data or datum?

December 15, 2019 at 11:27 am | Posted in copywriting | 4 Comments
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Roll with the punches.

I was editing for my marketing client.

He was writing for his IT client (let’s call ’em ClickBuzz).

In proofing my client’s work, I had a query:

Do you really want to refer to data as singular rather than plural?

I believe this can be a polarising thing among IT types, so am keen to know for sure.

He said:

Please refer to data as singular; I think the term is often referred to like that?

I said:

Yes, common use sure has data as singular these days.

But in my experience, some high-end techies consider it a mark of expertise if you treat data as the plural of datum.

I flag it only because I imagine this brochure is designed to impress prospects (who may ask their internal IT people what they think).

Then again, if such prospects need ClickBuzz, they may have no internal IT people to consult.

In any case, chances are no-one will give a damn in these days of endless emojis and loose morals.

I just figured that if you were to ask ClickBuzz to make the call on how to treat data, you’d demonstrate that you:

  1. Understand IT.
  2. Care about their brand & prospects.
  3. Value their opinion.
  4. Have insane attention to detail (which I believe is crucial in coding).

That could create a warm fuzzy.

If, on the other hand, we make our own call on data and it differs to what ClickBuzz reckons, we may drop an (admittedly probably tiny) notch in their esteem.

And the opportunity to show we’re hip to their groove will be lost.

As always, if I’m over-thinking this, just let me know.

He said:

A detailed rationale! I see where you’re coming from. Let’s treat data as single. If ClickBuzz wants to change it, we can.

It takes grit born of eons to rebound from such a blow.

Crushed, I put on my happy face and said:


Any decision is better than none.

And as long as we’re consistent, I’m a happy camper.

Thanks for listening!

Buzz Click.


So, what do you think?

You know I’m dying to hear!

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by Pete Birkinshaw.

Group shots

September 11, 2016 at 10:50 am | Posted in copywriting | 9 Comments
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group team photo shot corporate business

All together now …

A small-business client sent me a photo of herself posing with staff and colleagues at an industry function.

She asked if and how the shot could be used on her website.

After examining it, here’s what I said:

Normally, pics like these bore readers to tears (so I advise ditching them).

This photo, however, is unusually well executed.

So, the questions are, will your website’s target audience:

  1. Know who these people are?
  2. Be impressed?

If 1 and 2 are YES, you could use the pic as is, with no copy at all.

If 1 is NO but  2 is YES, you’ll need to identify the people by name, title and organisation for optimal effect.

You could do this the usual way (i.e. via a caption) but it might be a bit long given the number of people in frame.

Alternatively, you could embed these data such that they appear when the screen cursor hovers over each face.

Or, you could add a number to each person and add a legend with the data beside or below the pic.

Or, you could distil the pic into a silhouette (e.g. black line or solid shape on white background) and add numbers to each face – plus a legend as described above.

Regardless of the answer to question 1, if 2 is NO there’s no value in using the pic.

My client was grateful for this analysis.

And I realised two things:

  1. Though my forte is words, I’ve been around long enough to pick up some visual tips.
  2. I’m good at laying out solutions to help people decide things and get them done.

I hope you got something from reading this too.


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by The Happy Rower.


If you found this post useful or fun, you may wish to:

Your smallest kindness will keep me writing. 🙂






Cite lines

February 28, 2016 at 8:39 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
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Now U C it.

Here’s a client question that may interest:

I was reading a LinkedIn post and I wanted to know the legal rights if I want to use any of that post in a report.

I replied:

To be on the safe side, put anything you use in “quotes” and give the full details of each source you use (either as embedded links or as notes at the bottom of the page or the end of your report).

Most people who write content don’t mind being quoted, so long as they’re also cited.

It’s good for their brand if it’s done this way.

A few writers can be precious about it, but if you show where the content came from in good faith, the worst they can do is notice, complain, and ask you to remove it.

Which is pretty unlikely, given how much stuff is flying around online.

Sometimes, I contact content creators in advance to seek their permission to use their stuff (mainly images).

They generally appreciate this and agree (often in return for a link to their site).

Also, some pieces of content have instructions at the end that explain what can and can’t be done with them.

So keep an eye out for that too.

Finally, there’s some great info at Creative Commons and Wikipedia

I hope that helps.


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Pic from Wikipedia.

And: another thing.

July 17, 2015 at 7:27 am | Posted in copywriting | 5 Comments
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When to replace 'and' with '&'.

Concise copy is sweet!

I just did the penultimate edit of a resume (CV).

My client asked why I changed most instances of ‘and’ to ampersands (&) in his many bullet points.

Here’s what I replied:

In the context of this document, using ampersands lets busy recruiters cut to the chase without having to trip over 50 or so connecting words.

The ampersands fade into the background, bringing keywords to the fore.

Also, the four pages you sent were pretty dense, so this change got some bullets onto fewer lines – and created more white space between them.

All for easier reading – in case it’s 5 pm, on a Friday, and yours is the 99th resume of the day.

And if the recruiter is using software to scan your resume for keywords, it won’t be interested in ‘and’ under any circumstances.

I also removed most instances of ‘the’ as it, too, usually adds nothing to bullet points.

These are both changes we can reverse if you prefer.



you have it!


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Pic by abakedcreation.

Treasure grove

June 12, 2015 at 11:44 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
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I recently helped a client with the piece below. Aaron’s aim was to give a personal perspective of his profession. When we were done, however, we realised the content wasn’t ‘newsy’ enough for the Latest News section of Ecology and Heritage Partners‘ website.

It’s more of a blog post, but the site doesn’t have a blog (yet). So I suggested I host the post here until then. I think it’s a great story that ought to be told. So, over to you Aaron! (Click the pics to make them BIG.)

 Treasure grove

Finding a threatened species in an exotic plantation.

Aaron Organ, Director / Principal Ecologist, Ecology and Heritage Partners.

This true, personal tale – though small in scope – touches on many state, national and global environmental themes.

A tiny adventure

On a family holiday in Bright in Northeast Victoria, we drove past a large Radiata Pine (Pinus radiata) plantation. Having read of many fairy-tale forests, my six-year-old son asked if we could go into a real one.

His request reminded me where my ‘spark’ began: catching tadpoles in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, camping on weekends and taking long road trips with my own parents.

Into the wild …

So I turned onto a dirt track and drove deep into Crown land with an appropriate sense of stewardship …

The journey begins

From outside, the forest didn’t look much.

Inside, it appeared pleasant, but fairly sterile to my ecological mind.

Yet my son was entranced, so we went for a walk to see what we could find.

Not much to see in this monoculture.

The sun shone and the road sounds faded. After a while, we came to a shallow gully formed from a rain-eroded drainage line.

Barely an understorey to speak of.

It was then that we heard this sound.

Now it was my turn to be entranced! Because I’d heard this sound before. And I knew it was a Bibron’s (or Brown) Toadlet (Pseudophryne bibronii).

Why was this so exciting? Because the Bibron’s Toadlet:

A quest!

Eager to track the tiny sounds to their source and show my son, l fossicked among the forest debris.

To my delight, I soon caught a beautiful specimen in the undergrowth and displayed him (ironically) on the sawn stump of a tree.

You little beauty!

Simple lessons; profound truths

Had my son not asked to see this forest, at this time of year, we’d not have had this experience.

Happily, it seems my love of the outdoors has rubbed off on him. That’s why he was looking out the car window instead of down at some screen. This is vital, because if our kids don’t know what’s out there, they won’t care when it’s gone.

Not that I’m against technology. While these photos and sounds aren’t fabulous, the power to capture them – instantly – on a mobile phone, would’ve been unthinkable to naturalists even 20 years ago. This bodes well for the (much needed) rise of citizen scientists.

What I am saying is that society should slow down and enjoy the outdoors. People also need to encourage and empower the next generation to appreciate and care for the environment – before it’s too late.

This trip also reinforced my thinking that we should all look at ‘degraded’ environments with more circumspection. Though our planet has taken a pounding, it can still pleasantly surprise.

From ‘waste’ to habitat.

If a toadlet can persist in what could fairly be described as homogenous pine, what else is out there where we least expect it?

Finally, residents of (and visitors to) Bright may derive even more enjoyment from the environs if they know that, deep in the forest, a special creature still calls.

Learn more!

Like to know more about what my expert team and I do with toadlets and other native animals? Drop me a line at or 0425 873 159.

I’d love to hear from you!

Thank you, Aaron.

I greatly look forward to hearing what our readers think!

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pics and recording by Aaron Organ.

Tanks for the memories – the importance of research

May 29, 2015 at 1:11 pm | Posted in copywriting | 12 Comments
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What tank is that? (Original.) Click to make BIG.

I love doing research.

This is lucky, as copywriters must do stacks of it to be any good.

Get one fact wrong and you can:

So when it comes to looking stuff up, I’m pretty damn methodical.

Even when it’s an informal request from a friend, I take research very, very seriously – as Chris learnt last week:

‘Dear Paul,

In flicking through one of my father’s photo albums, I found quite a few ‘in the field’ photos.

I am intrigued by this one (shockingly fuzzy though it is) and thought that I would enlist your expertise to identify the type of tank.

All we’ve really got to go on is the shape of the turret and the gun.

I’m thinking it’s either a British Cruiser tank or a Panzer IV.

I believe that it was tank in early ‘45, possibly near Overloon.’

Chris enclosed the pic you see above, so I replied:

‘Hi, Chris.

What a fascinating challenge!

I thought it might be a Panzer IV, but I believe most later models had a turret ‘bustle’ at the back – for radio and other gear.

So I increased the contrast to see there’s no bustle on this tank.

What tank is that? (High contrast.)

What tank is that? (High contrast.)

Then I thought it might be a Panther, and so cross-checked the profile.

My best guess.

Second guessing.

There seem a lot of points of correlation:

  • Long gun (if you deem the white bit in the photo as part of a gun).
  • Two-stage gun mantlet.
  • Gun holder (and position thereof).
  • Tall commander’s cupola (which may have given the idea it was a British Cruiser).
  • Long rear engine deck.

Then I checked Overloon, to see if there were any Panthers in the area at the time and, blow me down (or up)!

The culprit?

The culprit?

So, from preliminary research, Panther seems a fair bet.

See if you agree.’

Chris seemed pleased with progress.

‘By jingoes I knew that you were the man for the job! That photo from the Overloon war museum leaves me gobsmacked!

I did find this photo of a Panzer IV variant which I though fitted the turret profile (without bustle), but I think that the stepped profile of the front of the tank would have been apparent in the photo despite the background vegetation.

The silhouette in the photo does more closely resemble a Panther, for the reasons that you mentioned as well as the taper angle on the rear of the turret.

Outside chance?

Outside chance?

I’m not ruling out the Cruiser Mk.II yet – look at the antenna arrangement (or maybe that’s just a tree in the background of the photo) and the ‘steps’ at rear of the turret.

Then again the stepped profile of the front of the tank doesn’t match, nor does the gun length.

Sentimental favourite.

Cruising for a bruising?

I prefer to believe that it’s a Panther in the photo, though. Much more exciting!


When a client is happy, so am I.

‘Great stuff, Chris.

Your antenna argument may have merit.

If you say the word, I could post the mystery tank pic on Twitter with a request to crowd source its identity.

Chances are, certain sections of my followers would be all over it.

Or you could leave it for your readers to decide.

Either way, very exciting.’

‘Yes, let’s crowd source it!

Attached is a higher resolution scan – you can zoom in and see that what we thought might be a gun support and aerial respectively are in fact trees in the background.



The plot thickens … ‘

‘The reason I mentioned Overloon is that on the same page of photos there are two references to that town – one in an inscription on a photo; on another photo, a road sign featuring that town’s name is visible.

I’m happy for you to include all of this in a blog post.

Let’s see where this goes!

I’m keen as la moutarde!’


All good grist.

Leave it mit me.’

So here we are.

I’m almost certain that tank is a Panther, but not positive.

What I do know for sure is that my readers know infinitely more than I ever will.

And so I’m putting this mystery out there.

In other words …


Yet another contender. (See Paul Huysing's comment below.)

Yet another contender. (See Paul Huysing’s comment below.)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

The true tale of Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe

March 23, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Posted in copywriting | 7 Comments
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Lady Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe (of Abbotsford).

I was rewriting a large website for a client with the glorious double-barrelled name (changed for this tale) of Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe.

With big projects, I often begin with small bits and work my way up at increasing speed.

Staff bios (profiles) are a great starting point.

When I got to Elizabeth’s bio, I recalled that she’d introduced herself to me as Liz.

She also signed her emails as Liz, yet her email address was

And so I wrote:

‘Dear Liz,

Are you predominantly Liz, Lizzy, Elizabeth (or some other permutation) to your various audiences?

The name they read should be the one they use.

If we can pick one variation and use it consistently across all communication channels, we’ll strengthen your brand.

If, however, use is situational, we can give this idea a miss.’

Liz replied:

‘My name is Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe.

Business cards, emails etc all use Elizabeth.

99% of people call me Liz.’

So I said:

‘Thank you, Liz.

So, all your business comms are in sync with just 1% of your audience.

As you’re obviously rebranding, can we ditch Elizabeth for Liz in all instances going forward?

Liz is shorter, friendlier and more accessible.

(Three traits that are particularly attractive when one has a double-barrelled surname.)

It’s impossible to misspell Liz.

And you’ll never again have to start a relationship with, ‘Please, call me Liz’.

This may remove small but unsettling uncertainties for some anxious folk.

Make sense?’

Liz said:

‘Liz it is.’

And so started our website optimisation collaboration.

Liz not only ended up with perfect online content.

She also got a sharper, stronger and more consistent personal brand.

I love it when that happens!


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by #1 Airsoft Mom.

.doc vs .docx – Which & why?

March 18, 2015 at 11:40 am | Posted in copywriting | 4 Comments
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Begin with the end in mind.

Begin with the end in mind.

I got a new editing project the other day.

A piece of technical writing destined to pass through many hands.

It’s also intended to form part of a series.

I always start a job by setting ground rules. And given this brief, the need for consistency from the start was paramount.

So the first question I sent to my client was:

‘Hi there!

I want to save everyone a lot of hassle by deciding which Word document format we’re all going to use.

I use Word 97-2003 (.doc) format.

This ensures everyone in the food chain can access and use it, regardless of how old their software is.

However, the document you sent me is in the more modern Word Document (.docx) format.

I want to ‘dumb down’ your files to Word 97-2003 (.doc) format.

Not just for the reason outlined above.

But because if we have two formats flying around, the various filenames won’t always appear together when we look for them in folders.

This could create problems.

My guess is that you have up-to-date software, with a Word template that automatically creates new documents in .docx format.

If so, you should be able to switch this to .doc format.

But before doing so, you may wish to see what format your staff, designer and publisher are using, so everyone is on the same page.

There are pros and cons to .doc and .docx:

You may decide you want the bells and whistles of .docx and that my ultra-conservative .doc approach isn’t for you.

If you and your people really want to use .docx going forward, that’s totally cool.

So long as everyone knows this, has the software to do so, and complies.

This may sound like a tiny and arcane point, but making this simple decision now could avert dramas down the track.

To this end, could you please let me know which way you (and your team!) wish to go?

Kind regards,


My client’s reply was wonderfully clear and concise.

So much so that I wondered if she needed an editor at all.

She wrote:

‘Yes revert to .doc.’

What a wonderful way to begin!


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by rahego.

Library books

March 16, 2015 at 9:01 am | Posted in copywriting | 2 Comments
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Imagine Day. Paul Hassing's book of surreal short stories.

Write once. Use many times.

Having edited a client’s book for much of last year, I was delighted when he sent me a box of ten shiny copies to give to prospects and friends.

By chance, my own book (pictured) had come out just a few days before.

Once I got over the warm fuzzy of seeing my name and website in my client’s acknowledgements, I thought about how to leverage his content.

And so I wrote:

‘Hi there!

Having just had my own book published, I was wondering if you or your publisher has sent copies of your new book to:

It’s not just a legal thing, your title goes onto the databases and becomes globally searchable.

This increases exposure and is very good for your personal brand.

My searches of these databases did not yield anything written by you.

So I wanted to make sure you get onto this if you haven’t already.

Kind regards,


My client was very grateful.

And, as usual, I got a kick out of offering some free value-add service beyond the project itself.

I can’t wait to see what our respective publications do for us this year.


PS. Here’s the National Library of Australia entry for my dad’s autobiography. And here he is in the State Library of Victoria.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

From DL to PDF to online & beyond!

October 1, 2014 at 11:39 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
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Leverage your content worldwide!

Leverage your content worldwide!

Remember that jolly DL brochure I edited?

It’s not back from the printer yet, but it did throw up a further lesson during the design process.

Never one to stop seeking value, I asked my client:

‘Once this brochure is finalised for printing, do you reckon we’ll also leverage the file into a PDF?

Doing so would let you post it on your website for downloading any time.

You could also email it to any (younger?) prospects who flag a preference for screen browsing over snail mail (especially if you need to get a brochure to them fast).

If you think this URL idea has legs, I can add a few handy hyperlink suggestions (e.g. behind headshot photos and company logos) so online readers can easily explore.

More bang for your buck, and all that.

These URLs would not be visible in or affect the printed brochure (i.e. if you printed the PDF yourself, it’d be identical to the commercially printed brochure).

I’m definitely not suggesting we run two versions of this brochure – merely that we augment the master file to suit two channels.

Please let me know what you reckon.’

My client agreed this was worthwhile.

Thus spurring me to ever greater efforts to give him value for money.


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 Pic from Wikipedia.

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