The joys of Latin

My 12 year old son is mulling over whether to do Latin in school.

I did Latin at O level (yes, I’m that old) and it was my favourite subject. If you’re a language fiend, like I am, it’s a fascinating subject to learn. It can help you guess the meaning of unfamiliar words in both English and foreign languages and it’s useful when trying to understand mottos. Most importantly, it helps you understand the many Latin terms that still exist in our language.

For instance, many people don’t know the difference between e.g and i.e. If you know your Latin, however, you will be aware that e.g. is short for exempli gratia, (which means for example) and i.e. is short for “id est”. The latter means “that is” and is used to make something clearer.

Other examples of Latin phrases still in common usage include pro rata, alter ego, persona non grata and sic.  A little knowledge of Latin can be really useful at unexpected times – for instance, when I first learnt about proof-reading, I could guess that the word “stet” meant “let stand”.

My boys are both voracious readers (from Latin vorare – to devour). They are always asking me what certain word mean and I find telling them the origin of the word can help explain it. My youngest asked me the meaning of puerile – it means childish, and comes from the Latin word puer meaning boy. And my other son asked about the meaning of  the word verbose. It means talking too much and comes from the Latin verbum meaning word. Other words to stem from that include verbal and verb.

So if you’re offered the chance to do Latin, I’d say take it – it is very useful and more importantly as I’ve told my son, other people will think you are very clever.

 

 

coat-of-arms-420059_640.jpg

Who cares about bad writing?

Every so often, I get asked one of these questions:

“Why does it matter if my writing is bad/my spelling is poor / my grammar is wrong? As long as people can understand what I mean, who cares?”

I think the middle hashtag in the tweet below from @HilaryHarwell sums it up beautifully.

When your child's middle school sends an email entitled, "Your Invited!". #facepalm #lowexpectations #grammarpolice.

Poor writing can, unfortunately, affect the way other people think about you. It can make you look sloppy and careless.  Any yes, it may lower the expectations of those interested in working with you. It could even put them off entirely.

Most people care about their professional image, and wouldn’t dream of turning up to an important meeting with unwashed hair and scruffy clothes.  Writing that is confusing, long-winded or full of errors is the equivalent of this.

Our courses will introduce you to good writing techniques, emphasising the importance of succinct, easy to read sentences. We cover the basics of grammar and spelling, helping you avoid those embarrassing mistakes.

What’s an infinitive and why aren’t you supposed to split it?

When people find out what I do for a living, they often ask me a grammar question. I’m never quite sure whether it’s to catch me out, or whether it’s something that’s been bothering them for a while but they haven’t got round to googling it.

This happened again when I was at a party on Saturday.

“So you teach writing?” asked the fellow guest. “Tell me this – what’s a split infinitive and what’s so bad about it?”

I was delighted to be asked this and, having had a couple of glasses of wine, probably went on a bit longer and in a bit more detail than necessary. Sorry about that.

An infinitive is the basic form of a word and you can spot it because it has “to” in front of it. Examples are “to laugh” “to want” and “to win”.  It’s the pure form before you start to change it according to tense (laughed/was laughing) or who is doing it (I laugh/ he laughs).

 A split infinitive is when you insert another word between “to” and the verb you are using.

So examples of a split infinitive are “to loudly laugh”, “to really believe” or “to easily win”. The most famous one, familiar to all Star Trek fans, is “to boldly go.”

The reason that this is supposed to be so bad goes back to the roots of our language. The infinitive in Latin is a single word – for instance the Latin for “to believe” is credere (from which, incidentally, we get words like credible). But this can’t be split so grammar purists decided English shouldn’t either.

So can you split the infinitive? My view is that if a split infinitive makes the sentence sound better then it’s OK to do it occasionally.  However, don’t overdo it, especially in a formal document, as there’s a risk you might annoy your reader.

If the sentence is going to sound just as good either way, then I’d suggest you rearrange your sentence to avoid it. For instance, you could write “we are going to win easily” rather than “we are going to easily win.”  Sometimes rearranging won’t work, so you might need to rejig the sentence a little more.

It’s something to always check when you’re editing your document – or should I say, it’s something to check each time you’re editing your document.

Who's that email from?

One topic we often discuss at Sentence Works courses is how to get people to open your emails.

There is a lot of debate about subject lines, but one thing that’s often overlooked is the “from” line.

You might think that everyone puts their name or their company in this line, but they don’t. For instance, I got one email last week from “hello” with the subject “May Client list”. I didn’t know who “hello” was and therefore why I should be interested in his or her clients.  I deleted it. A few minutes later, “hello” emailed me again with the subject line “May Client List - Take two”.  I opened that out of professional curiosity to know who was sending such poor emails but I expect most people would have deleted that one too.

It turned out to be a PR company who had forgotten to put the attachment on email number one. Presumably they sent this out to scores of journalists but few would have bothered to open the emails

I also get regular emails from “health intern” for a PR company.

This does not fill me with confidence. If the email is clearly advertised as coming from an intern, it says to me that it isn’t something that is worthy of a full-time staff member’s time. So I assume it isn’t worth my time reading it. That might be harsh, but I have no idea why they can’t simply set up an email in the intern’s name. And it would be nicer for the intern too.

Five ways to avoid baffling your readers

by Adrian Monti

As a journalist and content writer, I find myself writing about anything and everything. This year I’ve already written about, among many other things, futuristic healthcare,  trail running shoes and testing your own sperm (yes, really).

Part of the fun and challenge of my job is to learn very quickly and become an expert in any given subject within a few hours. But I can’t do this on my own.

Last week, I was researching an article about air purifiers for a national newspaper health page. An extremely helpful company communications manager came to my aid and was happy to guide me through what was what.

She clearly knew her stuff. She was very enthusiastic but also extremely knowledgeable about her niche field.

But before I was confident enough to write about the different types of air purifiers, there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing while we went through what the different models actually did. It meant having to break down a fair few industry terms and unpick some acronyms that only those in the know would understand. On the plus side, I now know what an HEPA filtration system is if ever I’m asked.

Here at The Sentence Works, Judy and I work with PRs from many specialist fields. One of the things we do is help them get their message across to people with no knowledge of that sector. It’s about putting that expert knowledge into a succinct written form that the layman (if that who it's intended for) can easily understand.

With that thought in mind, ask yourself if you’re ever guilty of making what you write inaccessible to people who aren’t in your line of business. If this is often the case, here are our top five ways to avoid this.

 <1> If we take the example of air purifiers once again, the key to writing something about it for the general public is to keep it fairly simple. Your customers probably only need to know very basically how it works, how easy it is to operate and why it might appeal to them. For instance, is it quiet, does it use bladeless technology? Don’t try to over-complicate things merely to sound impressive even if you know lots about your subject.

<2> Don’t fill your copy with industry phrases and jargon that wouldn’t make sense to someone not in that world. A good rule is to ask yourself whether your parents or partner would understand what you have written. If they wouldn’t, re-write it.

<3> Go easy on the acronyms. Too many abbreviations can confuse the reader, possibly slowing down their understanding of what you’re saying. It can also make a page of writing look off-putting.

<4>   If you’re quoting someone, consider using direct quotes (inside speech marks) from them to illustrate significant points. It breaks up the copy and adds a different voice to your piece. It can also give a greater sense of authority, especially if they are clearly a well-known expert on the subject.

<5> Make your copy interesting by using a varied vocabulary. Try to avoid too many tired lines associated with the subject you’re writing about.

These easy tricks can often make even the dullest subject appear actually quite exciting. As I’m sure they would say in the world of purifiers, strive to make your copy come across as a breath of fresh air. 

 

 

 

 

Is it Mother's Day or Mothers' Day?

When we talk about apostrophes on Sentence Works courses, this is one that's hotly debated.

I’ve noticed that most cards say “Happy Mother’s Day”. I’ve never been convinced this is rightbecause the apostrophe suggests that the card is referring to one mother.

I believe that it’s a day for ALL mothers, as witnessed by the fact you can’t get a restaurant booking for love nor money on M-Day. If it was only for ONE mum, you wouldn’t have a problem, surely?

But hardly any cards say “Happy Mothers’ Day”, which intrigues me. So I did a bit of research and found the reason. Apparently, Anna Jarvis, an American lady who invented the day, was adamant it was a time to celebrate each mother individually, rather than all mothers everywhere. So she insisted the apostrophe went before the “s” to indicate each special mother.

Ms Jarvis, who died in 1948, later regretted starting the whole shebang, as it became increasingly commercial. There are no records on whether she changed her mind about the apostrophe.

I’m glad there’s a good reason for the apostrophe being in what seems to me to be the wrong place, but it still doesn’t feel right somehow.

Luckily, I’ve found a solution – I just make sure my own mum receives a card that says “Happy Mothering Sunday” instead.

Hack’s hacks – how to interview someone for a story

If you have been asked to interview someone for a story in a company newsletter, press release, blog or some other web content, it can feel pretty daunting if you haven’t done it before.

In a way it’s a ‘chat’ but crucially with much more purpose and direction than an everyday chinwag over a coffee. This immediately means there’s a different dynamic between you and your interviewee; your subject might be more guarded because they know what they say is going into print. It’s certainly something to be aware of when interviewing someone.

Your aim in any interview, be it for a profile piece or update on what their business has achieved for example, is to ask loads of relevant questions. In return you should be given lots of useful information that you can than craft into a readable and accurate article. It sounds simple, eh?

Even though I’ve interviewed thousands of people for all manner articles over the past 25 years, I still always begin with some basic preparation before speaking to them.

It’s really important to do some research on who you are speaking to as this usually leads to a much better interview. Put in their details and see what comes up on Google, if anything, about them.  There may have been other articles or snippets about them with a hint of an ‘angle’ that you can ask them about. It’s always a good chance to check on their exact job title and other biographical details (when they started at the company, where they previously worked, etc.) too. Don’t worry, they won’t think you’ve been stalking them, but instead know you have done some good background research.

Although you might not be able to dictate if it’s a face-to-face interview or on the phone (or Skype), each have their own advantages and disadvantages. I find it’s always better to meet people in person as you can note their reaction to your questions. But if you’re new to doing interviews, you might not feel so flustered on the phone. If at all possible, try to avoid doing an email interview, where you send over questions for the interviewee to answer. The replies can often appear stilted when they appear in print, plus you won’t be able to ask follow up questions easily.

If the allotted time for the interview is quite limited, it might be tempting to dive straight in and start firing off your planned questions. But I factor in a little preamble first to put both of you at ease. I usually introduce myself again, thank them for agreeing to be interviewed and tell them what the interview is for and when it should appear. I usually add ‘I just need about x minutes to speak to you about…’

In many ways, you as the interviewer are in charge (but in a very unassuming way) and you ‘suggest’ what you want to talk about. So before you start, try and work out a very rough structure (in your head at least) of how the finished article will be ‘nosed’ (a good old journalist’s term for how it will be focused).  Ideally plan a few questions in advance to ask, but don’t stick rigidly to them if the interview turns in a different and more interesting direction.  

I often build up to the main thrust of what I want to specifically talk to the person about with some more general questions at the start. You want to get them ‘warmed up’ a bit first.

Also, even if you have a whole page of questions on your pad you want to ask, remember to let the person speak. Don’t keep interrupting them (ask open questions not ones that will require a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ reply too), or finishing off sentences for them. It’s their voice readers want to hear, not yours.

Often the interviewee can hare off in a direction you don’t want, as what they’re saying is slightly irrelevant to what you want to interview them about. You might have to cleverly reel them back in. You can often do this by drawing them back to the subject you want to talkabout by saying something like ‘I want to talk about that in a minute, but can you just finish telling me about…’

One of the most heart-sinking feelings as a journalist is finishing an interview and knowing your notepad is full of largely unusable waffle. But if you prepare well (by using some of these tips) this shouldn’t happen too often.  

On the other hand, one of the real kicks I still experience is when I’m interviewing someone and they say something really unexpected. Many times I’ve known what they have just said will actually make the headline for the article. It’s a great feeling.

When I was training to be a journalist, I was taught that when you feel you have enough information and quotes, wind up the interview with a quick recap with your subject. Sometimes it’s wise to go over their main points again and say something like ‘Do you think we have covered everything you wanted to talk to me about?’

This is also a good opportunity for you to clarify anything you don’t fully understand. I do lots of interviews with medical experts for health articles, so find it a good chance to make sure I actually understand a new treatment or pioneering technique in layman’s’ terms.

I make sure I have their contact details (or how to contact them via a personal assistant, etc.) You certainly don’t want to bombard the interviewee in the days afterwards with loads more questions. But in my experience, most interviewees are happy to answer the odd additional query.

Again end the interview formally by thanking them for their time and reiterating what will now happen as regards the article.

Now it’s time for you to write it up your interview.

 By Adrian Monti

Are you a grammar nerd?

Here are 10 signs that your love of grammar is taking over your life. Are any of them familiar?

1.     You find yourself correcting your friends and colleagues when they use “less” instead of “fewer”- and don’t apologise when you catch them rolling their eyes.

2.     You won’t buy a drink from coffee stall that says “tea’s £2, coffee’s £2.10” (because of the punctuation, not the price).

3.     Your texts are really long because they’re written in full, grammatically correct sentences – even the ones to your mum. They might even include semi-colons.

4.     If you’re eating out, you won’t have a pudding where the sauce “compliments the rich cake” – because the error will put your right off your meal.

5.     Your friends admit they’re nervous when they email you, in case you spot a mistake.

6.     You write to your local paper to point out they used a comma splice in their headline.

7.     When your child's school report says they should “practice their spelling”, you fight the urge to write back suggesting the teacher should practise their grammar.

8.     You know the difference between i.e. and e.g. because you know the Latin phrases they come from.

9.     You refuse to buy a product online because the company’s website has mixed up “there” and “their”.

10. You take photos of incorrect grammar when you're out and about and show them to your partner/ friends/ other grammar nerds.

 

 

How to make your writing slimmer

Many of us are trying to lose the flab after Christmas – but have you ever thought of applying that to your writing?

There’s no excuse for flabby writing. Unnecessary words can annoy your reader by increasing the time they need to spend reading your document or email.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to tighten it up and make it more succinct.

Here are six ways to do exactly that.

1.      Think of ways to say the same thing in fewer words. In particular, look out for adverbs (these often end in -ly) . So instead of “I walked hurriedly to work” you could say “I hurried to work”.   This makes your copy punchier and shorter.

2.      Look out for examples of tautology – where you say the same thing twice. For example, “the iPhone was first invented 10 years ago”.  You can only ever invent something once, so “first” is redundant here.

3.      Run a quick search on your document for words like “just” and “actually”. These can usually be removed without actually losing any meaning. Or they can be removed without losing any meaning. See what I did there?

4.      Many people add extra words to make a phrase sound more important. For instance, “We will conduct an investigation into that” uses more words than necessary. “We will investigate that” is simpler and more direct.

5.      Don’t make verbs longer than they need to be. You can “print” a document. You don’t need to print it out or print it off.

6.      Don’t repeat yourself! If you’re quoting someone, avoid introducing the quote by saying what is in the quote. An example of what NOT to do is:

Simon had a brilliant idea while he was driving his car. “I was driving my car when I came up with an idea that I immediately realised had the potential to become a best seller,” he says.

Instead write something like this:

Simon had a brilliant idea while he was driving his car. “I immediately realised it had the potential to become a best seller,” he says.

Easy isn't? This type of flab-fighting is certainly less painful than hours at the gym or weeks counting calories.

 

 

How to end a blog or article

Many of us spend ages trying to think of a brilliant introduction to our blogs and that’s absolutely the right thing to do.

A good intro will grab the reader’s attention, making them want to read on. If your intro is dull, irrelevant or confusing, they probably won’t bother to go any further.

But few of us give much thought to the ending of an article or blog.  I teach journalism and I often find that inexperienced journalists just don’t know how or when to stop. Some of them come to the end of what they are saying and then just abruptly “put their pen down.” Others write a conclusion, like you would in an academic essay. And some students simply repeat what they have already written, which is a bit of a waste of time and paper/screen space.

A good ending is really important. Round your article off well and you will leave your reader satisfied and wanting to come back and read more of your work.

Journalists call this the “pay off”.  A pay off is an ending that rounds off what you are saying in a way that makes it clear that it’s the end.

When I was writing for women’s magazines, I’d be mentally looking out for a pay off when I was doing the interview. So if, for instance, a woman had had twins twice said: “I still think I want another baby – just one next time, mind!” then I’d store it away as something good to end on. I’d make sure I didn’t address the issue of future babies higher up in the copy, so it would come as a bit of a surprise to the reader. It would also be an upbeat way to end the article.

You can use this technique whatever you are writing.  You can aim to go back to the beginning, to give the blog post/editorial/article/press release a “circular” feel.

For instance, imagine you’re writing about Sally, a businesswoman who had her “eureka” moment while sitting on Brighton beach looking out to sea. That could be your intro and you’d then need a few paragraphs talking about Sally and her product. But how are you going to end it? A good pay off could be something like this:

Sally’s never been back to Brighton beach since.  But she knows exactly where to go when she wants inspiration to expand her product range…”

So work on your endings and make them as important as your openings. It could be the beginning of the end of one of your big writing problems.

Quick spelling tip

I was training a group from a local law firm last month and we were discussing spelling. We weren’t scheduled to cover spelling but it’s amazing how it always comes up.

One of the delegates said she could never remember how to spell that thing we’ll all be buying soon for next year – is it calender or calendar?

Followers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of mnemonics – little memory devices – as these can help you remember how to spell the words that catch you out.  With this word, the difficulty is remembering that the penultimate letter is an ‘a’.  So, as I pointed out, you just need to remember that buying a calendAr is an Annual event and you’ll never get it wrong again.

Heard the one about the grammar joke?

With our 11 year son about to take his primary school SAT tests, grammar’s no laughing matter in our house at the moment.

My poor boy is trying to remember the difference between active and passive,  work out what a subordinating conjunction is and master the use of the past progressive tense.

So to cheer up any parents in the same position, here are seven grammar jokes. Please feel free to share them with any other small children who aren’t looking forward to the tests either.

1.       The past, the present and the future went to the pub.  It was tense.

2.       The pub was walked into by the passive voice.

3.       A comma splice went to a restaurant, it had fish and chips and a glass of lemonade.

4.       My English teacher asked me to name two pronouns. I said, “Who, me?”

5.       She texted me “Your adorable”. I replied “No. YOU’RE adorable”. Now she thinks I like her, and I was only correcting her grammar.

6.       “Let’s eat grandma.  I mean, let’s eat, grandma”. Punctuation saves lives and avoids family feuds

7.       The door is alarmed. (And the wall is surprised. And the floor is somewhat taken aback).

Spelling is child's play

I’ve been doing lots of work on spelling with my 11 year old son ahead of the dreaded SATS.

It’s actually been really interesting as I’ve tried to come up with strategies to help him remember how to spell tricky words. These are exactly the same methods I talk about in Sentence Works courses.

Sometimes, you just need to think about what the words actually mean. He initially wrote government without the “n”. We then discussed what the government actually does – ie govern – and that has helped him to remember it.

If you’ve been to a Sentence Works course, you’ll know all about mnemonics – clever ways of remembering difficult words. So we looked at the word “favourite” and now he just thinks of OUR favOURite. (This works with our neighbOUR too).  He had a habit of spelling “queue” as “que”.  I reminded him that a queue might be longer than you’d like, so repeating the last two letters makes it longer.

I wish he knew some Latin, because that would help him remember to spell “desperate” which so many people get wrong.  If you are desperate, it means you’ve lost hope. Latin for “I hope” is “spero” -  this helps you to remember the second vowel is an “e”, rather than an “a”.

Do you have any ways of remembering awkward words?

Let's Celebrate National Grammar Day

 

Delegates on the workshop I’m co-running in Bristol today (media skills and press release writing, in case you were wondering) might notice there’s a real spring in my step.

After my birthday, Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, and any day Watford win, today is my favourite day in the calendar. It’s National Grammar Day, the day that highlights  the importance of correct grammar and punctuation. The day when it’s OK to be a grammar nerd, for 24 hours at least.

I cover common grammar mistakes and how to avoid them in many Sentence Works courses. Before we start, I always ask workshop delegates whether grammar really matters in the twenty-first century.  I’ve always been prepared for someone to say it doesn’t, so I can argue my corner, but in two years of running these courses, no-one has ever said it doesn’t.

Grammar (and I include punctuation under its banner) matters for a number of reasons. Good grammar simply makes writing easier to understand. Punctuation exists solely to make meaning clear. Speech marks show who’s talking. Apostrophes identify who something belongs to. Commas help with the general clarity of a sentence.

Take this example:

·        I’d like to thank my parents, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

·        I’d like to thank my parents, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton.

That extra comma in the second sentence may be subtle but it really changes the meaning. It makes clear it’s a list of people being thanked, rather than suggesting that the parents are Donald and Hillary.

The title of the excellent book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss is another example of the power of the comma. With no comma, we might assume we are learning about the finer points of a panda’s diet. But if the panda eats, shoots and leaves then we can imagine it wandering into a bar, having a nice dinner and then picking up its rifle and shooting something before strolling out. The comma can be a powerful tool.

Grammar also matters because other people think it matters. If your grammar is inaccurate, you won’t impress the potential employer looking at your CV. A website riddled with grammatical mistakes makes you look sloppy and unprofessional – as if you don’t care. And research shows that grammatical errors on your dating profile can reduce your chances of finding love. Proof reading company Grammarly found that 88% of women and 75%  would judge someone based on their grammar. That’s more than would judge someone for having bad teeth.

So make sure your grammar and punctuation are tip-top. You could transform your love life and your job prospects in one go.

Never Write a Boring Business Blog Again

I’m often asked to help people write their blogs. It can be one for a charity, related to their hobby or a very personal one about their take on life.

But I’m asked to cast my eye over the blogs people write for their company or area of business expertise too. Many are informative, witty, engaging and everything you would hope a well-crafted blog would be.

Sadly a few others I’m asked to help with are, to be honest, fairly dull.

Luckily, with almost 25 years of journalistic experience behind me, I’ve picked up many skills to make even the most turgid subject matter sparkle a little brighter.

Here are my top seven tips on how to make your business blog a more satisfying read.

* Business is certainly about acquisitions and projected sales as well as quality control and the bottom line. But it’s also about people. Try to make your blogs focus more on the human angle if you can. Your boss may run the most successful but also most mundane of firms in the area so try to pull out any interesting personal tales that are hidden away. We all like being told a good story.

* Keep your reader in mind.  Don’t stuff your blog full of industry jargon and acronyms if it’s for the public – they won’t understand it. And even if it’s for others in your same line of work, that’s no excuse to make it a real effort to read.

*Of course, we all like to bask in some well-earned praise when we do well. But I’ve read many blogs where winning regional industry awards in obscure categories has taken on the importance of scooping an Oscar, Nobel Peace Prize and Olympic gold medal all rolled into one.  A bit of self-congratulation is fine, but try and keep it in perspective, even in your own company blog.

 *Use your blog to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge in your particular field. Maximise its relevance by commenting on topical issues in your business or use it to set the agenda and raise relevant points. That will engage others to comment too.

*Decide on your tone of voice and how you want to come across. As mentioned above, you may want to be seen as an authority in your business sector. You also might want to come across in your blog as less formal and present a lighter touch as a way of getting others interested in your business. That’s fine too, but think carefully about how others inside and outside of your business will view your blog if you take a more idiosyncratic approach.

*Not every blog should be a full-on sales pitch. Be more subtle and use it to inform your reader about something extra about your product or service. For instance, you may take it for granted where your raw materials come from, but to others this might be a fascinating nugget of ‘insider’ information. Again a story and some additional insight can be part of a much more softly-softly long term campaign approach.

*It’s hard if you have to produce a regular blog to a set deadline. You might struggle to find something fresh or interesting to say. But don’t waffle for the sake of it. It’s better to keep the blog short and work on a single idea rather than allowing it to turn an unfocused rant. Impose your own word limit - in my opinion anything between 500-600 words is ideal.

 

Adrian Monti

Journalist and MD of The Sentence Works

Six ways to get a letter printed in the paper

I had a letter published in my local newspaper yesterday. It’s only the second one I’ve ever written to them, and I have a 100% success rate so far.

Without trying to sound smug, I was confident it would be published without any changes – and it was.  After all, I train companies in letter writing techniques, soit would be pretty embarrassing if I couldn’t manage to write a good one myself.

So how do you go about writing a good letter for publication? Here are some techniques that I used when writing mine.

1)      Make it topical and relevant. My letter was in response to a story in that day’s paper about the council considering changing school holiday dates.

2)   Write an attention grabbing intro, explaining why your opinion is relevant.

3)   Use words that fit the style of the publication you’re writing for.  Local papers like words like “ludicrous” which are unambiguous and (shh!) slightly exaggerated. I also included a couple of puns at the end.

4)  Write in short, clear sentences.  The average number of words per sentence in my letter is 16, with a word length of just 4.3 characters. The language used is simple and straightforward.

5)   Back up your argument.  I’ve written that I don’t believe current proposals will work andadded some reasons why not.

6)   End it well. Don’t be too abrupt and don’t ramble.

So if you have something you want to sound off about, don’t hold back.  Just follow the tips above and you’ll see your name in print in no time.



How to use apostrophes with plurals

One mistake I see time and time again is apostrophes being used incorrectly with plurals. Many people are just not sure where the apostrophe needs to go when referring, for instance, to men, children and people.

The rule is actually pleasingly straightforward. With a singular word, most people know that the apostrophe goes after the thing or person in question for instance Cameron’s government, the child’s bedroom and Wenger’s Arsenal team.  It’s pretty straightforward - Cameron’s government means the government of Cameron.  Wenger’s team means the team belonging to Wenger.

And it’s exactly the same with plurals.  The children’s bedroom is the bedroom of the children. You don’t write the childrens’ bedroom because it isn’t the bedroom of the childrens. Similarly, it’s the people’s decision  not the peoples’ decisions. And it’s the men’s race not the mens’ race, because the plural of man is men, not mens.

How to write a brilliant opening paragraph

Every introductory paragraph is different, but all great intros have some things in common.

A good introduction (intro) will grab your attention, keep you reading and offer you the promise that you’re about to discover something you didn’t know before. So those opening words have got a fair bit of work to do.

As a journalist, I’m sometimes guilty of agonising a little bit too long over how to start an article. But I know I need to get it right or the rest of the piece is unlikely to be read.

There are several ways you can make that all important intro become extremely effective when you write.

Firstly, you want your opening line to hook your reader so they carry on reading what you’ve written. With that in mind, don’t just trot out a well-used line you’ve seen somewhere else, or one that’s full of clichés and lazy phrases. Try to be more inspired and make it sound fresh.

When you’re thinking about your intro, avoid words or phrases that are going to cause some of your readers to switch off. So don’t put in industry jargon, technical speak or obscure acronyms that those outside of your business world won’t understand, especially if you’re trying to appeal to a broader audience.

You also don’t want to bore your readers, so keep that opening sentence relatively short and succinct by cutting out any waffle. Don’t try to  squeeze loads of information into the opening line either.

A good ploy for an intro  is to tell the reader something they didn’t already know. A really interesting fact you have discovered in your research or a  quote (or a part of it) can often be effective too.

Try to avoid repeating the headline in your intro. Even if it’s really clever, does it really need saying again straight away? Instead try to make sure the opening line develops the topic and adds more to it.

Finally, try to make your writing topical. Ask yourself why are you writing it right now. Is it to promote a new product or service? If so, focus on the ‘new’ and ‘now’ if that’s the strongest angle that needs highlighting.

But remember, sitting at your keyboard trying to dream up that perfect intro doesn’t always work. Sometimes it’s a better idea to stick down a fairly pedestrian intro just to get you started. Having a blank screen can be daunting, but if you have a line or two of text there, it can get you going more easily.

It means once you’ve got further into your writing, you can return to that troublesome intro and improve it. You’ll be surprised how often you come up with the perfect first sentence just as you’ve written your last.

Top tops to writing a great intro

*Make it attention grabbing.

*Avoid clichés.

*Make it succinct.

*Tell the reader something they didn’t already know.

*Give it a topical feel.

                                                                                             by Adrian Monti

  

My favourite mnemonic

At the end of every Sentence Works course, we have a little section on spelling.  Although most people groan, it’s actually one of the most entertaining parts of the day.  It’s also the time I get the doughnuts out, which helps too.

Now, I can’t teach people to spell in 15 minutes flat – if I could I’d be a very rich woman – but what I can do it to give delegates strategies on how to remember the words that trip them up.

A mnemonic (ironically a word that is hard to spell) is a technique to help you remember information – spelling, in this case.  Put simply, mnemonics are memory joggers or little tricks to help you to remember how to spell a word.

My 10 year old son kept spelling the word “want” as “whant” (not as daft as it sounds if you think of the word “what”). So I came up with a mnemonic for him – I want Watford to win.  As you can see, the “wa” appears in both want and Watford. This works in our household as I have been a huge fan of the Hornets for 35 years and even my Brighton-loving sons are beginning to come round.  Non Watford fans (and I believe there are many) can replace it with I want Watford to lose.

We all have words we struggle with. I could never spell the word surprise until I told myself to stop being surprised there was an r in it. Ta-da! I’ve never got it wrong since. My husband always gets muddled up with staring and starring.  To help him remember the double r in starring, he told himself he’d like to see a film starring Robert Redford. Bingo again.

I ask delegates to bring in words that they struggle to spell, and we always see if we can come up with a mnemonic to help. My favourite one was a delegate who brought in the word diarrhoea. I can now spell that word without the aid of spellcheck, because the brilliant group came up with

 DIARy of a Really HOrrible Experience Anally.

 And now you know that, you’ll never spell it incorrectly again.