Two nations, one language? Well, kind of. While Britain and the USA share English as their main language, there are also lingual differences that separate them and cause all manner of cultural confusion. And then on top of that you have regional accents…
Most people know that there are several spelling differences between British and American English, as well as totally different words, but might not be au fait with them. I have spent many years as a proofreader and editor working on "American" texts and soon got to learn the variations – which were more than I first realized. (I'm from England and know from experience "American English" is more straightforward than the British English I had to learn in school.)
So, let's look at those differences. In order to make them clearer, I'll list them into categories, starting with the two most common differences, “-ise” and “-ize” and “-our” and “-or” spellings.
-ise and -ize
British people write “realise”, “visualise” and “stigmatise” and American write “realize”, “visualize” and “stigmatize”. It should be noted, however, that British English is increasingly using the “ize” spelling. You'll find many "-ize" suffixes in The Oxford Dictionary. I tend to refer to The Oxford Dictionary when proofreading and editing "British English" texts.
-our and -or
This is a common difference between British and American spellings. Britons write “colour”, “favour”, “honour” and “neighbour”, whereas Americans write “color”, “favor”, “honor” and “neighbour”. The words are, however, pronounced the same regardless of the spellings.
There are also some lesser-known differences:
-re and –er
In London you would visit a theatre in the centre of town only a few metres from your flat. In New York you would visit a theater in the center of town only a few meters from your apartment.
-ce and -se
In American English the “se” spelling is used for these words: defense, offense, pretense. However, in British English the spellings are: defence, offence and pretence.
-yse and -yze
In addition to that, there are also differences between words ending in “yse” and “yze”. In British English the “yse” ending prevails – analyse, paralyse, and in America, the “yze” endings are used – analyze and paralyze.
Oe and ae
There are further differences in the use or “oe” and “ae”. In British English, for example, we say “oestrogen” and “aesthetic” whereas in the United States the spellings are “estrogen” and “esthetic”. Notice that both words begin with “e”.
The dropped “e”
American English tends to drop the “e” in many of its spellings, preferring “aging” to British English’s “ageing” and “likable” instead of “likeable”.
-ogue and -og
In British English we refer to a dialogue or a catalogue, but in America it is a dialog or a catalog. Notice that the “ue” is skipped entirely in American English.
In Britain there are travellers who like travelling because it fulfils them, whereas in America there are travelers who like traveling because it fulfills them. Note how double consonants appear and disappear in each example.
Men in England have moustaches, whereas men in America have mustaches. In Britain people like to watch TV programmes, but in America they watch TV programs. A person in Britain will pay their bills by cheque, but an American will write a check. British people have autumn, whereas Americans have fall.
One language, many differences!
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Clichés can kill your copy stone dead. Your copy will read as dull as ditchwater. Instead, you want your words to be as light as a feather…
I’ll stop there as you can clearly see Orwell’s point. Clichés suck the life out of your copy. And that includes overuse of the exclamation mark, and the words “exciting” and “fantastic”. Don’t try and stir up a frenzy of fake excitement. Think of them as hot chilies – use them sparingly.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Yes, in copy size does matter. Short words create better writing, they’re easier to read and they pack more of a punch. It’s all about simplicity. The simpler your language is, the easier and faster it is to read. Sales copy is not the place to amaze your readers with your extensive vocabulary or Scrabble-winning words.
So, write “free” instead of “complimentary”. Use “buy” instead of “purchase”. Use Anglo-Saxon English and ditch the more flowery Latin equivalent. Shorter words affect us more emotionally – and when it comes to buying, people tend to be more in tune with their hearts than their heads.
3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
Edit your copy like a surgeon and cut out any superfluous words. It might take a few ruthless revisions, but it’s worth the effort.
After all, do you need so many “very” and “really”? Do you need to use “that” so often? Give them the chop if you can. Why write “At this moment in time” when “now” is even better? Discard unnecessary words and as a result your writing is more likely to hit the mark.
4. Never use a passive where you can use an active.
Orwell believed active sentences are more lively and personal. They have more oomph and energy.
Compare the active sentence “Millions of men use SupaVit” with its passive alternative “SupaVit is used by millions of men”. The passive sentence is lethargic, tired. It’s not up and about getting noticed and read.
Active sentences also tend to be shorter (remember size matters). Long sentences are just as counterproductive in sales copy as long words. So make sure your verbs are all active and working hard, not lounging around like teenagers with a hangover.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
I’m stating the obvious here: Your writing must be clear to your readers. Otherwise, they won’t read it. No one likes to read something they don’t understand. It’s not good for the ego.
Jargon is as bad as a cliché. It can make your reader feel like an outsider, stupid or not your intended audience.
Your sales copy will be much better and more accessible if you use simpler language. Show your reader some respect and consideration. You’re writing sales copy, not a PhD thesis. (I’ve proofread many theses in my time and they often break all the rules Orwell listed. See rule 6.)
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Well, rules are meant to be broken (excuse the cliché).
Bear in mind the six rules, but also be aware that your biggest challenge is to write in a friendly, down-to-earth way. You should write as you speak, like you are talking to a friend.
Your copy should be like well-organized but natural speech, with a faultless flow. This is much easier with shorter words and sentences.
Remember, you are trying to build a relationship with your reader. You want them to like you. Impress them with how you can help them, not your elaborate language.
KHO LANGUAGE SERVICES and ACABUS form partnership to bring comprehensive career enhancement services to students and business professionals around the world
KHO Language Services and AcaBus Solutions are proud to announce their partnership, which combines their respective expertise in helping students and business professionals to establish and progress their careers.
The partnership will unite extensive experience and services in academic and business writing, recruitment, career coaching and consultancy – all of which ensure specialist guidance for clients throughout their academic and professional careers.
Together, AcaBus Solutions and KHO Language Services offer:
Academic Services: editing and proofreading services that ensure any type of academic text is polished and ready for publication or grading. One-to-one English language tuition is available to students and academics who use English as a second language (ESL) and wish to increase their competency and confidence, and their prospects. The extensive academic coaching and consultancy service offers tailor-made advice to help pave the way for clients’ successful academic or business careers.
Business Services: writing, copywriting, editing and proofreading of all types of business documents and for all types of businesses, from startups to established companies. The business coaching and consultancy services offer expert guidance to managers, business owners, leaders and all varieties of entrepreneurs in all fields like management, human resources, public relation, strategy, marketing, law, engineering, science etc. There is also a tailor-made business English tuition service for professionals who use English as a second language.
Elias Sander, Managing Director of AcaBus Solutions, said: ‘At AcaBus Solutions we are excited to join forces with KHO Language Services, as this venture will leverage our expertise by providing a more holistic range of solutions for our growing base of students and professionals seeking a more rounded range of services. This strategic partnership will also enhance the presence of AcaBus and KHO Language Services in our respective spheres of influence, supporting the growth of the venture and our companies in the process.’
Kay Hutchings-Olsson from KHO Language Services said: ‘The partnership is exciting because together both our companies provide a combination of in-depth services that help our clients progress throughout their academic career as well as their business life. We can help them every step of the way.’
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Think about the start, not the end
Note down when you need to complete the project and estimate how much time you need to complete it. Be honest with yourself and perhaps err on the side of caution and give yourself an extra day here and there. Try to not think about the end result, but focus instead on what you have time to do right here and now.
It's best to review your project each day to assess your progress and also to deal with any problems or queries. If your work is for a client, don't hesitate to contact them with any questions. Unanswered queries or any areas of uncertainty will only raise your stress levels and slow down your productivity, so make sure you have all the details you need in order to do the job well.
Break it all down
It's a good idea to break your project down into bite-sized steps. This stops you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of writing a twenty-page report or ten thousand words of copy. Taking manageable steps will soon add up and you will be surprised at how much you can accomplish.
Set a daily deadline
This leads on from breaking your project down into bite-sized steps. When you do this, make sure you set yourself a "mini-deadline" whereby you ensure that you complete certain areas of the project by specific times. This gives you a set structure to your work and will help to minimize your stress.
Work out your priorities
It goes without saying that you want to produce high quality work but if this goes hand-in-hand with missed deadlines, you not only risk losing clients but you also place unnecessary stress on yourself. Are you fussing over small, rather insignificant details to the detriment of the project as a whole? Perfectionism is something that we all strive for, yet it is elusive – we all feel that our work could be better if only we had more time.
So give yourself a break and strive instead to produce the best work you can in the time given but realize that perfectionism is usually the best friend of procrastination and therefore has no place in your work life! Focus instead on the most important areas of the project and give these the greater slice of your time. Then, if there is time left before the deadline is complete (and if you follow these guidelines, there should be) you can return to the more minor matters and tweak them until you are happy that they are completed.
Emails are an effective and convenient means of communicating information and have revolutionized how we operate in the business world.
Less intrusive than phone calls and faster than letters, it’s hard to imagine how any company could now operate without email. Business letters are becoming a thing of the past as more and more of us use emails as our primary means of communicating with clients, suppliers, customers and colleagues.
Although emailing can be as “chatty” as telephoning and far less formal than letter-writing, there are still some important rules to follow in order to make a good impression. Email etiquette is vital if you want your company to appear professional, helpful, approachable and, most of all, worth doing business with.
Follow these rules for email success:
• Always write an informative subject line – never leave it blank
• Make sure the email is personally addressed
• Separate each paragraph with a blank space so the text is easier to read
• Be clear and concise – long sentences are distracting and boring
• Quickly get to the point of your email
• Check your spelling and facts
• Never use only CAPITAL LETTERS
• Don’t use smiley faces or other emoticons (unless you know the recipient very well) or write your text in bright colours
• Never use emotive or offensive language
• Use a legible font and font size
• Make sure that all necessary files are attached
• Think twice before you click Reply to All – do you really want everyone on the list to read your reply?
• Don’t use email to discuss confidential information – no email is private
• Don’t use the abbreviations often found in text messages (i.e. “I would like 2 C U.”)
• End the email well with the next step clearly stated (i.e. “I look forward to your reply.”)
• Always proofread before you click Send!
Remember: your email can be forwarded to many people – that is why it is vital to make a good on-line impression. Use correct and courteous business language and take a little time to construct your message. After all, once you have clicked the Send button, it is too late to make any changes.
How do you know if your copy is good? Or bad? And how do you tell the difference? Well, follow these six easy tips and your copy will certainly fall into the “good” category.
1) Print out your copy
Staring at your copy on a computer screen can make it hard to spot errors. It is easier to detect mistakes on a printed page, especially if it’s your own writing. So print off your copy and settle back on the sofa with a cup of coffee for a little proofreading.
2) Read your copy out loud
When you read your copy aloud, you’ll hear any word repetitions, clumsy words, too-long sentences and general awkwardness in the text. Awkwardness is the last thing you want, because it means your reader will find it awkward too. Your aim is to write conversationally, as if writing to a friend. You don’t want to be formal. So, read out loud and check for anything that needs to be fixed.
3) Check for one type of edit at a time
You need to do different types of editing and it’s best to do this one at a time. For example, one type of editing should involve checking for spelling and grammar errors, missed out words such as “not”, or often-misused words such as “they’re, their, or there”. Also pay attention to missing or incorrect apostrophes.
The second type of editing is checking clarity and accuracy in your copy. Is your copy clear? Are there better (usually shorter) word choices that can make your writing punchier? And importantly, do you get your message across effectively? Do you need to use more examples to back up claims and clarify a point? Should you use more testimonials? Are there too many passive sentences when you should be using action verbs instead?
Focus on one editing task at a time so you can really zero in any areas that need work. Reading your copy aloud will help you do this.
4) Check for these 4 copywriting sins…
What are the four sins that can ruin your copy? They are:
1. Awkward – does the text run smoothly or not?
2. Confusing – is anything unclear?
3. Unbelievable – are there any facts that need checking?
4. Boring – is the text so dull in parts you stop reading?
You will need someone else to help you with this one. What you should do is give your copy to several people (if possible) and ask them to read it with the four sins in mind. Ask them to mark your text so you can then make any necessary changes. And ask them to be honest!
5) Make Use of Track Changes
If you use Word, Track Changes can be a big help. It allows you to track your editing as well as accept or reject any changes. And it’s very handy for keeping tabs on anyone else who is editing your work.
6) Check the readability
Word has another useful function – it enables you to check the “show readability statistics” under your preferences for Spelling and Grammar. This is a great tool when you are proofreading your copy.
Once Word has done a spelling and grammar check, a screen will flash up giving your text’s readability score. This score measures three things:
The first is your percentage of passive sentences. You want to make sure you have a lot more action verbs. Action verbs strengthen your copy while passive sentences weaken it.
The second is the Flesch reading ease. The best copywriters aim to keep this around 80% or better. This is not always possible, especially if your copy has many technical terms.
The third score is the Flesch-Kincaid grade level, which rates your copy according to U.S. school grade levels. You should aim for your copy to be at sixth grade level, no matter the age or intelligence of your audience. Keeping your text in this level makes your message easier to read.
So, these are the six tips. Follow each one and you’ll considerably improve the quality – and effectiveness – of your copy.
MLA, APA, CSE and Chicago* are the four main American English style guides used in academic writing.
Students and academic staff who use American English need to follow one of these standard styles, so it’s important that you are familiar with them. Also, be sure to tell your editor/proofreader which style you are using.
Click on the link below for more information:
Academic Writing: Referencing and Citation Style Guides – MLA, APA, CSE and Chicago
* Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association, Council of Science Editors Style, and Chicago Style.
I was very honored to be a part of Eric Basir's project, which involved translating and proofreading an eighteenth-century manuscript written in Swedish. And this was not any old manuscript - it was the diary of Gustav Badin, a black African slave who became a member of the Swedish Royal Court. It is a great artifact, detailing his experiences in Sweden, good and bad.
Eric has very kindly made available a free PDF version of the translated diary, and you can get it here.
His intention is that this diary will serve as an important historical document and can be used, without cost, by academics and students, as well as anyone interested in the fascinating life of Badin.
Eric was also interviewed by Radio Sweden and you can hear his interview about the diary here.
He mentions KHO Language Services, among others, thanking us for our help in bringing his project to fruition. Enjoy!
This article is another guest post I wrote for top career mentor, Bud Bilanich, who's asked me to write several articles on professional writing for his blog.
The 10 essential tips listed in my article apply to all kinds of writing, not just business communications – you can use them to structure your academic writing also.
You can read the whole article on Bud's blog here. Enjoy!
The Key Blog
Hello and welcome to The Key Blog! This is where you'll find information and tips on writing, proofreading, and the English language in general. Feel free to use the articles in your own e-zines, blogs or websites etc., as long as you include the resource box. Thank you!