Put an end to sloppy copy: Part 3 – Is or Are?

Part 3: Is or Are?

Two little words that we’ve use day-in, day-out since we started school – who would have thought they could ever cause confusion?

In most cases they don’t. The simple rule is this:

Are = plural
Is = singular


• One rule IS simple
• Two rules ARE complex

• ARE you going on holiday?
• IS that your dinosaur?

• Brighton copywriters ARE brilliant
• Lucy IS the best

Problems tend to occur when the status of a subject, singular or plural, is less obvious. This can happen when company names are concerned:

A: Penguin Books are based in Antarctica
B: Penguin Books is based in Antarctica

B is correct – although the word ‘books’ is plural, the subject is singular (one company)

Sometimes this can sound weird. For example:

“McVities is launching a brand new biscuit, with a secret ingredient”

The temptation here is to say “McVities are…”, which would be wrong.

To make you feel more comfortable, or to double check you’ve got the grammar right, add in a bit more description:

“The company McVities is launching a brand new biscuit, with a secret ingredient”


Hope that helps. Now time for that chocolate digestive…

Continuing the mission to stamp out sloppy copy, look out for Part 4 in my series of grammar tips for copywriters.

lucy@lucygrewcock.comLooking for a copywriter with  a great grip on grammar? I’m here to help

How to find ideas for inspirational web content

Copywriters’ block – there’s nothing more frustrating.

By nature, most writers are perfectionists and nothing beats the feeling of delivering truly inspirational web content to a client – delivering ‘ok’ copy  isn’t something we copywriters are comfortable with. But what do you do when the rights words won’t come out? Before you succumb to submitting something mediocre…

  • Seek out copywriting forums and share sites: Surf the web for a while and you’ll stumble across sites where writers share their ideas and examples of great web content. Expect lots of blog posts with titles like ‘best copy ads’, or ‘good copywriting examples’. Some are ok, some are not so ok. By far the best is Drivvel – a site started by Brighton copywriters to collate and share examples of inspiring copy. Whether you’re looking for ideas on how to write web content for a schools travel company or how to stop serious webcopy from sounding boring, I’d recommend a visit.
  • Read specialist magazines: Research the language and approach taken by other writers to reach your audience by reading the magazines they buy and read out of choice. For example, if you’re writing web content or brochure copy for an Estate Agent, look for inspiration in magazines like ‘Homes and Gardens’ or ‘Country Living’ – publications which appeal to the ‘human’ side of buying a house, rather than the ‘salesly’ approach we associate with Estate Agents. Seek out the type of magazines your audience choose to invest their time and money in, and try translating this into your web content or print copy.
  • Eavesdrop on your audience: Bored of reading words and stuck for inspiring ways to reach your audience? I find that eavesdropping on them always helps. If you’re writing web content for a garden centre, VISIT the garden centre – drift around the plants, grab a cuppa in the coffee shop and chat to the customers and staff. You’ll get a great sense of who your audience are, which language they use naturally and what sort of tone appeals – plus an outing like this makes a great break from the desk.
  • Stop working: Sitting at your desk and staring out of the window waiting for great ideas to pop into your head can sometimes wors but I can’t say it’s where I’ve had my most inspiring ideas. The best ideas often come at you when you’re least expecting it – in the bath, whilst you’re cooking dinner, during a theatre performance, on the loo… Freeing your mind a little can do wonders for generating new ideas. For me, heading out for a jog is sure-fire solution – even though it sometimes means sprinting back before I forget my winning tag-line.

Book Review (Travel copy): No Contacts? No Problem!

Title: No Contacts? No Problem! How to pitch and sell a freelance feature
Author: Catherine Quinn – A Brighton-based freelance writer

About the book: A practical guide, covering every aspect of the freelance pitching and selling process, from writing a good pitch and understanding your market to writing your first commission and keeping the work coming in.

Read this if… You are looking to break into freelance journalism and would like to start pitching and selling freelance articles, or have some experience of pitching and selling but would like to learn more and approach new editors. Catherine writes about travel, food, health and more, and her book is geared towards writers interested in any genre.

In my opinion: Particularly useful for first-timers, this book helps open the door for good writers who are looking to break into the freelance market. One of the best bits about Catherine’s book is her four-week pitching plan (Chapter 13), which takes you from planning a pitch, through to securing a commission. Even better, this book also links to the follow-up site nocontactsnoproblem.com, where you’ll find editors tips and journo resources.

See a preview here
Buy it at Amazon, Rrp £14.99

Book review (Freelance writing): Brilliant Freelancer

Title: Brilliant Freelancer
Author: Leif Kendall

About the book: Brilliant Freelancer is broken into easily digestible chunks, which cover aspects such as: getting-started essentials, finding work, motivating yourself and managing your cash flow. Leif raises and answers questions surrounding each topic, includes advice from a range of successful freelancers and rounds up each chapter with a ‘brilliant recap’. Packed with tips and practical exercises, Brilliant Freelancer is a valuable tool for self-training and a great source of motivation.

Read this if… You are already a freelancer or are considering setting out on your own and are open to picking up expert tips from a super successful freelancer. Although Leif is a Copywriter, his book is geared towards the freelance profession as whole, so any freelancers, from plumbers to web-designers, can benefit.

In my opinion: A practical guide as well as an entertaining read, Brilliant Freelancer provides new or wannabe freelancers with an honest account of the realities of freelance work, laying out a step-by-step approach for entering and managing a freelance career. For established freelancers, Leif’s book is a superb source of motivation, a reminder of what works well and a kick-up-the-bum for any freelancers who are dragging their heels. One of Brighton’s most successful Copywriters, who recently decamped to Dorset, Leif is a freelancer with authority and,with copies of Brilliant Freelancer starting at £9.09, his book is a far better value than attending a training seminar.

See a preview here
Buy it at Amazon

Meta descriptions that make people click

What is a meta description?

You search for something online and are met with a results page of potential websites that meet your search criteria. Under each webpage title is a one or two line description that gives you a snippet of information about the site: this is the meta description.

Meta descriptions are the two lines of copy beneath the website name.
Meta descriptions: lines of copy beneath the website name.

How important are meta descriptions?

A meta description has the power to make someone to click through to your website or, at worst, deter them from visiting. Essentially, it’s an advert that tells a potential client how relevant and useful your business might be to them.

Although meta descriptions have a limited impact on search engine rankings, they are essential in driving business to your site: why put the effort into SEO if your weak meta description means a client skips straight past your site on a results page?

How do I write a meta description?

Hiring a professional copywriter or SEO specialist to craft your meta descriptions isn’t essential. By following some basic rules, meta description writing can be a relatively quick and straightforward task:

Relevant keywords: A good meta description should aim to match your potential clients’ search criteria; you may also have noticed that keywords which match the search criteria are usually set in bold on a results page.

Let’s assume your website is optimised to meet the search criteria ‘Travel Copywriter Brighton’. A client types these keywords into a search engine and receives a results page with your website link at the top. If your meta description reads: ‘London based Copywriter specialising in Education’, they are unlikely to click through, and your SEO efforts have been wasted.

Instead, the description: ‘Brighton based Copywriter, specialising in travel’ would satisfy the client that your website matches what they were looking for, encouraging them to click through.

Compelling copy that leads with benefits: A meta description is a sales tool that represents your business and encourages people to visit your site, so highlighting your USPs and key benefits should take priority. Once you’ve done these, consider how to make the description more appealing so that it stands out amongst the other 20 or so other websites on the page.

Stick to the point: Clear communication should be your main objective. Don’t faff around with beautiful prose if it means your core messages are undermined.

Optimum length: Meta descriptions which finish mid-sentence are less appealing than complete phrases. Similarly, four or five word descriptions may not say enough about your services. Aim for 150 to 160 characters and if you must exceed this, make sure the most important information goes first.

Be unique: Each page on your blog or website is unique; the meta description for each should reflect this. Every time you write descriptions for a new page, consider which particular keywords are most relevant.

Keep it simple: Avoid using quote marks and other non-alpha/numeric characters in your description. Google doesn’t like these and may cut off your description because of them. If quote marks are essential, opt for single over double.

Consider contacts: If you offer local services, it’s not a bad idea to show your contact details in a meta description. If a client is looking to call or email, they may do so directly from the search page, without clicking through to your site.

lucy@lucygrewcock.comLooking for a Brighton based copywriter? Contact lucy@lucygrewcock.com