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By Trevor Campbell on 30/03/17 | Copywriting


When writing to a client yesterday I thought about using the phrase "back of a fag packet”.* Partly for a bit of fun, to conjure up a time when such kooky expressions were common. But it reminded me that when we are communicating, how important it is to use the language that people are used to.

Many of the torpid rules about writing can be safely tossed aside. The hoopla about the minutiae of grammar and beginning a sentence with this and that shouldn’t bother you too much – saying what you mean to say clearly is much more important.

True, it is often the case that you have to know the rules of grammar before you can break them. But once you get the tone right – the bedrock of one-to-one communications – don’t sweat about ending a sentence with a preposition (unless you really want to).

As we often say to impish kids, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. So more than anything your tone must be appropriate.

Consider the reader. Whether you are addressing institutions, a B2B audience, high net worth clients or high street shoppers, you have to give them what they expect in terms of knowledge and confidence – you have to show you know their business and your subject.

But you should remember that – like you – they probably enjoy diversions and surprise. So sometimes it’s fitting to lob in a phrase that they might not expect. To rouse them. Great direct mail practitioners do this all the time because they focus on the one-to-one experience.

And language evolves, sometimes at emoji speeds, so it’s best to keep up.

Don’t get me wrong, precision is essential. You still need to hone your arguments so they are as sharp as shark’s teeth. And you should be wary about being overfamiliar until you get to know people a little better.

But don’t worry so much about the writing rules of yore.  

 * I didn’t use the phrase in the end, not because it was inappropriate, but because I wasn’t making a calculation.