I met Sunny Gray during her time at Carolina. Now she's a busy writer/editor with her own business, Sunny Gray Copy Editor. It's always great to see interns grow into successful professionals!

Take command of your copy

Oh, the mighty word. It can enlighten, inspire, and confuse. Whether you’re writing a book, blog post, or brochure, follow these five tips for taking command of your copy:

1. Know your audience—talk the talk

Don’t write for yourself; write for your reader. For example, if you grow organic vegetables and want to create a brochure to sell your CSA shares to people who don’t know what a CSA is, use layman’s terms and then educate them:

Would you like to improve your health and the flavor of your favorite meals? Fresh Farms offers local, organic veggies through a weekly subscription. Just like your favorite magazines, we deliver farm-fresh produce right to your door. Then you can explain community supported agriculture.

And, if you’re working on a novel, your 50-year-old main character is not going to say, "Radical, dude"—unless he’s a surfer, of course!

[More tips for writing with the reader in mind here]

2. Don’t rely on spell check, part I

Have someone else proofread your piece before you publish your work or press send. A slip of the finger can result in embarrassment. Just yesterday, I almost sent out an email in which I misspelled my own name—and I’m a copy editor!

3. Don’t rely on spell check, part II

There are lots and lots of words you can spell correctly but use incorrectly. I recently came across these two examples:

  • She wore high hills
  • She smelled of Channel Five

Many women climb high hills, literally and figuratively, but few wear them. As for Channel Five? I believe that’s a television station, not a perfume. [More tips on common mistakes and how to avoid them]

4. Use an apostrophe S—or not

The apostrophe denotes possession, and words that end in s sans the apostrophe represent the plural form. For example: The Grays' house was a mess, so the Grays decided to go on vacation. Take a minute to review your work for errors, not error’s.

5. Use active verbs

Although forms of the verb “to be” are necessary and often the right choice, an active verb brings your copy to life.

  • She was happy falls flat.
  • She jumped for joy provides the reader with an image, albeit a cliché!
  • She was eating spaghetti is boring and clunky.
  • She ate spaghetti makes the sentence easier to read.

I advise clients to write, write, write and then go back (before they send their piece to the proofreader) and look for all uses of is, was, and were and try to replace them with active verbs. [More on how to use active verbs]

Your take-away: Choose the right words, spell and use them correctly, and make them zing!

 Sunny Gray is a storyteller, coach, and editor living in Charleston, S.C. She loves hot coffee and active verbs. Her favorite books involve food, love, and a happy ending—not necessarily in that order.
 Learn more about her business at SunnyGray.com.