7 things a proofreader should check in your content

Looking for a proofreader who’s both a natural at conversational content writing AND has a Countdown-level of attention to detail?

Here are just some of the things we look for when we’re in proofreader mode:

1. Typos

We’re all human, but typos give the impression of having a low attention to detail. Or worse, you get the wrong word altogether. Bottoms! 

2. Repetition

We’ll ensure you don’t say ‘ensure’ too many times in your content, ensuring your readers don’t get sick of being ensured.

3. Dodgy formatting

Would you eat a plate of food you dropped on the floor? Maybe at home?! Would you read content that looks a mess? Probably not.

4. Word count

Do you love reading stuff that takes ages to get to the point? We don’t either, but we’re great at condensing content without losing the meaning.

5. Overused words

We’re passionate about writing, you’re passionate about your business, some people are passionate about insurance…

6. Punctuation disasters

Too much punctuation, is – often – distracting, and (totally) unnecessary. Too little’s no good either. Just a natural amount.

7. Consistency

From your tone of voice and layout to the range of sentence flows you’re using, consistency creates familiarity and trust.

We can usually proofread content on short notice too. Hooray!

How not to write like a corporate robot

1. Avoid cliches

Let’s face it, cliches can be awful. Especially corporate ones.

Things like ‘let’s take this offline’, or ‘touch base’.

Cringe.

2. Write conversationally

When people write or speak in a formal way, it’s often a power thing. So if we hear a super formal tone – whoever it’s from – matching it helps us stay on a level playing field with them. But we don’t necessarily enjoy the interaction.

Whereas when we speak more conversationally and relaxed, it’s a much more equal, human connection.

So rather than writing in a formal tone, keep it conversational and natural. Oh, and avoid technical jargon and acronyms if you can.

3. Don’t rush your goodbyes

We can all be a bit guilty at times of writing quick goodbyes. But they can give the impression that we’re too busy – or can’t be bothered – to say a genuine cheerio.

  • regards
  • best
  • just their name

(Hopefully) no-one speaks like this in real-life interactions 😬

We always encourage people to write something they’d actually say out loud, even if they’re in a hurry. A good quick check is to ask yourself:

  • does it still sound as professional as it needs to?
  • does it sound authentically like me?

Go with whatever works for you – just something a bit less robotic, a bit more you. For me it might be:

  • speak to you later 🙂
  • have a good afternoon, let’s catch up in a bit

4. Don’t be scared of an emoji

Also, try using the odd emoji or two where it feels right or if other people are – even if you feel reluctant at first.

There’s some good research out right now suggesting people feel more connected using emojis in written messages. After all we communicate facially before we do verbally in the real world.

Get in touch

Need help with some of your digital content, tone-of-voice guidance or any other copywriting? Give us a message and we’ll get back to you.

Laters 😉

Diets and mental-health food writing

Here’s my psychological therapist’s bundle of info about food’s connection to mental health and dieting.

While I’m not a dietitian, and this blog doesn’t back any particular diet, the big clincher is that poor nutrition is associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression and sleeping-related problems, to name just a few. So it’s well worth treating nutrition as a priority for just about everyone.

1. Things to steer away from

Inflexible or rigid thinking tends to lead to extremes in any walk of life. This is just as true for eating behaviours that influence our mood. Let’s start with the most obvious example.

Dieting!

If weight loss is your goal, it’s more sustainable to go about it steadily. It takes longer but it’s associated with less extremes. You know the sort – ‘it’s fine to eat everything in sight right now if I eat as little as possible for the next few weeks’.

These on-off behaviours usually come about because we’re not feeling in control enough. But they ultimately make us crave more control – which is a well-stocked larder as far as anxiety is concerned!

One of the best therapists I’ve worked with taught me to tell people diets don’t usually work in the long run. Lifestyle adjustments – definitely – but not diets. At least, not as we usually use them for, which for most folks is to lose weight quickly.

Fasting

This has become more popular in the last few years. Though unless people stick to it rigidly (go figure), it tends to lead to more overeating at some stage. In clinics, we almost always encourage people suffering with eating disorders to steer clear from fasting, and instead:

  • eat little and often, driving out those hangry food moods
  • eat more fibre and protein, smaller amounts of fats and even less sugar

Our biochemistry loves these rules. It’s a bit like renewable verses non-renewable energy. When we eat ‘renewables’ (like nutritionally-dense foods) rather than ‘non-renewables’ (like high fat/sugary foods) there’s way less ‘pollution’ (like anxiety or anger spikes).

Abandoning the fast seems to help with longer-term weight loss too. Whenever anybody inevitably overeats during a fasting regime, the body stores as much as it can as fat – trying to prepare for the next long cold winter, if you will.

2. Things to probably strive for

Focus on timing

‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’ is what my supervisor taught us as students. It certainly helps no end when I’ve recommended it to clients, for weight loss or for better emotional regulation.

Here are a few more timing tips:

  • You’ll probably need more food after exercise.
  • A small protein-rich snack 2-3 hours before bed helps you sleep.
  • It takes about 3 days to change a behaviour, 3 weeks to change a habit and 3 months to change a lifestyle.

Eat a variety

You might have noticed more medical doctors have been writing recipe books over the last few years, with a big emphasis on eating varied foods for gut health. It’s really important for brain health too, almost like a lift/elevator taking the nutrients upwards.

Eat all the food groups

A lot of diets demonise certain foods groups. Fats are nigh-on eliminated or carbohydrates are cut down, so we lose huge amounts of weight in mere weeks. But our bodies need fats, especially foods like avocados, packed with a ton of nutrients. And our bodies need carbs.

We might not need a carb-heavy meal after work if we’ve been sat down all day though. And this example of bringing in a bit more flexibility gives us more control over our food intake – rather than rigid, strict, harsh rules.

Schedule in ‘bad’ things

This is a great one, and it’s really effective for people suffering from disordered eating. The theory here is that if people deny themselves what they want, they’ll probably end up overdoing it later. And it seems to play out this way for most. Keep it modest though!


Writing about food-related mental health

I noticed how out of all the blogs I’ve written so far, this one had the most info to include. So using headings is super effective at breaking up chunks of text.

Another useful tactic was stripping sentences right back to the bare essentials, or trimming the fat so to speak. This is always one of my favourite editing tricks because sentences usually come out more readable.

Also, any idea was passed through a quick, threefold check list – keeping the content as evidence-based as possible. It passed the test if it was:

  • backed up by another therapist
  • supported by high-quality research
  • effective for multiple clients I’ve worked with before

Writing about hypermobility and pilates-based physiotherapy

At Content for Humans we’ve been working with physio and fitness clients for a while now. It’s a favourite specialism of ours to write about, but it’s also become a daily practice for our physiotherapy writer and accredited psychological therapist Luke – who’ll shed a bit more light on it here.

Pain moves both ways

I used to run a psychological therapy clinic for people suffering with long-term physical pain. There’s the obvious connection to spell out here – physical pain can be both stressful and depressing. But experts are now discovering this relationship isn’t as one-way as people used to think.

The way our body’s electrical wiring works when we’re anxious or depressed creates extremes – being super highly charged or really depleted. And physical pain can get stuck at certain points in our bodies when this happens.

A lot of people I saw in the pain clinic had symptoms of hypermobile joints, but barely any were diagnosed. The current and best quality research shows hypermobility is still pretty misunderstood, even by the specialists who diagnose it. Being diagnosed as hypermobile myself, my own physio from APPI has been crucial.

Stable vs moving

Almost everyone suffering with physical pain tends to overdo it a bit when they’re feeling alright again, then they inevitably crash when they can’t do anymore. It’s our own natural way to try and maximise our resources, but hypermobile joints can’t stand it.

I’m no physio, but a crucial bit of info here is the difference between two types of muscles – movers and stabilisers. The movers are all the big ones you can see – the stabilisers aren’t really visible and protect the joints.

When hypermobile people go for this boom-and-bust pattern of behaviour – our stabilisers keep shutting down until they’re almost in shut-off mode, then our big mover muscles take up the slack.

So people with hypermobile joints can know it’s not a case of fixing dodgy joints, like the way we’d fix a broken bone. It’s more about living with it effectively, by gradually sticking to bespoke exercises that work for each person.

Here are my new rules for living

  • Regularity is key – little and often, avoid boom and bust
  • Use recovery lots – cold water/compress, restorative yoga, deep-tissue/roller
  • Prioritise mat work – isometric and pilates-based strengthening
  • Only use low-load bearing cardio – freestyle swimming is the best!
  • Avoid going beyond a joint’s range of movement
  • Activate the stabilisers almost daily, before even thinking about the movers

Milestones

Using an evidence-based way of managing the condition myself has been the biggest achievement. Any health practitioner these days has to work in an ‘evidenced-based’ way. It’s not as dull as it sounds. It just means treating people with the most effective interventions – supported by the best research available at the time.

This is a problem when there’s not enough research, so guidelines don’t really exist – like with hypermobility. That’s why finding a practitioner who could bridge this theory-practice gap completely changed my game.

Before working with a physio and pilates-instructor who really knew about hypermobility, I was in and out of physio services a few times a year. Now, I manage it largely by myself, with the occasional top-up from my instructor – which is what’s recommended, rather than lots of clinic time.

  • I can continuously swim again – just a few minutes wasn’t possible before
  • I hike again for hours – this was really painful before, and I’d get stranded
  • I can do push-ups again – before, just picking up iron pans was getting tricky

Writing about physiotherapy

We’ve found that explaining jargon clearly is our biggest tip when writing about physiotherapy, exercise or anything clinical. It makes the language easy to follow, so anyone can read it – not just other specialists.

‘Jargon’ should be like a bright sign in our brains – flashing red whenever we notice ourselves writing a technical word. It’s probably gobbledegook to most people. Best save it for an academic article or presentation.

Also, talking about goals and how they’ve been reached is key. If people are buying something for their physical health, they want to be able to relate to it. This is where using people’s own success stories comes in handy.

Like most things, body work is a process and not an end point. Adapting it to fit my needs has been hugely rewarding – and writing about it has helped make it second nature.

Would you like a hand with physio content?

Do you run a health or fitness brand and need new content, blogs or a tone of voice review? Or help with simplifying health jargon?

8 ways to write conversational content for humans

1 – write how you speak

We’re all human – and we make better connections with people by being ourselves.

Do you ever read your writing out loud? This helps us make sure what we’re writing reflects our voice – rather than just our thoughts. Writing conversationally this way makes it easier for people to relate to us.

Plus reading aloud helps us to avoid skim reading when we’re checking through our writing – from mistakes and typos to clunky language. These are the sorts of thing which can throw readers off the scent.

Speech bubbles

2 – use contractions

We recommend writing contractions like ‘don’t’ instead of ‘do not’ – because that’s usually how we say things out loud. There’s an ingrained habit in many of us to be a bit more formal when it comes to writing. Especially in school – we’re told contractions don’t look academic or professional enough.

But when’s the last time you spoke without using contractions? They sound so much more natural – and they’re easier to read too.

‘Let’s leave’ sounds way more human than ‘let us leave’. Which also sounds like ‘lettuce leaf’ when you say it out loud!

3 – use pronouns

Writing pronouns like ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘our’ makes writing more personable and conversational. It’s especially important for us all to relate to each other right now – using pronouns helps us to feel connected.

Contractions are also handy when we’re using pronouns:

  • I will = I’ll
  • you would = you’d
  • we are = we’re
  • they have = they’ve

4 – start sentences with ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or

The grammar boffins among us will argue otherwise, and it has to be said – there’s a time and place not to do this. If we’re writing anything academic or official, it’s probably better to stay more formal.

But for less-formal writing, starting sentences with conjunctions helps to improve sentence flow. And avoids long rambles.

5 – mix up your sentence lengths

This helps your writing sound more natural. For most of us, when we’re feeling relaxed and friendly, we’ll think/talk in short, medium and longer bursts. All jumbled up together. Whereas if we’re feeling less relaxed, we’ll probably stick to a more formulaic sentence length.

So mixing the lengths up gives your writing a more chatty feel. One word of warning though – don’t go too long. Super long sentences put most people off and make digesting the words harder.

6 – use dashes

To create space in a sentence and avoid more formal punctuation, we love using dashes. That’s the ‘–’ rather than the smaller ‘-’ which is a hyphen!

  • hyphens connect words together, like sustainably-sourced materials
  • dashes can be used instead of colons or semi-colons – like this
  • use dashes to break up slightly longer sentences
  • hold the control and minus key on your keyboard to create a dash
Blog writing

7 – include quotes or a Q&A

If you’re explaining something complex, think about including quotes or a Q&A with people – maybe customers or staff.

Or in the kind words of our client James at The People’s Pension:

“Helping users to understand complexity is essential – your grasp of simplifying the unwieldy has been invaluable.”

8 – avoid robotic language

Things like ‘regards’, ‘best wishes’, ‘the customer’.

These aren’t that friendly or individual, so they can put people off. Even in corporate settings, we’ve noticed how people love a human, conversational touch. ‘All the best’ and ‘thanks so much’ sound more relatable.

Email

And whenever we can use natural language that we’d say out loud, that means we’re writing content for humans!


Want us to write conversational content for you?

Or check whether your writing sounds human?

Food writing – the 4 Roman pasta classics

A food tale and writing tips from our content writer and foodie Luke Hampton.

My food story

When we were kids, my aunty stayed over for a night

My sister and I are watching Rick Stein’s seafood odyssey – both of us barely talking. My aunty rips into fits of giggles, turning to our Mum – “I’ve never seen two children so enamoured with a cooking programme in my whole life.”

There lies the power of food charm. It’ll captivate the blankest of slates.

Stanley Tucci’s recent TV tour of Italy really hit a nerve

Along the way he explored 4 perfect, yet particularly simple dishes – with the perfection lying in using next-to-no ingredients and a similar method each time. Coat the semi-cooked pasta in some kind of fat – then, keep adding a tablespoon of the pasta water, and stir until it’s done. Al dente if you will.

What are the Roman classics then?

  1. Cacio e Pepe – Pecorino Romano and black pepper
  2. Gricia – Pecorino Romano, black pepper and cured pork
  3. Carbonara – Pecorino Romano, black pepper, cured pork and egg yolks
  4. Amatriciana – Pecorino Romano, black pepper, cured pork, tomatoes and white wine

Spaghetti Amatriciana – plus a side of sprouts, broad beans and grated pecorino
Spaghetti Amatriciana – plus a side of greens

Tasty, nutritious and responsible

  • Have a side dish of 2-3 well-seasoned greens – like frozen broad beans, sprouts, peas (all freeze super well) – with a dab of truffle olive oil and black pepper
  • Use wholegrain pasta
  • Keep to a small handful of cheese – it’s more authentic and makes emulsifying the sauce easier too
  • Portion size – the Italian lunch size, no more than 125g of pasta per person
  • Use ingredients that are free range, outdoor bred, RSPCA assured and locally sourced
  • To reduce meat consumption, Cacio e Pepe is our more regular go-to (alongside Napoli’s Spaghetti Puttanesca)

My tips for writing about food

1. Make human connections

We think people want their food writers to strike a few notes. The content needs some semblance of the charm that TV chefs and authors have made famous. Reminiscence, food love stories – all those tasty chestnuts.

2. Give some food science

As food writers, we steer words towards food science made simple. For us busy folk, gone are the days of ‘giving things a go until they’re right’. People want clear methods that work without having to decipher anything complicated.

3. Write as you’d talk

Our clients have often written some content already, which we review to make sure it sounds human. We also make sure their tone of voice can be heard through their writing.

This is one of the more creative sides of what we do – matching a client’s voice to information that’s relatable and easy to understand. My teammate Tim is an expert here, in case you need any help with your own tone of voice guide.

So here’s to the beauty of these 4 Roman classics

A few simple rules, change 1 or 2 per recipe, and you’ve got a repertoire.