Yer pays yer money…

A client queries; a copywriter responds: 

  •  %, percentage or per cent? – I think the default should probably be ‘percent’ – all one word. Percent is US; per cent is British. 
  • Fullstop after each bullet or not? – default is no. On the basic principle of minimising clutter (ie, anything that adds no value). The exception being when one or more of the bullets contains more than one sentence. In that case, the first sentence ends in a full stop, so the second can’t not have one; if one bullet has a full stop, all other bullets within that list (for consistency’s sake) also have to have full stops. I try to avoid multi-sentence bullets, not least for this reason.
  • & or and – always the word spelt out, other than in contexts/phrases where the use of the & is well established – A&E, P&L, fruit & veg. You would never, eg, talk about ‘our recording & publishing businesses’.
  • USD$ (then space) or US$ and no space after – I would say US$no space. USD$ = ‘US dollar dollar’. And as for the space, we wouldn’t say £ 100, and ‘US$’ is just their ‘£’, albeit a three-symbol rather than one symbol symbol. So, £100, US$100.


I was struck by the tone of the Nationwide’s recent letter to my daughter:

Something like 20 years ago we did a big campaign of work for Nationwide, stretching over a year or more. Part of it was a straightforward exercise in drafting their basic materials, from letters to leaflets to ads. But the other part was a conscious empowerment programme, aiming to equip Nationwide with a clear and distinct tone of voice, and help them put it to work.

Looks like it was a success! They can communicate. The messages come across clearly, and they sound like people, rather than adenoidal officials.

Not that there isn’t room for improvement.


…is no way to address your customers. Use her first name if you have the balls (and you should). If you can’t bring yourself to, then at least don’t bludgeon her with POINTLESS CAPITALS. And if you can’t or won’t make it human, then discard it altogether; it won’t be missed.

And why begin by offering ‘your replacement Personal Identification Number (PIN)’? Does anyone ever call it that? Why not

…your replacement PIN

If you really feel the need, you can spell out the acronym in the following chunk of body copy.

But on the whole, not bad! Certainly a major improvement on the kind of bloodless officialese that was the norm for such communications back in the day.


After reviewed copy came back, I protested to my client that theirs had turned all my single inverted commas into doubles, flying in the face of what I called accepted contemporary practice, which employs doubles only for reported speech.  Word came back that the client insisted on doubles, which, they said, was standard practice in America.

Are they right? I’d never heard of such a convention, and a few minutes’ googling provides no definitive answer. But I’ll continue to recommend singles, for no better reason than my general instinct to ‘cut the clutter’, and keep everything as clean and minimalist as possible.

None of which, needless to say, affects the primacy of the client’s preference. So long as it’s not unquestionably and definitively wrong, the client gets what the client specifies. You paya da bills, you maka da rules.

Designing for the audience

Perusing the sleeve notes of some records I’d just bought from Oxfam, I was struck by how different the experience could be, depending on how the words had been set.

Many moons ago, I was warned against reversed-out text by David Ogilvy, who insisted it was a dumb designers’ self-indulgence, which invariably made reading more difficult. He also suggested that serif fonts were almost always easier to read in print than sans-serif. Yer know what? He was right!

Such matters had been on my mind since I saw the new redesigned Guardian. One particular bit of design had particularly raised my hackles: someone’s cretinous decision to set one of the letters in 20pt type in a narrow column:

You have to wonder, does whoever’s responsible ever actually read anything? Or are words just ‘elements’?

The latter, surely,
given that they
are clearly oblivious
to just how irritating
and distracting
it is to be forced
to read a simple
sentence as a
succession of three
or four word blocks.

It’s like a road designer setting traffic lights at 50 metre intervals along a main highway, sitting back to watch all the cars and buses and vans and lorries stop-start-stop-starting their way along the road, and thinking ‘Nice one! Well done me!’

Tricksy design should be strangled at birth. By which I mean, design that calls attention to itself, saying ‘Hey, look at me! Ain’t I cute?’ If you can see ‘the design’, it’s not cute; it’s just bad design.

Its getting bad

Howard Jacobson is a precise, even occasionally borderline pompous, writer, so I have no doubt his copy was in good shape when he submitted it.

Doubtless also, the apostrophe in the last sentence was added by a helpful work-experience intern. Jacobson is still appearing, so one presumes he survived the apoplectic rage which – again doubtless – accompanied his encounter with the ‘help’ in print…