Site under construction

This site is currently under construction. We are, however, pleased to say that the SMU 102 Digital Copywriting Unit is now open. We've also added Marketing Principles and an Intro to Public Relations. Our Content Marketing Unit is currently in development.

SMU 102 - Session 9: Copywriting Style & Grammar

Purpose/Aim of this session

Making sure your copy is grammatically correct is an important aspects of writing great copy. This, however, doesn't mean that you need to have a grammar textbook by your side as you write. The trick is balancing proper grammar with a conversational tone. Grammar that's too sloppy looks unprofessional. However, you don't want to be so blindly devoted to immaculate grammar that it bleeds all of the emotional impact from your copy. It's all about striking the right balance.

This session provides resources to help guide you through developing a writing style and approach to grammar that strikes the right balance for your brand's voice.

You have already spent a significant amount of time on the subject of style in the Branding Unit. The style resources provided in this session are a light-touch refresher.

Resources in this session:

  1. Style: Contains style guides from leading brands. These will help you further develop and finesse your brand content and copy style.
  2. Capitalization: When to capitalize a word (and when not to) can be confusing. This resources gives a quick overview.
  3. Grammar: These resources and online tools are great guides for improving grammar, including misused words (for instance, their, they're and there).
  4. Punctuation:  So when do you use a comma? What about a semi-colon? These resources will tell you.
  5. You can browse through some carefully selected material in the "Reading Room" tab. These materials will build upon your initial Brand concepts.

SMU 102 Session 9 Study Activities

  • Overview
  • Style
  • Capitalization
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation

Consider Your Audience - Speak their language

Who’s your target? How will they see your copy? Asking these basic questions helps you establish how to speak to them – the style you’re going to use, in other words. You want to speak their language. You need a style and a tone that speaks to your audience, using messages that are meaningful to them. The secret to copywriting success is adjusting your voice to match that of your target audience. This will likely mean adjustments to your writing, which will mean changes in the grammar you use in your copy.

Let me give you an example. When writing an Aardvark brand piece aimed at Dubstep enthusiasts, I’d use the word ‘innit’. However, if I were writing to an editor of a Dubstep magazine, or a Dubstep related business partner, I’d use ‘isn’t it’.

It’s all about audience – and intention.

Think of it this way: You tell the same story to your boss and your family. You naturally use a different tone in communicating the same story to them, right? The same holds true in copywriting.

Take this example, for instance. I remember the last economic nosedive and how the British Pound took a beating against the American Dollar. The Pound Sterling-US Dollars exchange rate affected bottom line profits. So I said something like "My analysis of the current state of the economy suggests an adverse affect on our dollar currency earnings for the foreseeable future" when speaking to the Board of Directors. When writing to our recording artists (most of them 20-something males) and speaking to the music press, I said something more like "The economy stinks. The Dollar is spanking the Pound’s bottom. I don’t see the situation changing anytime soon."

You need to change your language and tone in your copy just as you do in your everyday conversations in order to appeal to the audience you're communicating with.

Your prospective audience members need to relate to your ad and its message if they're going to be compelled to act. If they can't relate to your copy's tone, sentence structure and words, they'll skip your brand message without a second glance. You have only seconds to capture a prospect’s attention and convince him or her to take a closer look at your message. Make sure your copy is relate-able and personable to ensure they'll give the  brand message you've worked so hard on more than a cursory glance.

Read More

Looking at the copywriting style of others can sometimes inspire you to develop your own style. Below is a list of style guides from leading brands. If you find the task of developing your own brand and copywriting style daunting, we hope you will find some inspiration from the guides below.

BBC News

BBC News logo

This popular manual "is not a 'do and don't' list but a guide that invites you to explore some of the complexities of modern English usage.

BBC News Style Guide:

The Economist

The Economist logo

Every newspaper has its own style book, a set of rules telling journalists whether to write e-mail or email, judgement or judgment. The Economist’s style book does this and a bit more. It also warns writers of some common mistakes and encourages them to write with clarity and simplicity.

The Economist's Style Guide:

Corporate Brand Style Guides

Below is a list of corporate brand style guides. Check out how some of the leading brands convey style.

  1. Adobe corporate brand guidelines (PDF)

  2. Alberta corporate identity manual

  3. Android brand guidelines

  4. Apple identity guidelines (PDF)

  5. Barbican identity guidelines (old)

  6. BASF summary of corporate design policy (PDF)

  7. Bath Spa University brand guidelines

  8. Berkeley brand identity

  9. Best Buy brand identity

  10. Boston University brand identity standards

  11. Boy Scouts of America brand identity guide (PDF)

  12. British Council brand website (registration required)

  13. British Rail corporate identity manual

  14. Carnegie Mellon brand guidelines

  15. Channel 4 identity style guides

  16. Christopher Doyle identity guidelines

  17. Cisco logo usage and guidelines

  18. Code for America website style guide

  19. Columbia University visual identity (PDF)

  20. Cornell University brand book

  21. Dropbox logos and branding

  22. Duke University style guide

  23. easyGroup brand manual (PDF)

  24. Edinburgh Council brand guidelines (PDF)

  25. Esso Imperial Oil quick reference guide (PDF)

  26. Facebook brand assets

  27. Good Technology brand identity guide

  28. Google visual assets guidelines

  29. Haas School of Business style guide

  30. Heineken visual identity

  31. IEEE brand identity guidelines

  32. Jamie Oliver FRV brand guidelines

  33. Kew Royal Botanic Gardens brand guidelines

  34. Liberty University brand identity policy

  35. Lloyd’s brand guidelines (PDF)

  36. Macmillan identity guide

  37. MailChimp brand assets

  38. MasterCard brand center

  39. Microsoft corporate logo guidelines

  40. Mississauga’s Brand Story

  41. Mozilla Firefox branding

  42. NAMI identity guidelines

  43. National University of Singapore identity

  44. New York University identity and style guide

  45. NHS brand guidelines

  46. NYU-Poly identity style guide

  47. Ohio State University brand guidelines

  48. Ohio University brand standards

  49. Oregon State University brand identity guidelines

  50. Pacific University brand standards (PDF)

  51. Pearson brand guidelines (PDF)

  52. Penguin logo guidelines

  53. Princeton University graphic identity

  54. PRSA guidelines & logos

  55. Redfern brand identity guidelines (PDF)

  56. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College style guide

  57. Santa brand book

  58. Sapo (PDF, in Portuguese)

  59. Skype brand book

  60. The Beano Comic brand guidelines (PDF)

  61. The Scout Association brand guidelines (PDF)

  62. The University of Texas brand guidelines

  63. Twitter brand assets and guidelines

  64. Ubuntu brand guidelines

  65. University of Arkansas style guides and logos

  66. University of California brand guidelines

  67. University of Cambridge identity guidelines

  68. University of East Anglia brand identity guidelines (PDF)

  69. University of Louisville brand

  70. University of Northern Colorado identity style guide (PDF)

  71. University of Wisconsin-Madison brand identity guidelines

  72. Vanderbilt University graphic standards

  73. Virginia Tech identity standards

  74. Walmart brand center

  75. Yale University identity

  76. Yelp styleguide

Read More

image showing when to use capital lettersMany people still struggle with the use of capitalization. Sometimes they use capitals when it is unnecessary, and vice versa. You may already know to use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence and the letter "I", but where else should capitals be used?

The resource below provides an easy and convenient overview about using capital letters:

WikiHow: How to Use Proper Capitalization

Read More


The resources below provide a quick and easy overview of how to use punctuation correctly:

Edufind: English Grammar Guide -

Grammarly: Free, online grammar checker -


Homophones are a special kind of spelling error. They are the only spelling errors we're going to cover here. What are they? They are words that sound similar and/or look similar but have quite different meanings. Words like weather and whether are classic homophones. Two, to and too are more examples. Needless to say a sentence like "Get too for the price of one" wreaks havoc with credibility, believability, trust and professionalism in copywriting.

If you don't know your it's from your its, the resources below will walk you through the differences between some of the most common (and most popularly misused) homophones.

42 commonly confused English words (a.k.a. homophones!), The Copywriter's Crucible.


Read More

image showing puncation, from WikiHowThe resources below provide a quick and easy overview of how to use punctuation correctly:

The Punctuation Cheat Sheet:

WkiHow: How to Use English Punctuation Correctly

Read More

Chat with us