Get some help.
Whether you’re a junior copywriter or you’ve just thrown yourself into freelance waters, you’re going to need some help. It’s easy enough to knock on the invisible door of your Head of Copy, but in my experience, this is often busy being invaded by lots of other people all looking for similar pearls of wisdom (usually in the shape of an approval form or brief submission).
So here’s a little glossary of the more useful books I’ve come across on my merry copywriting way. Apart from advertising agencies, this journey has also included completing an English Literature degree, a CELTA certificate and a ‘Teaching English Literacy to Adults’ course.
Oxford Plain Guide to English, Oxford University Press
This is a brilliant pocket guide to have around. It covers all the sticking points of written English, such as bullet pointed lists and semi-colon usage. But it takes this further by covering things like Post Scripts, ways to write more succinctly and the basics of clear layout. I wouldn’t be without it, now or back in my junior days.
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press
A great starter guide for junior writers who need an easy-to-use reference tool. For example, you can look up apostrophes or commas for a quick explanation about how they’re used. Definitions also show examples of words in situ, to back up your existing knowledge.
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy, Cambridge University Press.
This reference book was the must-have grammar guide on the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course. Like a TEFL, this course helps students brush up on their English grammar, so they can understand the challenges posed by newcomers to the English language. For copywriters, it’s useful for explaining to clients or account handlers why something has to be a certain way. So if you need a little help outlining why you’ve written ‘which’ and not ‘that’, this is the one to reach for.
Webster’s Grammar Guide
Shock horror, a mention for a US publication: Noah Webster was a grammar reformer in the United States in the eighteenth century. He published the first dictionary in America in 1828 and lends his name to the Webster’s Grammar Guide. It used to be a regular on English Literature degree lists and is the name behind the Merriam Webster US online site.
Just wanted to add a note about this. I might be old fashioned in saying this, but I believe everyone should have a paper dictionary to turn to for absolute clarity in case of a spelling concern. There are so many resources online, but it can be hard to know if they are accurate or if they are American English based, as mentioned above, where the rules can be different. To combat any uncertainty, it’s best to have a hardback reference tool to hand. I’m an Oxford University Press fan but Collins is a good name as well.
The online thesauruses are quicker to use and generally very useful, but there could be times when a brief requires you to name a product or initiative. This is when a hardback Thesaurus can be invaluable and lead you down routes you might not have otherwise discovered online.
This isn’t a definitive list, but it might be useful to someone, somewhere. If you have any other reference tools to share, please get in touch. I’d love to hear about them.