The latest internet marketers’ goof

rogersgeorge on September 18th, 2009

Internet marketers are infamous for being careless about their writing. They say, “Hubba hubba, get the message out, don’t get hung up on the details” (I’m not quoting anyone, but this is a common message). Ever hear the saying, “The devil is in the details”? When you are careless about little things, you advertise (true or not) that you are careless about big things.

This seems to be the mistake du jour:

Peek—to look at something, especially in a secretive manner. A Staples ad in my inbox has it right: They want me to take a sneak peek at their latest ad. I’m not distracted by any bad writing, so I’m free to be curious. Maybe I’ll take a look when I finish this tirade against  people shooting themselves in the foot.

Peak—The top of a mountain, the best of something. I see an email subject at this moment: the guy wants me to peak at some DNA. Its PEEK, folks!

Pique—to arouse, especially interest or curiosity. One doofus recently wanted to peek my interest in his product. Not from an illiterate, thanks.

These are second-grade words (okay, maybe “pique” is ninth grade). Advertise your products, not your ignorance!

Harrumpf.

I hope you have something to say about this. Leave a comment. If you’re motivated to improve your writing, fill in the form on the right to learn some ways to make sure you don’t commit these atrocities.

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Just simply DON’T!

rogersgeorge on September 16th, 2009

How often should you use “just” and “simply” when you write instructions?

Almost never.

Look a a few examples. In every case, not only do you not change the meaning when you remove these offending words, but the result is cleaner, faster, tighter, easier. The fewer distractions you give your readers, the better your writing.

“Just put your money in the box.”                           “Put your money in the box.”
“Just turn left when you see the sign.”                     “Turn left when you see the sign.”
“To accept the document, simply click ‘I Accept’ ”      “To accept the document, click ‘ I Accept.’ ”
Just simply eliminate these useless words.                Eliminate these useless words.

Simple, isn’t it?

When do you use these words?

  • Use “just” to refer to the immediate past. “He just stepped off the plane.”
  • Use “simple” to say that something is not complicated, but I can’t think of a simple example for “simply.”

In the next hour you will see a few examples of this misuse out there in the wild. Maybe you’ll find a useful use of “simply.” Come back and share in the comment box (click “Add a comment” below this post). If you want some good general advice about writing, fill in the form on the right.

Can you? May you? Might you?

rogersgeorge on September 9th, 2009

On traffic signs you see “Bridge may be icy” meaning that the bridge might be icy. Now “may” has only three letters, and highway signs don’t have much real estate, so the shorter word (ahem) might be justified. People seem to want to retreat from admitting that an event is only possible, so they use “may” to make what they say sound more polite. Or weaker. When you write expositorily—to convey information, facts, instructions, directions, or anything more formal than an email to a buddy, I recommend you be explicit—use these words precisely. Say what you mean!

May—Something has permission. You may show up any time after noon. You may watch TV after you finish your homework. You may not go out with the boys unless you bring me along.

Can—Something is able. Goats can butt. You can wash your hands and still have germs on them. You can watch TV, but it will rot your brain. I know you can fix the washing machine, but how long will it take?

Might—Something is possible. If traffic is heavy, you might be late. You might want to watch TV, but you may not, if you can’t get your work done.

You might find some room for variation, and you may certainly appeal to poetic license, but if you can, you should say exactly what you mean.

Now it’s your turn. Got any bad examples you love to hate? You may post a comment to this post and share it with us. I know you can, and some of you might. Look at the writing techniques on the right.

(Okay, no more bad rhymes.)

Which one is That?

rogersgeorge on September 3rd, 2009

“Which” is slightly more high-falutin’ than plain old “that,” so people, especially in business, tend to use “which” when they should use “that.” Let’s strive for clear communication, here, folks, not snootiness.

Which—are you making an aside, a remark that supplies extra (not necessary) information? Then use a comma and “which.” For example: “The steamboat, which was chugging across the harbor, capsized.” Sorry for the grim example, but it’s made up, so no one was hurt. All that “which” does is add some information about the steamboat. The sentence would have the same meaning without it. “The steamboat capsized.”

That—Are you giving extra information that’s necessary? Then you need “that.” Suppose you had several steamboats, and you need to identify the one that capsized. “The steamboat that was chugging across the harbor capsized.” No commas, either.

Bonus info: You don’t have to use commas to set off the aside. You can use parentheses or dashes. For example: “Correct use of asides (which I hope you learn) makes your writing more lucid.”

Extra bonus: If you use MS Word, and have the grammar checker turned on, it just about always gives you the correct recommendation on this one.

Maybe you can come up with better examples of this. Put them in the comments, and if you haven’t already, download my five basics over there on the right.