I crave grammar. I make a study of punctuation. I swoon at spelling bees.
I detest comma splices and abhor the use of single quotes when double are called for. I’ve never encountered a situation where it makes sense to say “way in which” instead of simply “way.” Same goes for "in order to." Why not just "to"?
I’m a copyeditor. In addition to being a content marketer, I edit and proofread trade fiction and nonfiction books. I’ve edited a few big names (Jackie Collins, Robert Ludlum, Augusten Burroughs) and hundreds of other highly talented writers.
Over more than 20 years of editing others’ work, I’ve developed an ear for what I would call believability. When an author "breaks character" through using the wrong nickname for the protagonist, fumbling on grammar, or choosing a discordant word or sentence structure, the piece suffers because it’s less believable. It’s like seeing behind the curtain during a play.
This is the result of straying from your voice.
Brand Voice Is Critical for Content Marketing
Much of what I’ve learned through my copyediting career has helped me in content marketing because it’s developed my capacity to recognize and cultivate distinctive brand voices for various companies.
A brand voice is the expression of a brand through the words you choose and sentences you create. Maintaining a consistent brand voice isn’t easy – which is why I’d like to offer a few tips on how to do it. Read on….
1. Grammar Matters (It Just Does)
Chances are you want your brand to come across as professional and knowledgeable — but it will be exceedingly difficult to do this if you break basic grammar rules. Although theoretically everyone should follow the same rules and therefore your "grammar voice" won’t be unique, you basically have to start with solid grammar before you can move on to style.
Here are a few grammar gaffes that never seem to go away (although I wish they would):
- Confusion around plural possessives. If the dogs are eating food, it’s the dogs’ food, not the dog’s food. If you’re visiting Rosie and Carl Jones, you’re going to the Joneses’, not the Jones’s.
- Dangling your modifiers. This is a dangling modifier: "At over two hundred years old, she was surprised to see the tree still standing." The first part of the sentence is modifying "tree," but the subject of the second part of the sentence is "she." The correct, nondangling way to go is: "At over two hundred years old, the tree was still standing, which she was surprised to see."
- Incorrect use of that vs. which. Here’s the right way: "The rocking chair that is on the porch is squeaky, but the one inside isn’t." Here’s the wrong way: "The rocking chair which is on the porch is squeaky, but the one inside isn’t." (In British English, the latter example is actually correct.)
- Misuse of compose vs. comprise. Think of this handy mnemonic: The whole comprises the sum of its parts; the parts compose the whole. Examples: "Dinner comprises an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert"; "An appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert compose the meal."
For more faux pas, see HubSpot's handy list of 25 of the most common grammatical errors.
2. Style Can Be FUN!
I recently edited a book whose author’s style is to use long sentences with very few commas. I didn’t cut them up because I knew he’d deliberately chosen to buck the rules a little – which is perfectly acceptable. But he told me that one of his previous copyeditors had painstakingly divided all his prose into shorter sentences – per the rules of freshman composition – and it took the author “a hundred hours” to reinstate the style.
Related Content: 5 Ways a Style Guide Improves Your Writing
Obviously, professional communication isn’t the same as literary fiction, but the lesson here is that it’s okay to choose an unconventional style for your brand; in fact, in can be desirable, especially on social media. Just be sure the writers on your team have a clear understanding of what you want (which is where your style guide comes in; see next section).
3. Documenting Is Your Friend
Don’t rely on your company’s brain trust to keep track of your style decisions. Create a content style guide that includes common grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, as well as examples of your brand’s voice. Distribute this to all your writers and editors and keep it updated.
This needs to be a living document; rarely does a company establish a voice and stay true to its original concept over the years. Your style guide can be a Word document that one person is responsible for or an online wiki that everyone contributes to. Use it to document copy you like from your own materials and content the team should emulate.
4. Try This Bit of Magic
This concerns writing more than editing, but it’s my favorite because it’s actually quite magical.
When you write something, avoid the temptation to publish it right away. Close the file and try not to think about it for at least a few hours, if not overnight. I can pretty much guarantee that when you go back to that piece, it will read differently, and you’ll be moved to make edits you hadn’t considered when you wrote it.
Every now and then you can write something that’s so powerful and raw it works on the first try, but, especially in business writing, giving yourself a break from creation mode before you put it through a final edit does your piece a world of good.
If you want to ensure that your brand voice is as strong and distinctive as can be, don’t skip this step.
Final Thoughts: Brand Voice and Blogging Go Hand in Hand
An ideal medium through which to build your brand voice is your blog. In fact, as you write posts, your voice will likely become more defined (and you will probably stumble across spelling and grammatical errors in older posts that make you cringe – trust me). It’s totally fine to edit past posts to fix errors and bring the copy into alignment with your developing voice.
All great content marketing starts with a documented strategy. In fact, only 32% of businesses that don't have a documented strategy feel their content marketing is effective. If you haven't yet formalized your own content strategy, fear not ... our Complete B2B Content Strategy Guide provides guidance and lots of helpful tools to get you started!