This was published in the May 2013 Auctioneer Magazine. Used here by permission. Here’s a PDF of the article. — Carl
By Carl Carter, APR
Your mother was right. It matters how you present yourself. Sit up straight. Be courteous. Speak correctly. Show up in clean clothes, and shine your shoes.
The same applies to our marketing materials. When people read our brochures, press releases, web sites and even emails, they don’t give us a pass because we aren’t professional writers. In their minds, they compare our work to that of people who are professionals, and that puts us at a disadvantage.
But we can at least follow the same general rules of grammar and style the pros use. Here are some resources that will help you do that.
Associated Press Stylebook
Nearly everybody reads the news in one form or another. And when you consider that the news is written and edited by thousands of different journalists in widely varying environments, the style in which they write is remarkably consistent. That’s because most of them rely on “AP Style,” as defined in this book, which has been the style “Bible” for decades.
You can get a copy for about $12, so there’s really no excuse for not having one.
Here are a few examples:
- It’s email, not e-mail or electronic mail. Don’t capitalize it.
- Don’t capitalize a title unless it precedes the name.
- Numbers. These get complicated. In general, spell out one through nine, and use numerals for 10 or more. But you’ll want to read the entire entry for the exceptions.
- It’s percent — not per cent or %. And it’s 6 percent — not six percent. This is an exception to the numbers rule above. See what I mean about it getting complicated?
Nobody can remember every rule, and you shouldn’t even try. I’ve been using the Stylebook daily since the 1970s, and I still have to refer to it constantly. Just keep it handy and get in the habit of checking the style whenever there’s doubt. You’ll probably find that it’s best to make some exceptions. For example, tight ad and brochure space might dictate that you abbreviate “square feet” and other terms that are spelled out in the Stylebook. Or you may decide to use “percent” rather than %. That’s fine. Just decide on a style and stick with it throughout all your materials.
(Note that the Associated Press stylebook is updated every year as the language changes, but you don’t really need the latest edition. A three-year-old copy that you actually use beats a current copy that sits on the shelf.)
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk & E.B. White
You’ve heard of this book. You probably even have a copy, though I bet you can’t lay your hands on it. Next to the Bible, I don’t know of another book that gets more lip service and less actual use. I’ve given away a lot of copies over the years, and I try to re-read it myself about once a year. Here are a couple of my favorite nuggets, along with comments from my own experience:
- Omit needless words. I love the way Strunk & White explain this: “This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects in outline, but that every word tell.”
- Keep related words together. In writing about upcoming auctions, resist the temptation to put any words between the subject and verb. If you’re saying “The home has a full basement,” you’ll weaken it by putting any phrase between “home” and “has.”
I’m not going to dwell on this, because you already know it’s true. Get in the habit of looking up any word that causes to hesitate. There’s simply no excuse for using the wrong word or spelling it incorrectly. Don’t fret over whether it’s Webster’s, Oxford or American Heritage. They’re all good enough if you use them, and they’re worthless if you don’t.