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S3: E1: Creating squeaky clean copy

January 24, 2024

Lucy Mowatt: Hi there. I’m here with Claire Price, Senior Content Marketing Executive at Method Marketing. Claire, for those people who don’t know you, do you want to introduce yourself and a bit more about what you do and your experience? 

Claire Price: Hi, I’m Claire. I’ve been working in content marketing now for, well, over ten years now probably.

I’ve worked in all kinds of different fields from, finance and health through to kind of doing lifestyle content, insurance, everything basically. So here at Method, I do a lot of the writing here, so social media, white papers, kind of try my hand at a little bit of everything. Really. 

Lucy Mowatt: You’ve got lots of experience across a broad range of platforms. You were doing yourself a disservice because you do a lot of stuff. You’re not just trying your hand at it.

In this episode, we wanted to talk about accuracy, which we talk a lot about with our clients, and in our marketing. But do you want to give a little overview in your view of what accuracy is and what we’re typically going to be talking about? 

Claire Price: So accuracy encompasses different things, so it can range from punctuation and grammar which is always really important, but it’s also talking about fact-checking and making sure what you’re saying is actually well supported, got good evidence for it as well, so when we say accuracy, it’s everything from the actual writing of it to the content itself as well.

Lucy Mowatt: Cool, and why is that important in your opinion? 

Claire Price: It’s really important because anything with, I think, with bad grammar and punctuation, it leads to a lack of clarity so things can be misread or misinterpreted. And especially if you’re working in a more regulated field, that can lead to a lot of problems for both you and any clients that you’re working for.

Claire Price: Also it just makes you look more professional. It looks like you know what you’re talking about, and if you’re doing something really high level, such as a white paper, which may be going out to your peers, if you’ve made bad spelling mistakes, it looks really bad, it can lower you in their estimation, for example. But also if you’ve got facts that haven’t been checked, again, it makes you look untrustworthy, it looks like you can’t be relied upon as a proper source of information, and so, especially in this world of AI as well.

Lucy Mowatt: I think people underestimate how important it is to fact-check and we’ll cover this in a bit. But you know, go back to the original source. There have been so many cases of businesses using Wikipedia as a source and it’s like, it’s unreliable. So we’ll come on to that in a bit. But, I suppose let’s start with the actual, writing in and of itself. How would you recommend people go about making sure they have good grammar in their content marketing?

Claire Price: And so there are lots of different tools that you can use to help you. So you’ve got things like grammar, you can even use chat GPT as well, but you always have to understand the limitations of those tools. So for chat GPT for example, it uses a lot of Americanisms. And if you’re writing for a UK audience, that’s not going to be correct.

Claire Price: So basically, your own knowledge is really good at writing it correctly. Firsthand is always great, but it’s also about having your work checked and getting it checked by somebody with fresh eyes. It’s amazing how you can miss things like double words or a missed capital letter, things like that as well.

Claire Price: So always having somebody else check your work is great. And also having, you know, a bit of conscientiousness when you’re writing it so that when you finish a piece of content, you don’t just send it off. You go back to it yourself and check it. I always check my work about three times probably before I actually send it on to somebody else to have a look at.

Claire Price: Because I often pick up things that I have missed. Yeah, it’s amazing what then gets flagged up. But loads of, tools on your writing now will flag up any grammatical things now, or a misspelt word, so, you know, definitely go through and check anything that gets highlighted. 

Lucy Mowatt: Yeah, I find, and I think I’ve probably said this, people are bored of hearing me say it, but like, reading it out loud, you might feel like a bit of a berk.

If the grammar is wrong, you sound strange when you read it back out loud. You go: ‘Oh yeah, maybe that comma shouldn’t be there. Or maybe there should be a full stop breaking this up.’ Things like that. I also sort of say that sometimes rules are there to be broken. So a lot of, sometimes we get feedback on, you know, we shouldn’t start sentences with an and or a but, but sometimes if you’re trying to be a bit more chatty, it’s okay to break those rules.

Lucy Mowatt: The thing that I think I often say to clients is once you know the rules, you can break them. But I think it’s about, you know, making sure you get it. Right, and make sure you break those rules deliberately, and know when you’re breaking them.

Claire Price: It’s all about the tone of voice that you’re trying to go for, for that kind. If they’re a particularly formal thing, and you’re writing a very formal publication, then you probably don’t want to do those things. But if you’re doing a social media post, then absolutely, or a blog post, those things can work. So yeah, and I think modern language is a lot more flexible now as well. But that doesn’t mean necessarily that you can forget your capital letters and things.

Lucy Mowatt: And I know we’ve, again, we’ve talked about it, about setting up style guides for your business, about when you break those grammatical rules as well. It’s just making sure that it fits in with your overall brand and your brand tone of voice and making sure that that fits in or, and if you don’t have a style guide, you know, there are others out there.

Claire Price: Yes. Yeah. for example, I often refer to the Guardian style guide. If I don’t have a particular, there’s a particular word or phrase that we haven’t used before. And I’m like, what’s a good idea to kind of. follower. I use that as a benchmark, but it’s just about consistency really. So if you decide, for example, when COVID came around, there was all kinds of the spellings, you know, sometimes it had a capital C, but then the rest was lowercase or all capitals.

As long as you pick one, and then you stay true to it throughout all your publications, then it looks so much better than changing. If, in a tweet, you’re using something else it just looks messy and inconsistent. 

Lucy Mowatt: We’re both a pair of writers and editors, but we still check each other’s work as a matter of course, anything that we send out is checked twice by us or an external proofreader, because, you know, you and I have done proofreading, we’re not necessarily trained proofreaders. And so having that extra expertise is always really useful, I find.

Claire Price: Yeah. And, different people spot different things as well. And perhaps you can have a discussion over whether a comma could be replaced with a full stop and things like that.

It’s good to have those conversations to make sure the content – when it’s finished and it goes to the client – is absolutely at its best. It’s clean. It’s easy to read. And yeah, relying on somebody who is perhaps a more professional proofreader. It’s amazing what they can spot as well. 

Lucy Mowatt: Yeah, we have a fabulous proofreader who often flags, you know, style things with us. Because we work with some clients all the time, we might take things for granted, but they always flag it. And again, it comes back to that making a deliberate choice of using that style. But yeah, it never fails to amaze me. There’s always something that they pick up on. Definitely get someone else to look at it.

In terms of ChatGPT, you just mentioned about using it to proofread. I find that if I need something checked really quickly, even if it’s just an email, I will just copy and paste the text into ChatGPT and say, please highlight any mistakes in bold. And I found that really helpful.

Claire Price: Yeah, I’ve done that a few times as well. This is a really quick way of doing it, as long as, yeah, you understand the kind of like, little tweaks that it might need. It’s really good, and sometimes if you have a grammatical question, you can ask it to get a vague idea: is this supposed to be a semicolon? Or something like that, it can give you an idea, and it definitely helps.

Lucy Mowatt: I’m just reflecting on a conversation we had about a week ago, where it got how to use a possessive comma with an abbreviation wrong. It got SMEs without an apostrophe wrong.

Claire Price: It’s a bit of your own consideration. Perhaps cross-reference it. There are all these lovely websites where grammar people share tips. You can’t rely on AI a hundred per cent. 

Lucy Mowatt: Human expertise sometimes helps you decide what’s what’s correct and what’s not. Yeah, and actually that brings me to something else I was thinking about: the Oxford comma.

Claire Price: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of debates about the Oxford comma in the office haven’t we? I’m not a huge fan of it. But sometimes it is needed to aid the readability of a sentence. But other people love it and they want to use it all the time. Again, it’s up to you, your client’s style guide and your own preferences, but technically it’s not wrong to not use it. You’ve just got to make these judgements based on your own preferences, experiences, and what the client wants as well. Yeah, context is kind of everything in that situation.

Lucy Mowatt: Controversial as that sounds, I’m going to sit on the fence. That leads me onto fact-checking. Why should you fact-check? 

Claire Price: Especially when so much content gets published now, it’s absolutely important to know that what you’re saying is correct. Especially if you are going to write for something that is more regulated.

If you’re working in finance, law, insurance, that sort of thing, you’ve got to be sure that what you’re saying is accurate otherwise you’re being misleading to the public. Also it’s a way of showing that you’re somebody to be trusted. That you use resources well and you found them from a reliable place.

What you’re saying isn’t just copied and pasted from somebody else. Fact-checking is super important. And now with AI just pulling things from unknown sources, being able to link back and show where you found that information builds a lot of trust. 

Lucy Mowatt: It shows you’re plugged into the wider context of your industry or your client’s industry, definitely. I’ve been using BARD and trying to play around with BARD, and that, you can say to it, you know, cite your sources if you state any facts. Please include a link or a, or source, so at least you can go back and check it.

Claire Price: Yeah, and that’s the thing, just, don’t just ask for links, actually go and check them. Some people, they, I’ve seen articles and it’s had a link back to something and then it actually hasn’t said what they said it said. So it’s always good to definitely follow through.

Claire Price: And if you’ve read a statistic on a blog post somewhere that’s citing a piece of research, I always try and find the actual research and read it myself, because it’s amazing how things can be misread and then it spreads and it just circulates around and all these people are citing the same source, but they haven’t actually read it. It’s amazing. 

Lucy Mowatt: If you read something on Wikipedia and it’s got that little number, that little footnote next to it, always click the footnote and go and check what it said and when that source of information was put out there. Because then you can check that that information has been interpreted correctly in that study or that source. That it is being reflected accurately. 

Claire Price: Wikipedia’s an interesting one. It’s great. It’s a great resource, but you can’t trust it very much. I mean, I saw a snippet the other day for Mozart saying that they couldn’t wait until the next album dropped. So, you know, there can be all sorts of weird things that get added to Wikipedia, and you just can’t trust it 100%.

Lucy Mowatt: Also, I’ve known people who have deliberately put stuff into Wikipedia incorrectly. As a prank, literally like misquoting people. So always check those footnotes. When you’re thinking about fact-checking, where would you typically go? What sort of resources would you be looking for?

Claire Price: Well, it does depend on the kind of content you’re writing for but a broadsheet newspaper is a good place to start. If they’re good and they cite their sources you can just follow the line through. Or look at educational institutions as well government resources. So you might use something like the ONS.

It really depends. Also looking for original press releases as well, that’s always really good. Go for the people who have actually carried out the research that you’ve quoted. So yeah, it really does depend on what you need. But you kind of just have to use your knowledge. If it looks and feels a bit kind of spammy, don’t, don’t use it.

Lucy Mowatt: I’m sure I’m not the only person who notices on ads, like for skincare and it says 85 per cent of 10 people said it’s effective… I don’t know if I would source that as a piece of data because that seems a bit unreliable. If you can drill into the data set and make sure it’s not just some PR campaign that is actually quite thin with a sample size of.

Claire Price: Yeah, it’s poorly researched and, and things like that. That’s something you definitely need to check.

Lucy Mowatt: If we’re going back through client content and refreshing it and updating it and the date the data might be out of date. There might be a new data set to try and find the most recent data set as well.

Claire Price: Sometimes I find a really good headline statistic and it’s like ‘oh, this is great’. And then you see that it was actually published 10 years ago or something and it’s just not relevant to your context anymore. And what I was going to say earlier was, also look at what countries it’s been carried out in, because a lot of research on the internet is based on US and US customers.

And that is very useful sometimes, but I think I was writing an article on bike theft in the UK. And the research said so many bicycles have been stolen in the U. S. It’s just not relevant to what your audience want to hear from you. 

It’s about, looking at that context and thinking, ‘okay, can that supplement the article or the piece of content that I’m putting together?’

Lucy Mowatt: Can it just be used as background information? Because sometimes that’s fine. But I think if you are maybe using a fact to make a point, you need to make sure it’s properly relevant.

Yeah, absolutely. Your information is just going to be dismissed because they’re going well that’s, that’s not correct really, it doesn’t relate to me in any shape or form.

Lucy Mowatt: I think that’s an often overlooked piece of advice there as well. Always make sure you cite your resources and sources in your piece as well. There’s nothing wrong with citing your sources and giving people access to it, because it makes you look more trustworthy. You and I have talked about that, haven’t we? Because if you’re sending people to that research, you’re proving that you’ve actually read it.

Lucy Mowatt: Yeah, 

Claire Price: you’ve read it, you’ve analysed it correctly, and you know it’s relevant, you know it’s correct, and, so then everybody just again, it’s just building that trust that you know what you’re doing, and what you said is correct. Because I always feel a bit dubious if I see a statistic mentioned, and there’s no link, or reference to where that was taken from it could have just been plucked from the air. 

Lucy Mowatt: Yeah, no, I think that was a wise choice. And we’ve had clients say to us, you know, should we be linking out? What, if we lose the traffic and it’s like, well, actually, if you open it in a new tab, your original piece of content stays open, you don’t have to make a follow link if you don’t want to.

Lucy Mowatt: You know, if you don’t want them to receive any sort of, inverted commas, link juice, you know, you don’t have to do that. But I think it always pays to include a link to the source wherever possible. And yeah, you don’t have to lose the audience from it at all. So it just makes you look better without losing anything.

Lucy Mowatt: Exactly. The only thing I would also maybe add is to check back, like, set a reminder in your calendar is to go back and check, like, once a year to make sure those sources haven’t gone out of date. Because sometimes links get taken down. 

Claire Price: Yeah, because they get broken. 

Lucy Mowatt: If you’ve got a search engine optimisation tool, hopefully, it will flag it if any external links are broken, but if not put a link in a note in your diary to go back just once a year and just check all the links.

Claire Price: Yeah, that’s it. And new research can come out as well. So you might have an article that’s about the high risk of, I don’t know, cyber attacks, but actually the following year they go down dramatically, so suddenly your research doesn’t look so good anymore and perhaps your advice or guidance would be different.

Lucy Mowatt: Using the case of cyber attacks, you know, that is such a fast-moving area that actually the risks change from year to year. Who’d have thought that we’d have like voice phishing and things like that, a couple of years ago? You know, that’s, that’s something that’s just sort of appeared in the last year or two.

Claire Price: Yeah, there’s always new developing things happening in all kinds of sectors and some of the things to do with technology are moving much faster than the others, so you’ve just got to keep pace with that.

Lucy Mowatt: Look at AI. Who would have thought this time last year, we’d be talking about AI almost, you know, constantly. It’s really important to keep an eye on those things. We work a lot in regulated sectors, and with businesses who maybe have compliance challenges and need to have everything checked.

Claire Price: It is really hard because sometimes you can fall into those good old writers’ pitfalls of going, ‘Oh, this is, this is great, this person’s an expert, this is guaranteed, this is the best’. That’s, a typical one, but In some of these industries, you can’t say that unless you can actually back it up with something.

You can’t say if somebody’s an expert if you can’t prove that they don’t have the credentials behind them. And also you’ve just got to be really careful of your language and the terminology that you use. So I know when I worked in finance, the company I was working with, they weren’t advisors. So when we published content we couldn’t say ‘We advise you to do this’ because technically that would be completely wrong because we’re not qualified to do it.

So you would have to say guidance instead, and it’s understanding those industries that you’re working in and what the regulations are that helps you to shape it so that you can still give useful information, but you never overstep that line and go beyond what you’re actually allowed to say. 

Lucy Mowatt: A lot of the time I put my hands up to say, you know, I’m not an expert in lots of fields, you know, I’m not a financial services expert, I’m not an insurance expert, but I understand enough. But I am an expert marketer, I can claim that. So we can work with people in your teams who are the experts on the ground. What we say to clients is: I’m not an expert in your sector, but you are.

And if we work together, we can create something that is compliant, that does bring new thoughts and new insights into your industry. So, you know, marketing, working with those area experts, is really, really valuable. You can make your marketing so much more powerful using their insights as original thought. By being careful, you can position one of your colleagues as an expert, even if you and the marketing team aren’t because you’re working together.

A lot of time it’s vital to have that input with your teams, especially in complex sectors where you get the expertise. They can say these things and then, marketing can tailor it to make sure you meet FCA compliance regulations and still meet your client’s needs.

Wow. That was a rambly answer!

Claire Price: It’s a lot to think about though in regulated areas and I think that you, you’ve hit upon the important point: you’ve got to talk to people who are the experts. Especially in online content now, there are a lot of people who don’t do interviews with people, you don’t go out and talk to those experts, but you’ve got to be prepared to do that because they’re the people who know everything and they can offer you insights that you can’t just find regurgitated on the internet. They’ve got the insight for you because they’re doing it.

Every day they’re living and breathing it, so it’s really important to talk to them and then get them to check what you’ve said just so that you can be absolutely sure that what you’ve said is relevant, it’s up to date, and yeah, it’s interesting as well because they can provide things that you can’t read anywhere else.

Lucy Mowatt: I know this is a complete tangent, but they’re talking to your clients all the time, potentially if they’re out in the field, They’re selling products or services. They will be answering those commonly asked questions that can inform marketing.

Sorry, this is way off the accuracy tangent, but it’s important to have those. That dialogue and that internal communication to make sure that marketing is accurate, that it is the leading insight in your industry and makes you a bit more of a thought leader and gives people a reason to come back to your website. It’s all very well, you know, just churning out content that’s based on desk research, but you’re not saying anything new or original. So why would someone come to you versus someone else?

Claire Price: Exactly, and you never know that the questions that are being asked in the field may not be ones that people feel comfortable putting in search engines.

But these might be real questions that you need to produce some content that they can distribute in some other way. Because they might be really relevant questions that lots of people are asking all at the same time, but they’re not necessarily putting it into search. In fact, they need somebody who’s the expert to tell them these answers so they feel more comfortable doing it that way.

But you could perhaps diminish the number of questions that they get all the time that they’re asked every day by providing a bit of content upfront. Oh, we’ve answered all these commonly asked questions.

Lucy Mowatt: Especially if it’s a niche sector as well. Like, you know, where search points might be really, really small. It might not necessarily show up in a search a search tool, but there might be like 10 people a month looking for that, who you can answer their question and t build a relationship with them because you’ve provided them with an accurate answer that meets their needs. You can build, and you might not get that from search engine data. So it always pays to go and check 

Claire Price: Oh, yeah, definitely and then you’ve added some value, but nobody else could then hmm 

Lucy Mowatt: And one final question before we wrap up: do you have like a top tip for people who are writing their own content? And what would you recommend is there must do?

Claire Price: My thing is, because I have a background in history, research is my thing. I always, when I get given a new topic, almost research it to death. I get to the point where I feel like, yes, I can, I feel confident writing about it. So I would never just go to one place.

Always go to more than one place and do your research. And do the research to the point where you’re like, yes, I feel, I can answer lots of these common questions. I know where this is gonna go. That would be my thing. And then, under that research banner, talk to people as well. Don’t just do it all on your desk. 

Lucy Mowatt: Yeah, it can give you a lot of background, but go out and speak to someone.

From my perspective, I would say always use a spell checker. It’s surprising how many people do not use spell check, even though it appears, and you get the little squiggly red line.

People are blind to it but actually again it’s a process that we use internally: before anything goes to a client it is run through the spell check. Also, search for double spaces because that often gets overlooked as well. I hate double spaces so I just do a like a Ctrl F for double spaces and remove them  because it’s a pet hate of mine.

Claire Price: It is a pet hate and that’s a hangover from ye olde days unfortunately but you still see it crop up, unfortunately.

Lucy Mowatt: Where can people find out more about you, before we sign off? 

Claire Price: I am on LinkedIn, of course, so you can look me up there. Also, there is an article about me on the Method Marketing website. So please feel free to read that. 

Lucy Mowatt: Cool. Thanks for joining me, Claire. 

Claire Price: It’s been a pleasure.

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