Thank goodness for Mrs Sweet, Mrs Hooper and the staffroom in general
I’ve been thinking of late how much I owe to the lessons at school that I didn’t really appreciate at the time.
During lockdown I’ve reacquainted myself with my exceedingly dusty sewing machine. Quite honestly, if I hadn’t been taught by the terrifying Mrs Sweet about how to thread up the machine (and why are they still so complicated?), and sew on a button with a stalk, I don’t think all the YouTube videos on the planet would have worked for me.
True, she also got to run the class where she told us that sitting with our legs crossed would give us varicose veins and we should wash out our undies every night, but on the whole what Mrs Sweet told us was pretty handy, even if it’s taken me this long to try setting a zip in again.
Then there were the other domestic sciences lessons, otherwise known as cookery. (Yes, it was all-girls school a long time ago.) We learned the basics of making meals and clearing up afterwards, which gave me the confidence to cook to my taste for years afterwards. I watch those who never learned those skills at school because they were too busy being asked to design pizza boxes, and I recognise how lucky I was.
And that brings me to a topic that has something vaguely to do with my subject of copywriting.
That’s how to structure a piece of writing, and how to use language well.
English was my star subject at school – surprise! One thing we were taught was not just to plan your essay, but to write your plan down. This could be especially useful in exams, because if you were running out of time to finish, at least the examiner could see your plan at the top of the page. We hoped to get bonus points for that.
So it should be for every piece of marketing communication you want to put together. Make a plan, write it down. Then ask yourself:
- Have you covered all the topics that are needed for this one communication?
- Are you trying to shoehorn too much in and what can you delete that’s a distraction here?
- Do the thoughts follow a logical flow? In other words, can you take the reader on a sensible journey through your website, newsletter, promotional email or other text?
- Is the conclusion satisfactory? Will your readers understand why they want to buy from you and how?
Once you’ve got that plan, you can work on your messaging, and start writing.
Before you rush to send your communication out though, take a few minutes to consider your use of English.
For some years after I was at school it became the mode to avoid teaching grammar and how to put sentences together in a sensible fashion. This has been a real disadvantage for anyone receiving this sort of education. If we can’t write a logical sentence, we can’t explain ourselves properly in writing.
Grammar was going out of fashion in my day, but dear Mrs Hooper insisted on teaching the basics anyway. Thank you Mrs Hooper.
Understanding sentence construction has helped me help others tremendously. I work with people who are terrific communicators, but sometimes struggle to see that their tenses are all over the place, that their verbs don’t match their subjects, or that their sub-clauses are hanging in mid-air and belonging to no one in particular. If these things aren’t working, the message gets lost because the reader can’t quite understand the point being made.
Fortunately, I gave up exams many years ago. But the lessons learned remain with me. I’m very grateful for those, and I’m pleased to be able to work with brilliant business people so I can help them polish up the words they write too.