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Just a Book, Part 2 – “Everybody Writes”

Courtney Beasley

Courtney Beasley

Welcome back to Part 2 of the 2017 Just a Book blog series!

Understanding grammar and word usage can be tricky for all writers, but it can be even more difficult for marketers, who often have a lot on their plates. With so much content to produce for complex and changing audiences, good writing can fall by the wayside. Fortunately, in “Everybody Writes,” Ann Handley gives us a much-needed refresher on the rules of writing –  and when to break them.

Additionally, Ann gives us a few reminders about telling the brand story in an honest and compelling way.  Here are a few lessons that stood out from Part 2:

Don’t Speak Like a Marketer

“Would you tell your love that you” don’t have the bandwidth’ for something, or would you say you “don’t have the time’?” (Page 95)

We’ve all been guilty of using marketing lingo: buzzwords and jargon that we think sound professional, but don’t add value to our writing. Think “cutting-edge,” “utilize,” or a common favorite, “leverage.”

These words and phrases are vague and cliche, and they aren’t typically words people use in real life. You don’t need to throw around extraneous, fuzzy words just to fit in.When writing, prioritize conciseness and clarity. Say “remains” instead of “continues to be” or “use” instead of “leverage.” Avoid “weblish” and, above all, remember you’re writing for real people.

Be a Rule Breaker

“I encourage you to safely and fearlessly break those rules to make those mistakes in writing – but only when doing so lends greater clarity and readability.” (Page 107)

In school, we learned to follow rules. Good writing meant an introduction, three robust body paragraphs and a conclusion. We always hit our word counts (sometimes by stretching out our sentences) and avoided sentence fragments. According to Ann, it’s time to break those rules. Or at least some of them:

  • Never start a sentence with and, but or because. A conjunction at the beginning of the sentence was frowned upon in school, but marketers can ditch this rule. Why? Because these words can add momentum and flow to your sentences.
  • Never write a one sentence paragraph. This rule makes no sense for marketers, since a point that can be made in one sentence should never require a lengthy paragraph to relate – and white space is a must for online readability.
  • Avoid sentence fragments. Sentence fragments can add emphasis and variety to your writing, so feel free to use them. If you can do it well, of course.

Find Your Voice

“Your unique voice comes from knowing who you are, and who you are not.” (Page 131)

Every brand has a voice. And, along with your brand’s unique products and services, your voice should serve as a differentiator across all customer-focused communications. Your voice lets people know how you do things differently, and it informs the overall experience you deliver to people.

Remember: your voice doesn’t change, but your tone should. A laid back, fun tone for a more casual brand is fine in some situations, but an annoyed customer might be turned off by a sassy comment if she just wants a solution to her problem.

Tell the Story Only You Can Tell

“What sets you apart? What’s unique about your story? Don’t tell me who you are — tell me why you matter to me.” (Page 129)

Have you ever read copy on a homepage or a press release and walked away without any understanding of the brand? Maybe the business promises “impactful results” or provides “cutting-edge professional services.” At the end of the day, you have no idea what sets this company apart.

When writing for your brand, focus on sharing your own unique story. It’s not about cramming the same buzzwords your competitors are using into a blog post. There will always only be one you.

To learn more about grammar and storytelling, read Pages 89-137 of “Everybody Writes.” Or, check out our video on the second and third sections of Ann’s book. Remember to follow along for next week’s tips on your responsibilities as a publisher, and check out last week’s post on top writing philosophies.

Into Ann’s writing tips? Learn more about Just a Book 2017 here!