Company Tagline Construction: What to Keep in Mind

I’ve been working with many clients lately who are rethinking their taglines or coming up with one for the first time. So I thought I’d write a post on some tagline “basics.”

What is a tagline?

In my mind, a tagline is a fun (yes, fun — we should all be having more fun, shouldn’t we?) way of branding what you do (or what your product does) in the minds of customers. The best taglines have staying power, and, over time, they can stand alone, meaning you could read or hear only the tagline, and you’d still know what it represents.

For example, I bet you can easily match the tags below to a company or product:

  1. Good to the last drop.
  2. We bring good things to life.
  3. When you care enough to send the very best.

But also keep this in mind: a tagline in today’s world is more than just a “line.” It’s a line that can create a whole new world of engagement for your customers and prospects…if it’s done right (more on this in a minute).

What are the Rules for Tagline/Slogan Creation?

I hate rules. Sounds so restrictive, and for every rule I give about taglines or slogans, I’m sure someone could easily give me a good example of someone breaking the rule well. So let’s call them guidelines.

  • Figure out what you want your tagline to accomplish. Should it incite passion? Should it educate? Should it be risky? Should it be clever? Why? Think about your prospective audience and consider what they would appreciate.
  • Brainstorm words you want associated with your business. Think specific and concrete, but don’t rule out thematic words like “enlightening” or “inspired.” A great place to look for words and phrases? Customer testimonials. Or ask your Facebook fans to shout out 2 or 3 words that describe your business, your service, your “essence.”
  • Brainstorm words you don’t want associated with your business. You know, like “poopy” or “swamp ass.” Unless, of course, those phrases apply in a positive way.
  • Now start brainstorming actual tags. Don’t edit yourself. And involve other people from your company. You never know where a brilliant idea is going to come from and you don’t need to be a writer or have a marketing degree to come up with something brilliant. However, when in doubt, hire a copywriter (like me! shameless plug!) to craft a tagline for you.
  • Keep length in mind. Typically, taglines should be short, punchy, and memorable. What’s the definition of short? That depends. The best taglines typically (but not always) fall in the five- to eight-word (or so) category.
  • Test, test, test. Test on current customers. Test it out with your Facebook fans (you could even turn it into a contest — have them vote for the best tag). Test it on people who know your business (e.g., your networking group, like BNI). Don’t allow people to simply say “I like this one.” Make sure they can explain why.

Yes, it’s FREE! Well, wait…

I just signed up for a free magazine subscription. Actually, the magazine comes out monthly, and you can buy the full 12-month subscription OR you can choose the “standard-level subscription,” which gives you four issues for FREE (if you qualify), one each quarter.  I’m signing up for this magazine because a client mentioned she thinks it has good info for me to follow regarding her business. She told me to sign up for the freebie since that would give me just enough of what I needed to know.

Fine.

Here was my experience in The Land of (Not-So?) Free:

Why don’t they say “Click here for your FREE subscription – one issue, one per quarter”? Oh, because apparently they want to play. Here’s what they said: “Request a standard subscription.” That doesn’t sound very free, but maybe that’s me being a poor sport.

When you click on the “Request a standard subscription” button, you’re brought to a landing page that says:

Free Subscription to <Name Redacted> Magazine
It only takes 2 minutes to complete this one-page form!

And then, beneath that, there’s a big yellow WARNING triangle that says:

Did you receive a FREE COPY at your address?
Or are you an existing subscriber?
If so, do NOT fill out the form below!
Instead, LOGIN to confirm your pending subscription, renew or change address.

And then below this is the World’s Longest Form For Something Free (27 fields to fill out). It includes a field that asks me the first letter of my father’s first name, for verification purposes (as Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up.”)

After filling it out (I forget to time it to see if it took two minutes) and submitting it, I kinda felt panicky, like I just agreed to getting slapped with a $50 invoice. There was nothing saying “Congrats! You’ll get your first free issue in 6-8 weeks. And we’ll send you three more free issues after that. If at that point you want to subscribe to our 12-month plan, you can do so. And if not, no worries — you’ll never get an invoice from us unless you decide to upgrade.” Instead, everything felt vague and confusing. Even the follow-up email made me feel like I had an “account,” which I guess I do.

Here’s my beef: if you’re going to give something away for FREE, give it away FREE and CLEAR. Do not make me jump through hoops with a long-ass form. Do not make me believe, after filling out said form, that I’m going to be saddled with an invoice.

Since I’m filling out a request for a free magazine, I understand you’ll need my mailing address (that’s already giving you much more info than I provide on most forms). But for everyone else out there who is giving something away for free, get only the basics: a name and an email address and include an opt-in check box for future communications. That’s it. Yes, I understand what you’re giving away is a bait piece, but really, if I give you my email address and my explicit permission to continue marketing to me, that’s all the info you need. And if I DON’T give you permission to market to me again, get over it.

I’m a marketing copywriter, so I understand the “client side,” trust me. But I also believe that by advocating for the customer side first, both sides will ultimately win in the long run.

Recap: If you’re really giving something away free and clear, say so and stand by it. Make it easy for people to get the goods. Respect the fact that for many, this is all they will ever want from you. And then move on and focus on the ones who do want to hear from you again.

Next week, I’ll be answering a question from a reader about whether free stuff should require any sort of form at all. It’s a good question. Stay tuned for my answer.

The Anatomy of a Great Offer

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m launching a new website (I’m a fellow copywriter), and I wanted to know if you had any ideas for great offers. I can come up with this stuff for clients, but it’s hard to do it for myself.

—Steve T., Santa Monica, CA

ANSWER: Congrats, Steve! But before I answer, I must address that pesky pachyderm in the room. I know some people are wondering why I’d give advice to a copywriter, i.e. a competitor. Simple. I believe there’s enough room for all of us. Competition is good because it ensures we writers (lawyers, marketers, politicians) do as good of a job as we possibly can. I also believe in the concept of paying it forward. Many people have helped me along the way after all.

Okay, enough of the philosophizing. Let’s talk about the anatomy of a great offer. Here are some traits that I think all great offers have:

  1. It will provide me with something that I consider valuable.
  2. It’s easy to access.
  3. It’s easy to understand and/or use.

1. Make Valuable Offers

So how do you figure out what people will consider valuable?

Ask current customers. Shoot them a quick email or make a quick call and ask them what they would get excited about seeing available on your website.

Ask potential customers.
Think of the type of business owners you want to do business with, and ask them what they would consider valuable. Chances are if you don’t directly know some of these people, you know someone who does.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Picture yourself as a business owner who lands on your website. What sort of information would be valuable? Tips on how to proofread more effectively? A 21-point guide on creating blog posts that get people talking? A step-by-step tutorial on writing an effective web page?

Worried that these types of offers give away too many trade secrets? Don’t. Educating your clients or prospective clients on certain writing tasks won’t put you out of a job. (Empowering people is never a bad thing. Well, at least in this case.) What it will likely do is 1) make them appreciate what you do even more and/or 2) make them advocate for you (especially if they’re reporting to people further up the food chain).

Something else to keep in mind: I believe in crafting multiple offers. Make them page specific. So if you have a service page on website copywriting, craft your offer around that. For example, a document called “What’s a title tag and why should I care?” might work well on this page.

2. Make Your Offers Easy to Access

Don’t make people email or call you. Make the offers free and downloadable off your site. Use simple forms (i.e. make the forms short). Get only enough info so that you can continue to stay in front of people, but don’t ask people to surrender every last shred of information about themselves. Don’t  use automatic opt-ins. If you have a question like “Do you want to subscribe to my newsletter,” make sure the “yes” box isn’t automatically checked. After someone hits “submit,” make sure whatever it is that people just signed up for—a document, a coupon, a webinar, access to a private area of your site—is obvious. Include easy-to-read directions if your offer involves anything that involves more than one step. A nice touch? Automated emails that include information around your offer.

3. Make Offers Easy to Understand

In your case, you’ll probably be providing tip sheets, white papers, and tutorials. Remember the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). These items are not the place to show off jargon or impress people with your literary prowess. Instead, provide readable, practical information that a 10-year-old can follow, digest, and start using today.

The same holds true no matter what the offer is. If I run an online store, and I offer a coupon code, it should be clear as to what the code is and how and where I’m supposed to use it.

The best way to make sure you’ve taken care of items #2 and #3 is to test it yourself and then have some other folks go through the process.

Hope this helps!

What I Learned about Writing & Revision from David Sedaris

I saw David Sedaris last night at Symphony Hall in Boston. (If you’re not familiar with his writing, check him out. He’s brilliant and hysterical.) He read from his forthcoming book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. The manuscript is due to his publisher in June, and he’s using his 36-city tour to help polish some of the work that will be appearing in this book. He says after a reading, he’ll go back to his hotel and revise.

How brilliant is that?

He goes to his fans (his customers) and sees what they like and how they respond. Seems to me that we marketers, business owners, copywriters, etc. can all learn from that. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who don’t like Sedaris. But he doesn’t appear concerned with pleasing them. He seems to care about pleasing his already-loyal tribe and then letting everything else happen organically (he’s also a guy who didn’t know how to send email or browse the Internet until a year ago).

I realize he’s not the first writer (or innovative thinker) to work this way, but it was a great reminder to me to stop worrying about pleasing everyone, which is impossible. And it was a reminder to test, test, test material–whether that material is a website landing page or a fable about two dogs in love.

Do You Want Great Copy or Perfect Copy?

Do you want great copy or perfect copy?

You’ll be surprised by my answer. Maybe.

Listen, sometimes you just have to hit “publish.”

I’m not advocating publishing crappy copy. But here’s the thing: you won’t know if the copy is going to work (convert) until you put it out there and let it do its thang.

Sadly, I’ve worked with too many clients over the years who’ve fallen victim to the Perfection Notion. They want to work on the copy until it’s perfect, PERFECT, do you hear?

Guess what? Impossible.

Perfection is a worthwhile pursuit as long as you understand that while you may at times come close, you’ll never fully get there. The sooner you accept this, the easier it will be to let go of your little copy darlings and send them forth into the world. Some of your little copy darlings will fail, even miserably. And other little copy darlings will achieve things even you didn’t think possible. But you won’t know until you let your copy go.

At some point (how about today?), hold your breath, close your eyes, and hit publish on a little copy darling you’ve been holding in captivity whilst waiting for perfection. This applies to blog posts, web pages, email newsletters, marketing plans, videos, e-books, and, well, just about everything in written form. Yes, including your Great American Novel. At some point, after you’ve labored and sweated and cried and shared with others and have listened to feedback and have revised some more, you need to hit “send” and see what happens.

This piece of advice applies to many areas of life, actually. Don’t let yourself become paralyzed by the silly idea that you can create something perfect. You can’t. Neither can I. And that’s okay.

Interested in great copy? I can help with that. Let’s chat about my copywriting services.

Honest Marketing Copy: Ready for “Risky” Conversations?

Note from The Copy Bitch: I wrote this post in 2010, meaning SEVEN years ago (as I sit here reviewing it on 7/9/17). I was talking about “authentic copy” and “honest marketing copy” seven years ago, and now I’m screaming it at the top of my lungs. Be real, people.

The other day, I had a frank conversation with a client. I said, “Is your product really all that different from your competitors?” The reason I was asking was simple: it was a standard product. I’d gleaned that much from our conversations and competitor research.

He was honest. He said, “When comparing this product across similar tiers/companies, no–we’re NOT different.”

So the challenge I posed to him was this: “So WHY should people work with/buy from you instead of your competitors?”

He didn’t have a ready answer.

But I probed further.

Turns out that many of his competitors are newer companies. There’s no telling how long they’ll last or if they’ll last (although they might). My client’s company, however, has been around for 20+ years (although dealing with a sister product–not the newer product he was trying to sell, but still). The product he was selling requires ongoing tech support. It’s not a “one and done” type of sale. In addition, my client had plenty of experience working with the target audience he was going after (restaurant owners and small retailer owners)–he’d been doing that for years with his main business/other product.

OK.

So I recommended an honest message. I recommended truth. “Hey, our products aren’t much different from our competitors’. The software is pretty standard across the board in regards to the technology. Pricing is similar, too. Sure, you might get a discount here, a free trial there, but at the end of the day, the products are pretty much the same. So why should you buy from us then? Well, what you WILL get from us is security–we’ve been around for 20+ years. Many of our competitors are newer companies. We’re not suggesting they’re going to go under. But what we ARE saying is that you can count on us being here for ongoing tech support. We’re not going anywhere. Plus, we’ve worked with people in your industry. We already get what your challenges are, so we’ll set up the system to work with your business.”

See that? An honest message. A REAL message. Not sexy. Although in some ways (perhaps the same way I found James Comey very sexy during his testimony) it IS sexy.

Because the truth is sexy.

Authenticity is sexy.

Or refreshing, at the very least.

#gettingoffmysoapboxnow

Check out the original post from 2010 below.

Last month, HubSpot released some great news for me: a blog post titled “Calling All Content Creators: Marketers Spending More on Content in 2010.”

But the Great Content Proliferation of 2010 could prove problematic for businesses, and here’s why: now more than ever, what you say and how you say it matters. Yes, those two things have always mattered, but considering how fast The People can rebroadcast your messages via Twitter, Facebook, texts, and other social media, there’s A LOT of pressure on your words.

From my perspective, this means that “corporate speak” is a dying strategy when it comes to creating content, even in notoriously corporate industries. Stuffy, aloof, third-person, passive “Mistakes were made” ways of talking to customers won’t work when there are too many other CEOs who blog, tweet, text, and post status updates on fan pages in a conversational and familiar tone.

In other words: only real, authentic copy and messaging will rise above the endless chatter, not the platypus copy that results from well-meaning, but out-of-touch folks who red-line every natural phrase, who remove every bit of Chunky Monkey personality from the copy, who turn the copy into safe vanilla because it’s well, safe, even though it just won’t work in such a competitive vanilla-filled landscape.

You need to take risks with your copy, with your conversations, if you want your business to stand out in 2010.

But let me be clear about one other important point: the only thing risky about these conversations is the fear I guarantee 80 percent of my readers are experiencing right now. What I’d really like to call this newsletter is “Ready for REAL Conversation?” But we’re not there. Yet.

So let’s forget the adjectives and focus on the word conversation. The following addresses many of the questions I get from clients and onlookers alike regarding this pesky word.

1. What is conversation?
If you look it up, the keyword phrase you’ll see in most definitions is this: “informal discussion.” The very definition of the word gives you permission to have an informal tone.

2. Why should my tone with customers be informal?
Conversational, how I love thee! Let me count the ways! Informal methods (active voice, contractions, shorter words, shorter sentences) make your message easier to understand and retain. The formal method (no contractions, passive voice, $5 vocabulary words, longer complex sentences) involves more time and thinking. Need another reason? How ’bout this: because The People are accustomed to it now more than ever, thanks to 140-character texts and tweets. More? Okay, I saved the best for last: because it works.

3. So you’re advocating the dumbing down of society?
Not at all. I advocate that people read widely (fiction and nonfiction) and that they read balanced arguments about issues. But b2b and b2c copywriting should not sound like Proust. Why? Because reading Proust takes time. Ask yourself this: how much time does your audience have to read, understand, and remember your message? Not much, since they’re busy working, going to meetings, cooking, shuttling kids to soccer practice, working a second job, paying bills, shopping, sporting, and reading Proust. (Okay, I doubt most of your customers are reading Proust. Which should tell you something. But they’re likely doing those other things.)

4. I don’t believe you.
That’s okay. The proof is in the conversions. The best thing you could do is a split test (also known as A/B testing). Sending out a sales letter? Have two versions–a “professional” version and a “completely conversational” version. See which one converts better. My money is on the conversational one. You can do the same testing with email newsletters (start by testing subject lines) and website landing pages.

5. But conversational isn’t my style!
So what is your style? Pedantic? I doubt it. Listen, there are different levels of conversational (and the level you opt for will depend more on who your audience is rather than who YOU are). You don’t need to go the full monty the first time out of the gate. I understand–and accept–that not everyone, nor every business, can get away with using a well-placed “horse shit” in their copy. But a bunch of businesses can. And the ones who can’t could still have clean fun with “horse manure.” (Face it: “manure” is a funny and memorable word, especially when used in business writing.)

6. Okay, I’m not pedantic. But how can I do this conversation thing in my copy?
Listen to me: you already do. You just don’t know it. The absolute best thing you can do is this: record yourself having a conversation with someone about your business. Do not secretly record the conversation a la Linda Tripp, since this would be illegal. Ask permission and then record yourself talking to your marketing person, business advisor, co-worker, spouse, dog, whomever. (The dog is the last on the list because you really do need someone who can respond to you in order for this to qualify as a conversation. And if your dog talks back to you, there are other things we need to discuss first.)

Record yourself long enough so that you forget you’re recording. Just talk. Relax. Enjoy the conversation. Listen to what the other person is saying. Then respond. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Here’s what I’m betting you’ll notice when you listen back: how natural you sound. How authentic. How–holy crap!–conversational. You’ll be using contractions, colloquialisms, and short sentences. You might even start sentences with “and” or “but,” no doubt causing your poor sixth-grade English teacher to roll over in her grave. And guess what? The stuff you’re talking about will probably be interesting, specific, and concrete as opposed to the vanilla “expected” copy so many business websites succumb to. Your conversation will have personality.

Now do this: transcribe the conversation. YOU do it–don’t hire someone. I want you to feel the words as you type them out on your keyboard. I want you to see how they look on the page. I want you to envision how certain phrases and paragraphs would look and sound in your sales letter, on your web page, and in a marketing brochure.

Then ask yourself this: what risk is there in that?

(Note: I suggest doing the above exercise even if you use a conversational copywriter like me.)

7. But there IS risk! What if someone reading it thinks I’m an unprofessional moron?
Contractions won’t make you look like a moron. Neither will starting an occasional sentence with “but.” What will make you and your company look like an unprofessional moron? Misspellings and typos. Amateurish design. Unsubstantiated claims. Navigation that leads to the tenth circle of hell. Generalizations that waste my time. Hiding your contact info. Forms that don’t work. Sites that are blander than the vanilla ice cream that’s been sitting in my mom’s freezer since the Bush administration. The first one.

8. You say all this, but show me copy that works.
Okay. Check out these sites.

Conversational Copywriting: Don’t underestimate “chatty” writing

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m banging my head over here because, once again, I’ve encountered a client who thinks writing web copy and feature articles in third person is “right” and that “conversational” is unprofessional. I know you advocate conversational copy, so how do you handle this with clients?

—Frustrated Copywriter in Boston

Answer: I feel your pain, Boston Copywriter. This writer does not believe that one should write in third person because the tone one creates is stuffy and aloof. (See?)

And I’d give my favorite George Clooney poster in exchange for the name of the first person who perpetuated the myth that conversational and professional are mutually exclusive terms.

You can be serious, professional, and conversational (next time you get “junk mail” for a charity, read it and consider the tone); fun, professional, and conversational (ditto for junk mail trying to sell you a new cell phone service or credit card); and annoying, unprofessional, and conversational (my neighbor, when he’s trying to sell God-knows-what from his balcony at 2am).

I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave over clients and it would remove any memory of the damage done by well-meaning high school teachers. “Formal writing” is fine for legal briefs and dissertations (I use the word “fine” loosely, because I think both of these items would be easier to read if written in a conversational tone). How many people go, “I’m in the mood for a good dissertation to bring with me to the beach?” No one that I can think of.

I’m also willing to say this: conversational copy is more important now than ever before, thanks to social media. You can’t have effective social media without having conversations, and you can’t have effective conversations if you’re not, well, conversational. As far as I’m concerned, this goes for ALL industries, even those notoriously “formal” ones.

So what can you say to your client? How can you prove your theory that conversational is more effective?  The best way is by conducting a split test, also known as A/B testing, because the proof will be in the conversions.

For web pages, this works really well, and it’s cost effective. Set up two landing pages for a particular campaign and have one page be in “client speak” (let the client write it–just edit it for typos) and the other be in your winning “conversational tone.” See which one converts better.

One thing you should keep in mind is this: it’s hard for some people to let go of rules that they’ve been holding onto since the sixth grade. Either accept this and applaud their baby steps or start working with those folks who recognize the beauty and effectiveness in a well-placed “bullshit.” (Guess which direction I’m taking my business in?)

Learn more about my no-BS approach to marketing writing here.

Taking a Writing Hiatus (i.e. Back Away from the Computer, Ma’am)

Dear Copy Bitch: We’re kindred spirits: I’m a copywriter by day, and at night (for the last three years anyway) I’ve been working on a memoir. Lately, I just can’t seem to do either well, even though I try forcing myself to write through it. I’ll admit that sometimes I work seven days a week, but I’ve always seen this as dedication to my craft. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just blocked. Would love to get your take. Thanks. Love the blog!

—Miami Memoirist

Answer: Sometimes the most important thing you can do when the writing isn’t clicking–be it client copy or creative writing–is to step away from the computer. Or throw down your legal pad. Or cast aside your journal.

Listen, I don’t believe in writer’s block, and I’m the biggest proponent of “Ass in Chair” and banging it out and working through it because I know that nine times out of ten, you can. But then there’s that stinky tenth time. You know, the one that causes neck and back spasms that leave you drooling on the carpet. The moment when you just. Can’t. Write. Another. Word. (Again, I don’t think this is a block; it’s your mind’s way of telling you it needs a rest–there’s a big difference.)

So step away. From the whole gosh-darn thing: from the room in which your computer purrs, from the house in which your writing festers, and get thee somewhere else. Anywhere. The park, the movies, the bookstore, your best friend’s house. Just get out. Leave it alone. For as long as you can manage (ideally 24 hours, but I realize this isn’t always feasible–even a morning or afternoon can do wonders). Try not to think about it (ha!). Seriously, though, give yourself permission to breathe and to take a break and to allow your mind and body a Take Five.

Go back to it the next day and see what happens.

Then, start carving time like this into your schedule. If you draw peace and inspiration from spending one morning a week with the dogs at the dog park, then book it. If you love film and feel that a Wednesday matinee is one of the best things since George Clooney’s birth, then block out that time (and don’t feel guilty, either. This is one of freelancing’s perks. Take advantage of it). If you need yoga three times a week to keep the mental muscles happy, okay. Dedication to craft is commendable. But so is dedication to your own sanity.

(On a completely unrelated note, I wish I could go back and mark the moment–the precise moment–when I went from a “miss” to a “ma’am.” Seems to me there should have been a helluva lot more hoopla involved.)

Cost-Per-Click: Will it cost less if you lose the hyphens?

Dear Copy Bitch: We are always having these debates in the office.  I am always on the losing end, but I think I’m right.
 
1. Is website one word or two?
2. Do you capitalize internet?
3. Do you capitalize jargon phrases like “cost per click”?  Do you put dashes between them?  “cost-per-click”
 
I know I have others but now of course I can’t think of any of them. I thought maybe other people need/want to know the answers…

—Becca S, New York, New York

Answer: Well, you might not love my answer, which is this: it depends. It depends on the style guide you follow (e.g. AP, MLA, Chicago, etc.). Back in the dark ages (i.e. 2002) when I started my business, I wrote “Web site.” Now I write “website” as one word, but I often see it as two words and don’t think, “Gee, that’s wrong.”

As for “Internet,” I follow the rule that it’s a place and, therefore, believe it needs to be capitalized, just as Paris and George Clooney Paradise do. But I see legit pubs that lowercase it.

As for cost per click, same answer: it depends on the person, the editor, the business owner, the publication. For me, I follow this rule: I use caps only (usually) for the acronyms (CPC). I don’t usually use hyphens if the term is used as a noun: What was the cost per click? or The cost per click was $1.45. However, if a term is used as an adjective, that’s when I’d add hyphens: We need to be mindful of our cost-per-click budget. But again, I see sentences that violate my rule all the time (and I’m sure some smart reader could point out places where I violate my own rule).

The key is consistency. Be consistent with your usage (and when I say be consistent, I mean be consistent for that particular publication or for that particular company. I’m not saying you should simply decide how you want to do it and that’s it). Publications have style guides. Smart companies should have internal style guides that address items like the ones you list above (in addition to other things, such as serial commas). Anyone who creates content for the company (marketers, copywriters, consultants, etc.) should receive copies of the style guide (and adhere to the rules).

So how would you answer your own questions? I’m curious. Let me know in the comments.

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Don’t Write Like This (even if you’re a lawyer)

Dear Copy Bitch: Aren’t long, complex sentences with big words more impressive, professional, and “important” sounding than the short sentences you seem to advocate?

—The Curious Cursory Blog Reader

Answer: Here’s a story for you: A few years back, I taught a first semester writing course to law students. The reason why this brave little law school hired me, The Copy Bitch, is because it wanted someone to teach these folks how to write clearly instead of like the stereotypical lawyer.

One of my former students, now an attorney, sent me an email the other day that said, “I just had to read a clause in a legal contract. Guess how many words it had it in it? I’ll give you a hint: slightly more than twenty.” (I used to tell ’em to keep sentences as short as possible to make for easier reading. No, this rule doesn’t apply for everything. But it’s not a bad rule to guide you, at least in professional writing, which is what lawyers do.)

I asked him to remove any identifying info and send me the clause, which he did. It’s below.

Company and Mr. Smith Release.  For good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the Company and Mr. Smith (the “Company Releasors”) do hereby remise, release and forever discharge and by these presents do for themselves and their successors, assigns, subsidiaries, parent corporation, affiliates, insurers, and past, present and future members, managers, employees, agents, and representatives remise, release and forever discharge Ms. Jones and her successors, legal representatives and assigns (the “Jones Releasees”) from, against and with respect to any and all actions, accounts, agreements, causes of action, complaints, charges, claims, covenants, contracts, costs, damages, demands, debts, defenses, duties, expenses, executions, fees, injuries, interest, judgments, liabilities, losses, obligations, penalties, promises, reimbursements, remedies, suits, sums of money, and torts of any kind and nature whatsoever, whether in law, equity or otherwise, direct or indirect, fixed or contingent, foreseeable or unforeseeable, liquidated or unliquidated, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, absolute or contingent, determined or determinable but excepting and excluding the Promissory Note (collectively, a “Claim”) which the Company Releasors ever had, now have, or which the Company Releasors hereafter can, shall or may have against the Buyer Releasees, related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever from the beginning of time to the date hereof related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever; provided, however, that this Release shall not affect, waive, extinguish or otherwise release the Jones Releasees from any and all future claims which the Company may have related to the Promissory Note. 

This doesn’t sound impressive, professional, or important. Do not write like this, ever. Even if you’re a lawyer.

(Note: I’m not an attorney, but you don’t need to write like this simply because you are one. To wit: my former student, the one who’s now a lawyer, was pulling his hair out over this piece of crap writing.)

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