Everyday things that are surprisingly tricky to write
Maybe this is just me. There are some things that I really, really struggle to write. Simple, everyday, not-even-work stuff can completely throw me, with the added pressure that because I write for a living, anything I write should be good. So, in a faintly cathartic way, here are the things that really make me chew my pen/growl at my keyboard – and perhaps you can reassure me that I’m not alone…
Writing email subject lines
Ooh, I can tie myself in knots over this one… You’ve composed the perfect email – but it has more than one subject in it, or it’s very general, or it’s just an introduction… What do you call it? A blank space is never an option.
I’m not talking about marketing emails here (that’s a whole other area), so it’s not so much about making sure the recipient actually opens the email as making sure you come across as professional and intelligent. Even if it’s just emailing a friend, we all like to know what an email is about before we open it. Try to be specific, and mention something that immediately identifies you and your project/request/topic. Imagine how many emails I have headed “Copywriting”.
This is a great article from Business Insider which I shall be using from now on when I get stuck.
Philosophical point. We didn’t used to write on the envelope what the letter was going to be about; however now we always highlight the content of our message before people read it. That’s quite a shift in communication style.
Composing a CV personal statement
I’ve written sales copy for all sorts of things. But selling me? Oh no no no no no – I suddenly become terribly British and go for serious understatement. There’s a huge debate as to whether it should be first or third person. I’d always go for first, otherwise you run the risk of looking like someone else wrote it for you (and frankly, you sound a bit weird). Keep it short, and remember that a CV is about facts and examples.
I refer you to a higher authority – read this from Reed.
Never knowing undersell yourself- but try to avoid sounding like a candidate from The Apprentice. Unless of course, you’re applying for The Apprentice.
Argh – what to write in the work group card???
It’s hardly a major stressor, but I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t fret even a tiny bit over the communal work card. I’ve worked for organisations large enough to mean that I don’t even recognise the recipient’s name, but have still had to come up with some sincere expression of my regards for them. You don’t even escape this as a freelancer (primary schools seem to generate a lot of group cards).
Is it easier to be the first person, and set the tone, or to wait til it’s been passed round a few times and copy everyone else? The big question is, how much humour to use? I remember the indrawn breaths at college when my mate Tom wrote “You should have kept yer vest on” to our lecturer who was seriously ill with pleurisy (you have to say it in a thick Leeds accent). She found it funny, and of course it was, compared with all our predictable whispered expressions of concern.
Unless you know them very well (and in that case, don’t be so tight and send your own card) just keep it simple. “Happy birthday.” “Congratulations on your new baby!” “Good luck with your new job!” Don’t overdo the kisses if it’s the CEO.
Don’t gush if you don’t want to – but yes, I’ve written “keep in touch” and not meant it. Go for the passive voice and say “you’ll be missed” if you want to preserve your integrity. Try not to correct your colleagues’ punctuation.
How to complain in writing
This is basically a “Very British Problems” post now… I am awful at composing a good complaint. There is no middle ground. I either send it immediately when I’m still hopping (a short use-by date in my supermarket delivery always gets blown out of proportion in our house), or I end up apologising to them because I can’t really bring myself to complain. And I always spend far, far too long at this. If time is money, spending half an hour emailing the supermarket about a 60p overripe pepper does not make any sense.
I love CAB – try their thorough guide to complaint letters.
Ho ho ho. It’s an age-old punchline. However, I do struggle with writing cheques (and yes, I know companies that still use them!). This may be because my handwriting has suffered greatly from years of typing; and cheques, greetings cards, and notes for school are the only things I ever write that are read by other people. My handwriting, once copperplate, is now embarrassingly scrawly. Handy in meetings, because no one can read my notes, but awkward if another human has to decipher it.
I give myself the same advice as I give my four-year-old. Write slowly and concentrate.
Advice which pretty much covers all my daily dilemmas.