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Telling Tales – connecting with your readers

Rosemary Gillespie - Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The best presentations are those where the speaker tells a story, right? Likewise, when we find a book riveting, we’ll pass it around. Stories may inspire us, sadden or thrill us. Whatever the emotional response, a story evokes a connection with the storyteller. Which is why telling tales in your B2B communications is so important if you want your readers to connect with you.

The more details and facts in your story, the more likely we are to believe it. So everything you say about your service or business or yourself, in print, online or verbally, needs to include details and facts so that it rings true. And that means using unambiguous, concrete words.

In 2010, a study by Joachin Hansen of New York University and Michaela Wanke of the University of Basel showed that concise, clear statements win out over wordier ones.

In their study, they asked participants to read one of two statements and say if they thought it was true or not. The statements were:

1. Hamburg is the European record holder concerning the number of bridges.

2. In Hamburg, one can count the highest number of bridges in Europe.

More people believed the second. While each statement says the same thing, the second gets to the point quickly and presents a clear image – of counting bridges.

That’s because concrete words are more precise. For example, if I told you I ate a pizza for dinner, you might ask what type. But if I had told you I ate a Hawaiian pizza for dinner, you’d immediately have an image of the pizza and not have to ask what topping I chose.

Verbs can also be concrete. There’s little ambiguity about ‘sleep’, ‘run’, ‘swim’ or ‘jump’. But verbs such as ‘help’, ‘love’, ‘enjoy’, ‘assist’, ‘deliver’ are less precise and often come a myriad of  interpretations.
So, if you want your readers to connect and believe you, tell the truth using solid, unambiguous words.

For more information, see

For help with your B2B writing, contact Rosemary Gillespie on 02 9314 7506 or 0411 123 216.

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How a little thought goes a long way

Rosemary Gillespie - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

If you find writing a tender or any business document hard work, pity your reader. There is no one on earth that wants to spend longer than necessary reading business documents.

When writing, the goal is to make it as easy, and quick, as possible for your reader to understand what you are saying.

But how do you do this without getting bogged down?

Well, here are a few easy rules to help you to structure what you want to say:

1. Start slow. Think about what you want or need to say. What is your overall message? And what key points do you need to make to get your message across? Do you need evidence, quotes, testimonials, facts or figures? The more time you spend thinking (not writing), the better your document will be. Its messages will be clearer and more logical.

2. Jot down your thoughts either in pen, pencil or on screen. You may like to make a list, but mind maps are more useful – they free up our thinking so it becomes easier to identify all the points we need to make. Don’t worry about the quality of your writing, its grammatical correctness or sequence. That comes later.

3. Put your key points into order so they follow on logically from each other. When a document flows, it is easier, and quicker, to read.

4. Now you can start writing sentences. This is when you can shift your key points from notes to complete sentences and paragraphs. Use short words and don’t waffle. Use active voice, not passive, and use personal pronouns where possible. Useful phrases link the paragraphs together, such as “for example”, “consequently” and “subsequently”.  

5. Edit and proofread. Many people edit but forget to proofread. When editing, look out for superfluous and clichéd phrases. For example, “in order to” and “push the envelope”. When proofreading, print your document and read it aloud. It makes a big difference.

Finally, ask yourself, have I made myself clear?

For help with writing your business documents, contact Rosemary Gillespie on 02 9314 7506 or 0411 123 216.

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How well do you know the company you keep?

Rosemary Gillespie - Sunday, May 02, 2010

Your business is a singular collective noun.

What do I mean?

I recently edited a marketing document for a thriving business that got its grammatical position as a singular collective noun correct from the first draft.

I admit I was surprised. Why?

Well, it’s very common for writers (both professionals and in-house staff) to describe the company (or organisation) they work for in the plural. This is something I see constantly, and it's incorrect. A business, company or organisation is a single entity. It is a singular collective noun.

For example, we often read, “TWP are the biggest online publishers”. It should say, “TWP is the biggest online publisher”.

Or, “RST have won the biggest government tender”. It should say, “RST has won the biggest government tender".

Remember though, it’s correct to use the plural when writing about your business as “we”. So, it’s fine to say, “At RST, we have the best tender writing team in Australia”.


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The whole truth and nothing but the truth

Rosemary Gillespie - Thursday, April 15, 2010

Are you skeptical about the claims made in adverts? Especially those for creams that claim to lessen the lines around your eyes?

Perhaps honesty is the way to go when you're copywriting sales and marketing materials.

When you consider that people buy from you because they like you and trust you, isn't it better to be honest?

At the very least, it reminds our readers that we are human. It's more credible to read that, yes we sometimes get things wrong but as soon as we know about a problem we do our utmost to fix it.

Here are some suggestions for honest business writing that make you sound human.

Share stories in your tenders, proposals, sales letters and websites. These could be case studies that reveal why you love your work, why you love your industry or why you started your own business.

Show emotion. Perhaps the work you do is, at times, exciting, stressful, worrying, energising, thrilling, joyous, satisfying, or all of these things.

Ask your clients to write a testimonial about how you helped them to overcome a problem (or write it for them). This is a great technique for e-books, blogs and articles as well as tenders and proposals.

Personalise your copywriting. Use words like 'you', 'your', 'I', 'we', 'our'. 

Admit things are not perfect. Imagine you are invited to write an article on how your business or firm became so successful. It's great to share positive stories, but what people want to know is how you resolve obstacles. You could mention the time the bank turned down your loan application, or the time your biggest client didn't pay you for 4 months. How did you deal with these situations?

Simply using any one of these techniques will make your marketing and sales materials more credible.

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Bullet-proof: Tips for better bullet lists

Rosemary Gillespie - Sunday, March 14, 2010

Clients often ask me, “What do you think about bullet lists?” The question usually comes when they are writing a proposal or a tender, or copywriting a website or brochure. They come to read their work, only to realise it’s full of endless bullet lists.

I find B2B documents with lots of bullet lists hard to read and tend to skim over them. By zoning out, I probably miss some key messages.

Yet bullet points are great when they are used well. Here are 5 tips to make your bullets more readable.

  1. Turn a bullet list into numbered list, just like this one. Numbers make the list seem more important, and more likely to be read.

  2. Put a box around the bullet points, with or without shading, or just use shading. Highlighting your bullet points makes them stand out for your readers.

  3. Bold or underline some of the key words for emphasis and to attract your readers’ attention.

  4. Make each bullet point a stand-alone sentence so your readers get the message quickly. It saves them having to refer back to the lead-in sentence.

  5. Start each bullet point with a verb in the present tense, where possible. That’s what I've done in this list. It’s punchier and faster to read. 

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Rosemary's not-so-secret tips to copywriting great headlines and subject lines

Rosemary Gillespie - Monday, November 30, 2009

There's an 80/20 rule for everything, including copywriting headlines. Read anything about copywriting and you'll discover that the headline, or subject line, of your email, article, brochure or letter is where you need to spend 80% of your writing time. That's right: only 20% left to copywrite your article or brochure.

It does depend on what you're writing, of course. When you're writing tenders and proposals there's rarely time for a catchy headline, whereas writing headlines or subject lines for your letters, articles, emails and brochures gives you time to play.
Like most things in life, there are a few good tricks to help you write a great headine or subject line.

The most accessible ones are:
"How to..." suggests we'll learn something useful without much effort.

"The Secrets of..", or "Revealed..." hint at something a little mysterious that we really need to know.

"Discover the..." means we'll find something useful.
5, 7 or 10: we're all used to Top 10s. Five and 7 are great too and more credible than even-numbers except 10. But when you're writing about large numbers, it's more persuasive to use the precise figure than a rounded figure.

Don't forget, you can combine these for even more attention-grabbing headlines and subject lines. For example:

  • Discover how to...
  • How my aunt saved $46,729 on her tax bill
  • 7 deadly copywriting to avoid...
  • Copywriting secrets revealed
  • Discover the 7 secrets of copywriting
  • Revealed: the 7 secrets of copywriting
  • How apostrophes can get you arrested
  • Top 10 tender mistakes

Why are these so useful? Because they work. They're simple, straight to the point, attract attention and make your reader curious about what's coming next. In my article Is This the World's Most Attractive Headline?, I've written about other attention-grabbing words for headlines. Put them together and you get:

  • Discover 7 easy ways to write for a living
  • Revealed: 5 simple tricks for younger looking skin
  • How to get the haircut of your dreams - for free!
  • Faster, better copywriting in 5 easy steps
  • Save $2,397 a year with this foolproof money-saving tool

Another useful headline trick is to ask a dramatic question. My free guide, Do You Make These Mistakes in English? is very popular because people wonder what mistakes they might be making. 

You can download the guide right from this website.



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A quick and easy recipe for editing your marketing materials

Rosemary Gillespie - Monday, November 16, 2009

When you're cooking up marketing or business development materials (brochures, profiles, flyers, email, tenders, proposals) it's tricky to get the recipe right. Between your two main ingredients - a capital letter and a full stop - there are different flavours of words, and occasionally a dash of commas, to give you a sentence. Not a very tasty one perhaps, but one you can mix until you get the flavour right.

How do you get the flavour right? With good editing.

Here are 5 tips to great editing:

1. Read your work aloud. You'll hear where it doesn't flow.

2. Leave it to bake for long enough. If you have time, leave it overnight. In the morning read it afresh. You will recognise your good work, and the parts you need to revisit.

3. Add some new ingredients. Seek alternatives for the words you keep repeating.

4. Reduce the fat content. Cut out unncessary words. Adjectives (these are mostly really lovely words ending in -ly) and parts of the verb 'to be" can often be cut. For example, instead of "...the magnificent views are carefully framed", edit to "frames the magnificent views".

5. Use present tense to makes your work shorter, and livlier. Instead of, "You will receive three issues for free when you...", try "Receive 3 issues free when you...", or "You receive 3 issues free when you..."

For more help, download our free guide Do You Make These Mistakes in English? or call Rosemary on (02) 9314 7506


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