Copywriting for media and corporates – style guides

The writing styles for journalism and corporate writing are becoming more alike but there are still differences.  Both are becoming more casual and accessible to succeed online, both need to grab readers. But the differences are important. What should you think about? Which rules and guidelines should you follow?

If you’re in the UK, The Economist’s style guide is probably the best known rule book to use if you are writing for the media. It’s now a successful book in its own right, full of humour and wisdom. As their writers very sensibly say, “clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought”.

Similarly, in the US, there are equivalent guides. I know of one American business publisher that still uses “The Elements of Style” to guide its writers and contributors. I find it fascinating because this book was written over 100 years ago. Yet it is still a perfectly valid authority on good writing in the modern online publishing world. If you don’t believe me, buy yourself a copy to look! It’s a small but fairly advanced textbook explaining how to write English correctly with an element of style as well.

As far as I can see, English grammar is mostly the same for US English and UK English. The chief differences are in the spelling of certain words – for example “realise” in the UK becomes “realize” in America – and attitudes to the Oxford comma are different, the Americans are more fond of them than we are. I hear that Canada has its own very subtly different version of English as well.

Journals and magazines need to adopt a style that is clear and correct, and most publications and editors work to a house style, even if it is just assumed and not formally written down.

Copywriting for brand personality

Writing style is slightly different for companies and their marketing departments. Some companies use a style guide for their written content, which is really an extension of the  guidelines they use for the use of their brand and logo.

They may want their content written in a particular “tone of voice”. This is quite a subtle part of a brand, but very important. Unless you take writing seriously and observe different writing styles, you probably don’t notice the tone of the writing, but the reader is likely to feel the difference in their subconscious.

Writing words and sentences differently can create different effects. You can vary the length of your sentences. You can choose between short words and longer Latin derived words. Like this, you can create a casual or formal style. And altering the order of the words and phrases is an interesting way to change the emphasis of a sentence and highlight a particular message.

Add to these choices the discipline of writing for the web. For the web, writing needs to be super clear so that it’s accessible to skim-readers and it needs to bring SEO success. For SEO it is said you should write as if you are writing for a child – that means using simple words and sentence structures. Probably the same is true of writing for very busy adults. How often are we multi-tasking, or keeping an eye on something else while we read?

And in advertising copy it is OK to be informal. It is quite common to break certain rules, even though you may have been taught that you should never start a sentence with “and”.

Aids like Yoast and spell-checkers are doing more and more to help us write clearly for humans and SEO. But beware of spellcheckers.  If you accidently write “our greed fee”  instead of  “our agreed fee” – well! Word will not notice anything amiss!

Copywriting for PR

In PR, we are writing text for companies, which is going to be published by editors, so we need to keep one foot firmly in each camp.

Most companies are leaning towards a more modern informal style of communicating. It’s several decades since it was normal to start your press release with: “Our company (insert your name here) is delighted to announce..”

As well as style, editors are looking for certain kinds of stories – those that make a “good read”. This is because their success depends on keeping their readers engaged. And their tone of voice is normally that of an impartial observer or third party commentator. It is different for companies. Companies have something to sell. They need to display their brand personality and create the right relationship with their readers.

So much thought and effort goes into copywriting!

If you need a copywriter to support your marketing, please contact me at info@technologypr.co.uk.

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