Business writers are an anxious bunch. Unlike creative writers free from corporate limitations, business writers constantly worry about objective and message and tone of voice and must-haves and must-nots. It’s surprising we come up with any original thoughts. Here therefore are 12 online resources I use to inspire me, sense-check my copy and reassure myself I’m not going mad.
By the way, when I say business writers I mean people who work in PR, marketing, advertising, communications, etc. and write copy for press releases, blog posts, emailers, web pages, ads, etc. We’re not talking about creative writing here. I might cover that in a future post.
So, in no particular order…
OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY www.oed.com
Let me be clear (oh dear, I’ve lapsed into political rhetoric), there is no substitute for having the biggest, fattest, heaviest physical dictionary you can afford sitting right there in front of you on your desk. Not only is it generally faster to find what you’re looking for (particularly if you’re easily distracted by pop-up ads for those really gorgeous boots you’d seen on ASOS), you also get lots of usage examples and explanations.
However, with people working as much (or even more) on trains, in hotels and under duress, an online dictionary is a must – as really bad copywriters say. And none is better than the OED.
Widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language, the OED is a guide to the meaning, history and pronunciation of 600,000 words (past and present) from across the English-speaking world. Its digital companion, OED Online, is updated every three months.
GUARDIAN AND OBSERVER STYLE GUIDE www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-a
This site is primarily aimed at the newspaper group’s own staff but it’s a godsend for business writers, too. Brilliant for checking how to write abbreviations and acronyms, what you should do about hyphenated words, whether to use ‘last’ or ‘past’ and thousands of other style and usage queries.
Plus, if you follow @guardianstyle on Twitter, some awfully nice grammarian will answer any usage question you post – even the really silly ones – with only a slight hint of irony. E.g. Question: “Is Boris Johnson a Silly Billy or silly-billy?” Answer: “He’s a silly billy. And that’s being generous.”
DAILY WRITING TIPS www.dailywritingtips.com
As the name suggests, Daily Writing Tips provides one writing tip per day by email. What I find really useful is all the tips come with real examples from newspapers, universities, speakers, etc.
Go onto the website and you’ll find masses of advice on grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, letter templates, etymology, usage, pretty much everything you’d ever need to know about written and spoken English.
Sign up for free daily emails or pay $4.99 a month and get even more resources, including daily articles and exercises, exercise archives, writing courses and a whopping great list of writing jobs.
PROFESSIONAL COPYWRITERS NETWORK www.procopywriters.co.uk
The Professional Copywriters’ Network (PCN) is an online community of professional copywriters in the UK. (You can’t beat using the obvious when it comes to naming your business. Yes, yes. I know. I should have called myself Copywriting Services Marlow.)
While it is the “largest membership organisation for commercial writers in the UK”, it’s not an official body like the Chartered Institute of Marketing or the Society of Editors and Proofreaders (see below). There’s no code of conduct or membership criteria to meet so you don’t necessarily get professional credibility from your membership. However, there are loads of other plusses.
You can network with other business writers and learn from their experiences. There’s some really good advice on the blog, a resources page where you can download contracts and briefing forms, and a useful guide on what to charge for copywriting services.
Membership is from £3 per month. Pro Members also get discounts on training, insurance and office space, as well as a priority listing in the directory and access to the Find a Job page.
SOCIETY FOR EDITORS AND PROOFREADERS www.sfep.org.uk
If you’re looking to improve your editing and proofreading skills (or are an editor and proofreader and want to promote your services), the Society for Editors and Proofreaders is the site for you.
Membership costs from £50 (plus an initial processing fee) and includes training, publications, events and the all-important directory. But non-members can still learn a lot from the site’s resources, which include proofreading symbols, tips, interesting blog articles from members and even proofreading tests.
COPYWRITING ACADEMY www.copywritingacademy.co.uk
This is run by a seasoned and well-respected copywriter, Andy Maslen. I’m sure Andy won’t mind me saying that the site’s main function is to sell training courses. But like all good web copywriters, Andy knows that one of the best ways to get people to your site (and stay there for more than a nanosecond) is to give them free stuff.
Andy’s blog is packed full of advice, all done in the inimitable Andy Maslen way. If nothing else, his style and humour is a joy to read. Start with The Copywriter’s Prayer.
BBC JOURNALISM ACADEMY www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism
Ah. The BBC. Where would we be without it? Whenever I doubt myself, I go (or lead others) to the Good Old BBC Academy.
I don’t imagine the Director General intended the Journalism Academy to be a free resource for commercial writers (it’s clearly intended for BBC journalists) but it’s an excellent resource nonetheless. You’ll find loads of advice on grammar, spelling and punctuation with excellent examples to illustrate the rules.
If you’re in the business of writing press releases, take heed of the news style guide and eliminate those clichés, unnecessary adjectives and journo-speak.
NIELSEN NORMAN GROUP www.nngroup.com/topic/writing-web/
If you’re writing web copy, head over to NN/g. I stumbled across this site many years ago (probably when googling “help, my client is paying me a lot of money to write web copy and I haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m doing”) and have raved about it ever since.
Don’t let its rather old-fashioned design put you off. There’s loads of invaluable advice, information and research on here – including the famous eye-tracking studies that everyone uses to show how people read online.
ABC COPYWRITING BLOG www.abccopywriting.com/blog
ABC Copywriting is owned by copywriter Tom Albrighton, founder of the Professional Copywriters Network. Like Andy Maslen, Tom hascottoned on to the fact that people stay on your website when you give them great advice for free. Not only does the home page demonstrate the difference between ‘ordinary’ writing and copywriting in the most original way I’ve ever seen, the blog is stuffed with informative articles on writing and marketing. I urge you to read Put some rhythm in your copy.
GRAMMAR GIRL www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl
It was my daughter who pointed me towards Grammar Girl, probably because it is, as it proclaims, "Your friendly guide to the world of grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language."
Grammar Girl is part of Quick and Dirty Tips and a brilliant resource for checking grammar, syntax, punctuation and usage. What I particularly like is the length of the entries. You get enough detail to make you understand the rules and, like Daily Grammar Tips, lots of really good examples. Take a look at How to use semicolons.
I really ought to send some money to Hubspot one day. I’ve probably used this site more than any other to research content for my training courses. (All credit always given to the author, of course.)
Hubspot calls itself an “inbound marketing software platform that helps companies attract visitors, convert leads and close customers”. (They’re American. They’re allowed to use words like that.)
The blog is stuffed with incredibly well researched articles on every aspect of sales and marketing. And I mean every. As well as getting trustworthy advice, you also improve your writing by soaking up their brilliant writing. It’s a win-win. (And another dreadful cliché.)
Modesty aside, my blog isn’t a bad resource for business writers. I research my thoughts on writing and back up my opinions with examples, evidence and advice from people I trust and admire.