Wednesday, August 15, 2007

sample edit for a training firm

I just found a business website that describes a company's trademarked training program for business writing.

The training program looks innovative and compelling. The site is visually appealing, and the copy is reasonably clean - but there are occasional errors that detract from the site's overall professionalism.

Here's one example:

Developed at Harvard and Columbia Universities in the late 1960's, the unique, research-based methodology, [name withheld] has become a world leading best-practice for creating high-quality, structured content that is easy to use, reuse, and maintain. These easy-to-learn, field-proven solutions have helped leading commercial and government organizations worldwide improve performance, solve information-intensive business challenges, and achieve long-term, measurable results.

There are two long, information-heavy sentences in the above paragraph, and the meaning of the first sentence becomes unclear due to a misplaced comma.

In addition, the use of hyphens in copy throughout the site is uneven, as in illustrated in one instance above. (Hint: compound modifiers should be hyphenated to improve clarity. Don't unnecessarily hyphenate the noun that is modified.)

An optional correction would be to remove the apostrophe in "1960's," as recommended in most contemporary style guides.

Here's the corrected copy:

Developed at Harvard and Columbia Universities in the late 1960s, the unique, research-based methodology known as [name withheld] has become a world-leading best practice for creating high-quality, structured content that is easy to use, reuse and maintain. These easy-to-learn, field-proven solutions have helped leading commercial and government organizations worldwide improve performance, solve information-intensive business challenges, and achieve long-term, measurable results.

If this is your company's website, you should be commended on its clean, simple design. The writing is very good - no doubt a testament to your valuable training method. But you should have someone proofread the site and correct the occasional style errors.

sample copy editing for a training consultant

I just found this training consultant's website. He has fantastic energy and ideas, but his site isn't easy to read - which is interesting, because he also offers seminars on business writing skills!

The ideas are definitely great. Here's an example:

Make it short. Make it count. Business writing is a specialized skill. You can master it. Spend one day with [name withheld] at his Business Writing Skills Workshop. You'll learn how to make your writing come alive. How to grab and hold your reader's attention.

Further down the same page, however, the reader gets bogged down:

You will learn how to get to the point... Quickly
Spot and correct basic writing faults
Choose words that command atttention and hold interest
Organize your writing to invite readers
Make better use of computers... Word processors and e-mail


Those are all great points. But this writer has a strange quirk - he writes like Capt. James T. Kirk talks... with... unnecessary ellipses and... Unnecessary random... Capitalizations. (There's also a typo in the third line.)

A better way to present the above guidelines might be:

You will learn how to get to the point - quickly.
Spot and correct basic writing faults.
Choose words that command attention and hold interest.
Organize your writing to invite readers in.
Make better use of computers, word processors and e-mail.

(Notice how the periods at the end of each line anchor the ideas, and help the reading flow.)

There are more examples of random ellipses further down the same page. Here's a collection of the offenders:

Five guidelines for Clear... Fast reading
Use Simple... Familiar words
Avoid affectation... It's weak

Talk to your reader with - You... We... I
Use message / comment format to organize your thinking

The above should be changed to the following for greater clarity:

Five guidelines for clear, fast reading.
Use simple, familiar words.
Avoid affectation - it's weak.
Talk to your reader with words like: You... We... I...
Use a message/comment format to organize your thinking.

All-in-all, it's not a horrible site. The layout is simple, and the text is informative, large and easy to read. The colour scheme looks amateurish, but again - it's simple. Once this fellow gets rid of his offending ellipses and Capitalizations, he'll be well on his way to having a site that reflects the professionalism he wishes to project.

I would recommend that this consultant hire a good copywriter to tidy up his website's copy, and also hire a web designer to create a more sophisticated appearance for the site.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

sample copy editing for a marketing company

The copy discussed below is taken from a direct marketing company's website. It's a great example of jargon-filled persuasive copywriting.

It was also written by someone with poor storytelling skills. As a result, the copy doesn't grab the readers' attention and pull us into the narrative. (Pretty poor advertising for a marketing company, wouldn't you say?)

If this is your company, you have a great-looking site. The visuals are lush and compelling, and the site navigation is relatively straightforward.

(You might want to get rid of the links to images without text, though. They're confusing, and ultimately frustrate anyone trying to discover more about your company.)

Here's a sample of the copy from the homepage:

[Company name withheld] is a leading marketing firm with expertise, knowledge and experience in the fields of advertising, marketing and communications. Our versatility has allowed us to grow successfully, developing close working partnerships with our clients in the process. The skills and expertise of our team mean that we can, and do, deliver effective and strategic solutions on time and within budget; but, perhaps the greatest benefit to our clients is the innovation and resources that we can access to ensure that each project is tailored to the specific needs of individual clients.

[Company name withheld]'s clients can be any one. No client is too small if you are a growing company. Our clients can be a wide cross-section of markets including agriculture, construction, engineering, local authorities, manufacturing, professional service providers, property, recruitment and retail.

The diversity of these clients is equally matched by the diversity of services that they require. As a true "communications" agency, [company name withheld] has both the capacity and capabilities to meet these requirements, in both above and below the line marketing services.


There's a minefield of mediocre writing here. No spelling errors, but several awkward sentences, as well as the above-mentioned overdose of sales jargon, and some poor punctuation. To top it all off, the copy looks sloppy because there's an extra space between "close" and "working" in the first paragraph, and the copywriter has chosen to double-space after each period, which is no longer standard style for most print media.

The first sentence is an overdose of description. Words have more impact when there are fewer of them. If a reader has to wade through several, repetitive, long-winded, unnecessary words that trip, stall, bog down and bemuse the reader, the reader will start to forget your initial, strong, well-intentioned and important meaning, intent and point.

I wish more business writers would strive for clarity and simplicity. Here's what I hope they meant to say:

[Company name withheld] is a marketing firm that leads through versatility. With knowledge and experience in the fields of advertising, marketing and communications, we have grown into a company which can deliver specially-tailored strategic solutions to meet the needs of our most important partners - our clients.

No client is too small. Our clients come from a wide cross-section of markets, including agriculture, construction, engineering, local authorities, manufacturing, professional service providers, real estate, recruitment and retail. [Company name withheld] will work closely with you to ensure that your project is delivered on time, and on budget. Our innovation and resources create success.

The diversity of our clients is matched by the diversity of the services they require. As a true "communications" agency, [company name withheld] can meet those requirements, in both above- and below-the-line marketing services.

Of course, the deeper problem with the above copy is that it still leaves the reader wondering exactly what this company does. I had to look up the term "below-the-line marketing," and I'm still not sure what it means.

Why is it important to create clear and simple copy on your website? Your site may be the first point of contact with potential clients. And if your website copy is sloppy and incomprehensible, it could leave a very unfavorable impression.

I would recommend that this marketing firm hire a good copywriter to proofread and edit their existing website copy. If I were the copywriter, I would sit down with the management and spend some time discussing this company's own mission, vision, branding and strategy.

sample copy editing for a moving company

The copy discussed below is from a moving and storage company's website. The site is nicely designed, clean, and very easy to navigate.

If this is your company, you should be commended on the great information you've included on your site, including packing tips and pointers for clients anticipating a move.

The copy on your site could be improved by putting spaces (or breaks) between all paragraphs, and shortening some of your longer paragraphs so that the copy is easier for a potential client to read. (Long, dense paragraphs should be avoided.)

I found several spelling errors throughout the site, including at least one on the home page ("About Us"). The word "employee's" should not have an apostrophe. The correct plural is "employees."

I also found several awkward sentences or paragraphs throughout the site, including the following:

Every year [company name withheld] moves thousands of families into new homes and hundreds of corporations into new office space. [Company name withheld] has a reputation for excellence, a reputation built on three basic principles: We provide friendly and reliable service by carefully screening all of our employees we ensure that you get the most dedicated, responsible and service oriented professional in the business.

We are a quality driven, full service organization dedicated to provide our customers with the attention that they demand and deserve.

Our experienced sales team takes the time to listen, which enables them to work with you and to provide the most competitive package that's right for your needs and the moving plan that best suits your budget

In the first sentence, a comma is needed for clarity, and the word "space" should be plural. In the second sentence, the comma is not strong enough - a dash would be preferable. And the list of company principles which follows should be numbered. Without numbers, the valuable points get lost.

As well, the wording of the first point is awkward. Hyphens are needed for the all compound modifiers, and the word "professional" should be pluralized. There's a verb agreement error in the second point. The last sentence should be rewritten, and there's a period missing at the end.

The improved copy would look like this:

Every year [company name withheld] moves thousands of families into new homes, and hundreds of corporations into new office spaces. [Company name withheld] has a reputation for excellence - a reputation built on three basic principles:

1) We provide friendly and reliable service by carefully screening all of our employees to ensure that you get the most dedicated, responsible and service-oriented professionals in the business.

2) We are a quality-driven, full-service organization dedicated to providing our customers with the attention they demand and deserve.

3) Our experienced sales team takes the time to listen, which enables them to work with you to provide the most competitive package that's right for your needs, and the moving plan which best suits your budget.


Why is it important to make corrections like these on your site? Your website may be the first point of contact with potential clients. You obviously value and promote high standards in your business. You have created a beautiful website. But your website copy is sloppy and full of errors, which could leave a very unfavorable impression on potential clients.

I would recommend that you hire a copywriter to proofread and edit your existing copy.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

new site feature

I frequently send out proposals to small businesses, hoping to interest them in my website editing and proofreading services. I've often wished I had a quick and easy way to show them online just how much better their copy could look.

I was editing a client's website recently, flipping back and forth between the back pages of the site and the site itself, when it suddenly hit me - I could post short proposals on this blog, and then send prospective clients the link! Not only would they get to see their improved copy online, but other readers could also benefit from the corrections I suggested.

Look for this new feature soon!