‘Pas trop cuit’ (not too cooked) is my default setting for food and copy.
Nevertheless, I took yonks to pluck up the courage to ask formidable (that’s French for ‘fab’ and English for ‘scary’) Madame de G my Boulanger for a baguette ‘pas trop cuite.’
First, she corrected my dodgy pronunciation (‘we say la baguette, Madame Cameron, we must pronounce the ‘t’). Then she rifled through the bread basket for something pale and squishy. I’ve never needed to ask her since. Madame remembers. I still do sometimes, just to show I can say ‘cuite.’ It earns me a tiny nod of approval.
Crusty baguettes aside, most French cooking tends towards underdone. Answering your waiter’s meaty question, ‘Quelle cuisson?‘ (how do you want that cooked?) with anything over ‘à point’ (medium) may earn you a raised eyebrow.
My request for ‘saignant’ (bloody), usually gets the nod.
‘Don’t overcook it,’ is my motto for most things. It would have been my copywriting business by line, if I didn’t already have this one.
Fewer words, more meaning
‘Fewer words, more meaning’ is the 4Words motto. Before that it, was a bit of barely legible, scrawl my comms classes called ‘Mother Cameron’s mantra.’ It headlined every whiteboard and peppered every assignment. By the end of their courses, most people ‘got’ it. It made sense, and it worked.
‘My comms teaching career coincided with the birth of the Plain English movement. This was a revolt against the over-egged, jargon ridden writing that plagued business and bureaucratic writing in the 70s and 80s. So, yep I’m that old.
‘Fewer words, more meaning’ has proud plain English roots. It was my entrée into the art of serving up copy that’s ‘pas trop cuit.’
Worried about overcooking your copy? Try this.
5 ‘pas trop cuit’ rules for writing almost anything
The Plain English guidelines champion heaps of ways to write well. Here are the 5 key transformative points I taught and practice:
1. Write short sentences for punch and readability
2. Use active verbs to show who owns an action
3. Replace nouns with verbs wherever you can to add momentum and flow
4. List stuff for elegance and economy
5. Use ‘we’ and ‘our’ for warmth and inclusiveness
These points are not new, nor are they rocket science. That said they’re my touchstones for every bit of self or contracted editing I ever do. The first three often need more work.
5 copy kitchen aids – top tools to keep you ‘pas trop cuit’
I’m predisposed to ‘pas trop cuit,’ and age and experience have naturally simplified my writing. But practice and inclination weren’t enough to stop the odd outbreak of idiotic showoffery. It took training, tools, and a skilful editor to put paid to that.
These places, people, and things continue to help me hone my craft.
The clever copywriting school – courses and community
I’m a 4 year veteran of Kate Toon’s Clever Copywriting School. Kate’s courses, tools, and templates are the total biz. Lovingly prepped, cooked to juicy, underdone perfection and served with lashings of secret sauce. Kate is without peer as a trainer, nudger, and nurturer of copy beasts of every ilk. Besides being a 5 starred Michelin chef of SEO training and all things copy, she is also a damn fine human.
Copywrite matters – courses and community
Belinda Weaver’s thorough, well-resourced courses give you a solid grounding in the art of tasty copywriting. Her ‘daily draft emails are chock full of dead brill tips. Besides being a mega credentialed copywriter, Belinda is down to earth and very droll. She is what we old dames like to call, ‘a dear girl.’
Grammarly is an elegant, easy way to check basic grammar and proofing. Make sure to set it for your version of English. The Hemingway app helps keep you honest. It pinpoints passages where you’ve been too smart by half and prompts you to get over yourself.
The app grades your work for readability. Anything under 9 gets a ‘good.’ Hemingway’s own work was estimated at between 4 and 6. This blog got a 5.
An actual (excellent) editor
I love 24/7 access and the mechanical precision of editing tools, but nothing beats a talented human. I use lovely Lisa Cropman at The Word Nest. She’s smarter than Grammarly and cooler than Hemingway. Lisa also has a ‘what were you thinking?’ function activated by grammatically correct but spurious content. If a point is not worth making or could be made better, Lisa will spot it.
Very good copy
4 last words – the ‘so what’ test
Follow the rules for fresh and underdone, and your writing will appeal to most humans. Bravo! You’ll have written fewer words with more meaning.
If your words also pass the ‘so what’ test and answer your target humans’ questions you’ve probably written very good copy.
Over to you
Got a grammar grouch? A favourite copy kitchen tip? An ace writing app?. Share it here.
Like your copy on the rare side? Get in touch.