liberated? You should be, because when you make a remote hire you keep your fixed costs in check at the same time as you put yourself in the hands of the real experts. What’s not to love? Whether you tap into elance, or Google your local talent, you’ll be spoilt for choice — now there’s a little ray of sunshine.


Amanda O’Donovan is a Cloud Commuter who provides her clients with expert communications advice. You can contact her at 416.456.3859 or