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The fine art of write and wrong

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It’s frustrating writing a title like that. Microsoft Word’s grammar checker is trying so hard to get me to change it I’m worried it’ll crash. 

But this is exactly what this blog’s about. Rules. Specifically, the delicate way us copywriters take ‘em and break ‘em. 

Rules demand this and that, but in the world of writing, it’s not that black & white.

  • I shouldn’t use ampersands. But it looks right in black & white. 
  • I shouldn’t spell things wrong in a title. But it has a purpose here.
  • I shouldn’t use ‘em instead of them. But it sounds good in that second sentence. 
  • I shouldn’t write lists longer than three points. But it feels necessary here. 

And that’s why rules can be broken. It all depends on the look and feel you’re trying to achieve. 

Design by another name

Copy and design always go hand-in-hand. But, copy is more like design than most realise. 

When you’re writing something, whether it’s a strapline or a blog, all you’re doing is displaying information in a certain way. 

When designers display information, they have a host of tools at their disposal: size, colour, iconography, typography. 

Copywriters have their own arsenal: language, punctuation, structure, tone. 

The way you play with these and mix them up has a huge impact on how someone experiences a piece of content. And you don’t have to do much to make a difference.

Small changes make big differences. Period. 

These two boxes sit on the Direct Line homepage. If you’ve not seen it, the page is built up with multiple, similar boxes. Every box on the page is like the example on the left –  completely free of punctuation. 

However, that line next to Winston Wolf – the dapper gentleman in the tuxedo – is different. 

Winston’s box does its own thing. Why? Because in this box the copy isn’t a label, it’s a statement.

That little bit of punctuation makes the statement feel finite. It suggests completion. It adds to the message. And it does this by not really following the rules.

Will anyone think of that when they see it? Probably not. But that full stop subconsciously changes the way people experience this piece of information. It’s worth breaking the rules for.

No wonder people are lovin’ it.

I’m loving it just doesn’t look right does it? And imagine if Red Bull only gave you Wings. It’s not quite as memorable as Wiiiings, is it? 

Whether it’s cuttin’ out a letter or mis-spelling a word, neither of these things are grammatically correct. They don’t follow the rules. But they work.

Audi’s strapline is Vorsprung durch Technik. That translates to the pretty powerful ‘Advancement through Technology’. They could use that translation here in the UK, but Audi doesn’t want to translate it. Even the language they use in their strapline plays a part in selling its brand and pushing its message. Language is just another tool they can use.

It may seem strange coming from someone that writes and checks copy for a living, but when it comes to this wonderful world of words, rules are flexible. 

Have some fun, do something interesting, make the experience different.

And before you ask, no. This blog is not a long-winded way of covering my back for a spelling mistake I left in some recent work…

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