As a copywriter with nearly 20 years of experience, I am well placed to list the top five grammar concerns of clients. Other copywriters who may stumble across this blog will most likely feel similarly. This list is not exhaustive, and is my educated guesstimation of the most commonly asked grammar questions. These have been compiled from clients over the years and London, Milton Keynes and Northampton copywriting staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
The top five grammar concerns:
- Capital letters. I must admit every time I am asked to capitalise a job title I desperately want to shout “NO!” But truth be known, when I started out in my very first copywriting job I was asked to use upper case for job titles. However, put simply, it’s just not correct. As a general rule, I point clients and writers in my Northampton copywriter collective to The Economists’ style guide. When you mention this and the BBC, there is generally less to argue about. There are a number of rules on capitalisation, so I intend to post on this topic soon.
- Apostrophes. One of my clients, who shall of course remain nameless, laughed when I produced a set of reminder cards on the correct use of apostrophes. To stick up near your computer, I said! Being the fun person she is, she saw the positive in this offer to help. Other times, I have had clients incorrectly correct my use of apostrophes. I can see why apostrophes are confusing. So I’ve another post on the subject that hopefully makes some of the rules clearer.
- That or which? Perhaps this should be extended to: That, which or who? This is also worthy of a post of its own. In short, however, ‘that’ refers to a thing, ‘who’ refers to a person and ‘which’ is designed to give the reader more information. In technical terms, ‘that’ should be used when you have what’s called a restrictive clause. This means your sentence contains limited information: ‘Any keyboard that works well is worth keeping.’ If you read it out loud and then replace ‘that’ with ‘which’ – and then read aloud again you should hear the difference. By comparison, ‘which’ is used for nonrestrictive clauses (offering extra information): ‘The keyboard, which was secondhand, was worth keeping.’
- Commas. To comma or not to comma, that is often the question. Personally, I am a fan of clean copywriting. By this I mean the fewer the hyphens, commas and added extras, the easier it looks to read. I’m sure most designers would agree. However, I also know the comma is vital. And there are more rules for the use of the comma than I have space for here. The easiest way to consider your use of commas is to ask: where do I want my reader to pause? The featured picture articulates this perfectly.
- S versus Z. As an Australian copywriter who has worked in Sydney, New York City and London, I’ve had to get used to both sides of this spelling conundrum. Strictly speaking, if you live and work in the UK, you should use UK spelling. So ‘capitalise’ not ‘capitalize’ and ‘programme’ not ‘program’. The easiest way to sort this out is to set your spell check to UK spelling (visit Tools/Language in Word). Now, if you are in the UK working for a US-based company, it can get tricky. In this situation, I always ask if there is a house style rule that requires US spelling. And then I ask who the reader will be. If your writing is being read by an American or published in the States, it makes sense to use US spelling.
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