How we work: what does a copywriter do?

Man at party says: 'I write astronaut banter for NASA'

To those of us in the game, the following exchange will be all too familiar:

- So, what do you do?
– Oh, I’m a marketing copywriter. I write for tech companies.
– Oh wow great.
Twenty minutes after the conversation has moved on…
– Sorry, can I just ask – I mean, what is it that you actually do? I mean what does your job actually involve?

A little catharsis

facepalm Hiddleston

This post is for all sorts of people. It’s for those totally out of the know; it’s for those looking to get into the know; and it’s for those in the marketing profession who think they know, but probably make quite a few false assumptions.

This post is also for Team Articulate because we all shed a little internal tear every time that exchange takes place.

Misconceptions and misnomers

First thing’s first, let’s address a few misconceptions:

  • Not all copywriters are advertising copywriters. This in itself causes some confusion as the latter is the more famous (especially after the phenomenon that was Mad Men).
  • Medical copywriters have their own special niche, which I don’t pretend to know about or comment on here.
  • Copywriting has nothing to do with copyright law.

Ironically, one of the big problems in communicating what copywriters do is a lack of clarity around the definition of the word itself. Turns out, like a doctor that smokes, copywriters aren’t very good at communicating the nuances of their role.

Jesse Forrest, for example, distinguishes between copywriters, who write to get people to take an action, and content writers, who write to inform. But who ever heard of a content writer? Here at Articulate we do both of those things, so are we just plain writers?

No. Because the minute you say ‘I’m a writer’ people think novels, poems and maybe journalism. It’s a linguistic minefield.

Personally, I rather like Iain Broome’s answer:

To be a copywriter is beyond definition, but it’s fair to say that one thing binds us together: we all work with words on a daily basis.

So what DOES a copywriter do?

what does a copywriter do: woman at desk with books

Warning: reality may differ from advertised image

Well, to name a few things, we:

What’s important to understand is that while words are the main output of a copywriter, writing isn’t necessarily what we spend most of our time doing. We have to do a lot of research and thinking, tweaking and formatting, and a bunch of other seemingly peripheral tasks.

In fact, we often say here at Articulate that for a writing project you should spend half your time researching, a third editing and only a sixth actually writing the thing. Despite what some people think, copywriting is a lot more than just ‘wordsmithing’.

Who do we ‘copywrite’ for?

Unlike fiction writers or journalists, copywriters usually write with an agenda: the client’s agenda. It might be to promote a product, but it might also be to educate an audience or demonstrate expertise.

Written content is used in all sorts of ways by companies, especially with the advent of inbound marketing, which is all about talking to and about customers rather than pushing a product or service.

This means copywriters have to be versatile, quick learners and have very little ego. You’ll rarely recognise the name of a copywriter – our work usually goes out under the client’s name. We also have to make edits that not only keep the client’s marketing department happy, but their legal, sales and brand police happy too.

We copywriters care about the quality of our work, but we certainly can’t be precious about it.

A copywriter’s voice

Jessica Rabbit

A copywriter will be whoever you want them to be. (We’re a little bit slutty that way.)

What I really mean is that while every copywriter certainly has their own voice, it is secondary to that of the client. We must adapt our writing style and tone depending on who we are speaking as and who we are speaking to.

There are certain golden writing rules that particular copywriters or agencies will try to adhere to – we have an Articulate writer’s guide, for example – but if the client has their own, that comes first.

And while not every client has a tone-of-voice document, they all have a tone of voice. Write something that doesn’t sound like it, and they’ll soon pull you up and call for edits. Copywriters have to ask questions and delve into existing collateral to immerse themselves in the voice of the client to write the project right.

What do copywriters write?

If you want to talk nitty-gritty, the type of things we write include:

  • Blog posts. These can range from 200 to 1500 words. They’re usually a bit more informal or opinionated, but it varies from client to client.
  • White papers. Not like the government ones though. White papers tend to be 1,500-2,500 words and are informative, educational documents that explain the origins of a problem and how it might be solved. Often that solution will be linked to what the client sells, but the majority of the white paper will be objective and useful.
  • Emails. Email campaigns are there to pique interest, raise awareness and prompt an action. They have to be short, enticing and informative.
  • Social media posts. Those little 140 character tweets and witty Facebook updates don’t write themselves you know. Social media requires copywriting too.
  • Case studies. Short articles that explain how a company helped its customers. Case studies often have a formulaic structure but a good copywriter can find the story inside it.
  • Industry reports. Sometimes we have to get a bit heavy and write some hardcore reports based on real research that illuminates or expands upon a certain issue, industry or trend.
  • Website copy. Writing for the web comes with its own set of rules and guiding principles: it’s a whole other skill set, but one many copywriters have up their sleeve.

A job’s a job

Of course, aside from all that copywriting magic and mystery we also do a bunch of job stuff that everyone else does: admin, management, emails, training, client wrangling and looking at Facebook when you’re, ahem, between deadlines.

(Hat tip to GiphyNathan Rupert)

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Essential business grammar lesson seven: misplaced modifiers

misplaced modifiers: man covered in post-it notes

He gave the file to the boss with all the Post-its on.

Have you misplaced your modifier?

Modifiers are words or phrases that modify nouns and verbs. This sounds simple enough, but the truth is modifiers often get lost in a sentence, sometimes with odd or funny results.

Knowing what word you are modifying and where to place your modifier will help you communicate more clearly and make sure you avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Placing a modifier

To modify your nouns and verbs properly, place the modifier as close as possible to the noun or verb in question.

  • After an hour of searching, I finally found the file in the wrong folder.

This sentence indicates that it took an hour to find the saved file because it was in the wrong folder. The phrase ‘in the wrong folder’ modifies ‘file’. You could have been searching in the right place; it was the file that was lost. However, what if it was written as:

  • After an hour of searching in the wrong folder, I finally found the file.

In this case, ‘in the wrong folder’ modifies ‘searching’. This indicates the file may have been in the right place; it was you who was lost.

Identifying misplaced modifiers

As shown above, misplaced modifiers can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. Unfortunately, because of common speech patterns, we don’t always recognise this change in meaning, but someone else reading it will.

Always be sure, therefore, to check where your modifiers are. Are they next to the verb or noun they are modifying? Or have you muddled your meaning?

Only

This is a particularly sneaky example. People often forget it is a modifier and so commonly place it in the wrong part of the sentence.

  • Brad only edited five articles today.
  • Only Brad edited five articles today.

In the first example, ‘only’ modifies the verb ‘edited’. It seems like Brad had a rather slow day editing.

In the second example, ‘only’ modifies ‘Brad’. It seems Brad was the single employee who edited five articles. Perhaps at the newspaper Brad works for this is a stunning achievement, which is a good reason to single him out.

Only, almost, never, and other limiting words are often misplaced in a sentence. Be careful what you limit.

Examples of correct usage

  • He completed the analysis without difficulty and handed it in on time.
  • I asked only Brad to stay after hours.
  • Almost all of our products passed the quality control stage.

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Only the viral survive: does viral content mean marketing success?

Viral content - only the viral survive

Every marketer carries a deep, dark secret: the desire to go viral. That one moment when your brand manages to cut through all the noise on the internet.

Ok, maybe it’s not deep and dark, but creating content which spreads around the globe certainly feels like it would be a marketing triumph.

Why is viral the end game?

Companies that succeed in making viral content, namely videos, have not only increased awareness for their brand, but a few have seen a dramatic boost in sales numbers like in the case of:

  • The Dollar Shave Club gaining 12,000 subscribers after a viral ad
  • Blendtec boosting sales by 700 percent
  • Or WREN, a fashion brand, increasing their sales by over 13,000 percent

Any marketer would be happy to report that kind of return from a single video, ad or blog post. However, there’s no rhyme or reason to what goes viral and those who share viral content are sharing the idea, not the brand.

People don’t turn into brand advocates overnight. So, what will keep them invested in your brand even after the internet has moved on to the next idea?

What comes after happily ever after?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to create a piece of content or marketing campaign that goes viral, but there’s also nothing inherently wrong with your marketing if it hasn’t had its viral moment.

A content marketing strategy relies on a long term plan to continually publish and post content that:

Content can sustain your brand whether or not you’ve gone viral. If you consistently put out great content, people will buy into your brand and not just your moment in the spotlight.

(Hat tip to Pascal for the photo)

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Essential business grammar lesson six: how to choose the correct verb tenses

'The past the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense'

Sell is a verb. It describes an action most companies would like to complete. We sell for a living, one way or another, whether the customer is purchasing an item or a service. This word can be very dynamic. And, depending on its tense, can communicate different things.

You might think you know present, past and future, but it’s a little more complicated than that. There are four different verb tenses within each of those categories, and each means something slightly different.

Present tense: now

  • Simple present: I sell iPods. This indicates the action is happening now but may not be complete. Is selling iPods your job? Do you intend to have that job tomorrow? Then the action is not complete.
  • Present progressive: I am selling iPods. This indicates the action is happening now and is part of an ongoing activity.
  • Present perfect: I have sold iPods. This indicates the action began before now and is either still going (I have sold iPods for three years now) or complete (I have sold iPods before), depending on the context.
  • Present perfect progressive: I have been selling iPods.  This indicates the action began before now and is still ongoing (I have been selling iPods for three years now.)

The simple present and simple progressive tenses can often be switched without changing a sentence’s meaning; the same can be said of the perfect and perfect progressive tenses.

Past tense: before

  • Simple past: I sold iPods. This indicates the action happened in the past but may not be complete.
  • Past progressive: I was selling iPods. This indicates the action began in the past and was part of an ongoing activity.
  • Past perfect: I had sold iPods. This indicates the action began before now and is complete. (I had sold iPods for three years before moving on to laptop computers.)
  • Past perfect progressive: I had been selling iPods.  This indicates the ongoing action began before now and ended, probably by interruption. (I had been selling iPods when Microsoft offered me a job.)

Future tense: next

  • Simple future: I will sell iPods. This indicates the action will happen in the future, possibly with an indefinite end point.
  • Future progressive: I will be selling iPods. This indicates an ongoing action will be happening in the future.
  • Future perfect: I will have sold iPods. This indicates an action that will be completed in the future. (I will have sold 100 iPods by then.)
  • Future perfect progressive: I will have been selling iPods.  This indicates an ongoing action that will end in the future. (I will have been selling iPods for three years next week.)

Getting it right

Using the wrong verb tense means you’re communicating the wrong idea. For example, your boss asks,

What did you do this morning?

  • ‘I was selling iPods’ suggests the action is not complete, so whilst you might have been doing your best, your boss could easily assume you didn’t complete any actual transactions.
  • ‘I sold iPods’ clearly states that you have already made the shop some profits and it’s only lunch time.

Examples of correct usage

  • Michael processed the invoices yesterday.
  • Michael is processing the invoices as we speak.
  • Michael will be processing the invoices tomorrow.

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40 essential rules of client management (collected over 10 years)

Life is not that complicated...

For the last decade, I’ve been compiling a list of ‘rules’ for client management based on very personal, subjective reactions to things that happened to me, mainly in the business world. I was partly inspired by NASA’s 100 rules for project managers.

I always meant it to be very personal and some of the rules relate to very specific things that happened to me. But I realised that with proper scrubbing it might be interesting for you too.

  1. Don’t email or call anyone if you’re feeling angry.
  2. If in doubt, brew up or go for a walk.
  3. You don’t have to do things you don’t want to do.
  4. If something can’t continue forever, it will stop.
  5. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
  6. Be a good friend to your emotions.
  7. Wings are strong because they are flexible not because they are rigid; be like that.
  8. Treat everyone as if they were VIPs: polite, attentive, respectful.
  9. Respect people’s time. Write shorter emails. Talk less.
  10. Invoice as soon as the work is done. You might fall out with your client or they might go bust if you wait.
  11. Don’t discuss your schedule and traffic management issues with clients. They don’t need to see inside the sausage factory.
  12. The asshole client rule: three strikes and you’re out. Strikes include: negotiating over an invoice (trying to get a discount after the price has been agreed and the work delivered) and not listening to my advice (they don’t have to take it).
  13. Don’t look over your shoulder.
  14. You don’t have to speak first.
  15. The thing you are cross about is not the thing you are cross about.
  16. A project that starts cocked up tends to stay cocked up.
  17. Warning signs that an agency project is doomed: client in an insane hurry, sloppy briefing from agency, no end client contact, ‘write now, brief later’.
  18. More Gary Cooper and less Tommy Cooper.
  19. If you don’t trust or respect your client anymore, get out. You can’t make bad people good from a subordinate position.
  20. For new overseas clients, get 50 percent upfront or all of the money in escrow unless you know them personally.
  21. If someone does something extraordinary for you, write them a thank you note (and copy it to their boss). This is good karma.
  22. Working weekends for clients: I’ll do it once if there’s a genuine emergency but, unless you pay me obscenely well for your inefficiency, I won’t do it twice. Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
  23. If someone else is holding your passport, don’t get distracted or leave for the airport without it.
  24. Don’t start a project with a new client unless you have an agreed brief and a formal go-ahead email.
  25. Once a time-waster always a time-waster.
  26. Meetings are marketing, except with time wasters.
  27. If you don’t show up for three meetings or calls in a row, we’re not going to get on.
  28. You’re not as important as you think you are. Graveyards are full of ‘necessary’ men.
  29. Don’t let your ego, vanity and stress get in the way of doing a good job for your client.
  30. Idiotic clients need you more than competent ones. They just have to pay more.
  31. The presentation rule. If you are given an hour for a demo, finish in 45 minutes to allow time for questions. Don’t take 2 hours 10 minutes.
  32. Sometimes the best answer is no answer and sometimes it’s a question.
  33. There is no basis for apprehension.
  34. It sucks to let anyone get between you and your primary customer. They take all your good work and ideas but give none of the credit or feedback you need to do a good job. This is only partly compensated if they bring you new business that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
  35. Everyone’s important. The quiet person in the corner of the meeting might turn out to be the new boss.
  36. If the client repeatedly dithers about a project, just walk way. Manoeuvre X is better for the soul that pandering and pleading and bleating.
  37. A last-minute, urgent rush job does not guarantee that the client will accept anything you write or that the project will be easy, well-briefed, straightforward or profitable. Being in a hurry doesn’t obviate the need for a clear brief; it doubles it.
  38. It’s okay to agree to small bits of extra work for one-off pieces, but scope creep on large projects quickly gets out of hand as you add a couple of hours extra work to dozens of documents.
  39. Don’t write a proposal for an unqualified lead. If price is the only deciding factor, you can answer that in a paragraph with an indicative price. But it’s better to do a qualifying call first.
  40. ‘When you have got a thing where you want it to be it is a good thing to leave it where it is’ – Churchill.

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We’re hiring Articulate graduate marketing interns

business people in a series with a casual guy doing the headstand

Articulate is a fast-growing inbound marketing agency working in the technology sector. We’re looking for one or more awesome graduate interns to join the company.

We’re offering:

  • Real-world experience and responsibility for client work
  • Regular mentoring and training opportunities
  • A chance to work with big-name clients such as Microsoft and Symantec
  • The possibility to apply for a permanent position
  • A stipend of £1,000 a month

Typical assignments:

  • Researching and writing articles for client blogs and our own
  • Writing case studies, white papers and web copy
  • Promoting our content and engaging customers on social media
  • Managing small projects, under supervision

Successful candidates are analytical, creative, passionate and intellectually curious.

You should be:

  • A great communicator with confident, fluent written and spoken English, you love to write and blog and you are at home on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • Genuinely interested in business, technology and marketing. Check out our company website and our Bad Language blog to find out more about who we are, what we do and who we work for.
  • Analytical. We’re looking for a naturally curious person, who loves to read and delve into new topics. You must enjoy independent research, and be able to absorb and process a lot of new information quickly.
  • Self-disciplined and process driven. You have a strong work ethic and you’re good at organising yourself. We set high standards for ourselves so details matter and processes are important. You treble-check your work.
  • Adaptable. We have a rigorous editing process, so you need to be happy to receive feedback, learn from it and make edits to your work to reflect that. You must be driven to continually improve your writing skills.
  • A good fit for our company culture. You can see more about this in our blog article: How to refactor your company culture in 2015.

What you should know

  • We’re looking for people with a good academic record but a degree in marketing itself isn’t necessary. Previous interns (and current employees) have studied architecture, history, English and mathematics.
  • Articulate Marketing is a small, entrepreneurial company so this is a demanding but informal programme that will suit a rugged individualist rather than a corporate clone.
  • We expect you to work (very) hard but this isn’t an office job. You will be working remotely from home. We are a virtual company that uses Skype, online applications and email to communicate.
  • You will need to be able to come to London from time to time to for company get-togethers and client meetings.

How to apply

 

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Essential business grammar lesson five: phrases and clauses

Phrases and clauses: pen knife

If it’s not a subject, predicate or object, then what is it? In order to fully understand grammar, you must understand all parts of a sentence.

Sentences are made of phrases and clauses, such as modifiers, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions, which add information and context to a sentence.

Phrases

Recall that even the simplest sentence has a subject and a verb.

  • I work.

When you add more information, you form a phrase.

  • I work every weekday from nine to five.

The phrase ‘every weekday from nine to five’ is called a phrase because it has a noun (weekday), modifiers (every) and a prepositional phrase (from nine to five). It does not have a verb.

Phrases have either a subject or a verb but not both. They cannot stand on their own.

Writing ‘Every weekday from nine to five’ as a sentence is grammatically incorrect and is called a sentence fragment.

Phrases are offset by commas unless they are essential appositives or split around verbs.

The many types of phrases

Noun phrases have a noun and its modifiers.

  • many errors.

Noun phrases can be split around a verb. Eg, Many errors were found that made the report unintelligible.

Appositive phrases modify other nouns.

  • Fred, employee of the month, is being promoted

Prepositional phrases include a preposition.

  • in the vicinity of
  • on top of

Infinitive phrases include the ‘to’ form of a verb.

  • to be heard
  • to go boldly

Gerund phrases include words that end in -ing.

  • racing against the deadline

Gerund phrases are usually used as nouns.

  • What is a bad idea? Procrastinating until the deadline is a bad idea.

‘Procrastinating until the deadline’ is used as a noun to answer a what question.

A participial phrase includes a participle, which is a verb used to modify a noun rather than describe an action; participles often end in -ed, -n, or -ing.

Participial phrases function as adjectives in sentences.

  • Paul, worn down by too much overtime, is taking a personal day.

‘Worn down by too much overtime’ describes Paul.

Absolute phrases modify entire sentences. They include a noun, a participle and other modifiers and adjectives.

  • Their status as winning competitors assured, both Sam and Beth took a bow.

‘Their status as winning competitors assured’ is the absolute phrase that explains (modifies) the independent clause that follows it.

Clauses

A clause has both a subject and a verb, but that does not mean it can stand on its own as a sentence. There are two types of clauses: dependent and independent.

Dependent clauses rely on the rest of the sentence to make sense.

  • When I heard about the new contract.

This clause has both a noun (contract) and a verb (heard), but it does not make sense on its own. It is dependent.

Dependent clauses can be joined to independent clauses with commas.

  • When I heard about the new contract, I was excited about the possibilities.

Independent clauses are sentences in their own right.

  • I was excited about the possibilities.

Two independent clauses must be joined with a conjunction like and, yet or but, otherwise you get a run-on sentence.

  • I heard about the new contract, and I am excited about the possibilities.

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Borat Ipsum and 9 more hilarious lorem ipsum generators

lorem ipsum generators: screen shot of borat ipsum

As copywriters, we feel very strongly that words are just as important to a marketing or website design project as any other element. Pantone red 32 and Hipster Comic Neue might convey your brand values perfectly, but without words, no one knows what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.

And yet, we continue to see lorem ipsum filling up wireframes and templates as if the communication part of the whole process can just be slotted in at the end. (You can probably tell, we at Articulate feel pretty strongly about this. Lorem ipsum is usually a sign of a failed design process.)

Living with lorem ipsum

So, if some of you project managers and designers will still insist on generating a bunch of meaningless placeholder text to put ‘where the words go’, at least make it entertaining.

Here are 10 of the best, most awesome lorem ipsum generators that we’ve come across lately and a little taster of the text they generate:

  1. Borat Ipsum. I sorry to interrupt the politic. Uh, please, is possible make a shit, your house, immediately, very urgent, I have a problem, please?
  2. Corporate Ipsum. Objectively innovate empowered manufactured products whereas parallel platforms. Holisticly predominate extensible testing procedures for reliable supply chains. Dramatically engage top-line web services vis-a-vis cutting-edge deliverables.
  3. Hipster Ipsum. Seitan salvia wayfarers health goth organic cliche, banjo narwhal vinyl direct trade lomo blog iPhone.
  4. Samuel L. Ipsum. Normally, both your asses would be dead as fucking fried chicken, but you happen to pull this shit while I’m in a transitional period so I don’t wanna kill you, I wanna help you.
  5. Whedon Ipusm. (I’m so exited this one exists!) Magic’s all balderdash and chicanery. Woman, you are completely off your nut. I told him that I loved him, I kissed him, and I killed him. Anything for you, because I love you. Deep, deep man love. Easy as really difficult pie. Darn your sinister attraction!
  6. The postmodernism generator. If one examines precapitalist nihilism, one is faced with a choice: either reject dialectic neocapitalist theory or conclude that expression is a product of the masses
  7. Zombie Ipsum. Qui animated corpse, cricket bat max brucks terribilem incessu zomby. The voodoo sacerdos flesh eater, suscitat mortuos comedere carnem virus.
  8. Bacon Ipsum. (Apologies to my vegetarian boss). Chuck pork belly pancetta tenderloin shoulder, ground round spare ribs filet mignon beef ribs pig ribeye fatback. Tri-tip pastrami flank leberkas turkey pig pork belly, biltong frankfurter turducken shoulder pancetta ball tip.
  9. Beer Ipsum. Enzymes secondary fermentation hoppy bright beer krausen; bock hop back wort sparge. dry hopping bitter goblet brew kettle pint glass! 
  10. Choose your ispum. None of these ticked your funny bone? I find that hard to believe, but if so, take a look at this site with a treasure trove of all sorts of text generators from Cupcake Ipsum to Pirate Ipsum.

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Essential business grammar lesson four: extra information with appositives

appositives: extra extra headline

Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that modify other nouns or noun phrases. They add specificity and detail to another noun. For example:

  • Mary asked that we attend this important meeting.
  • A member of the board of directors asked that we attend this important meeting.

Both of these sentences are complete and make sense. However, if you work in a large company, perhaps you don’t know who Mary is. Or, perhaps you’d like to know which member of the board requested your presence.

In this case we can combine ‘Mary’, a noun, and ‘a member of the board of directors’, a noun phrase in one of the following ways to make a more specific sentence, and thus one becomes an appositive.

Appositives as bonus information

We’ve already established that both sentences above make sense individually. This means that anything we add to either sentence is non-essential. Extra details may clarify or specify, but they are not needed.

Because they are not required, they must be wrapped in commas. The commas surround the appositive on both sides, unless the appositive starts the sentence, in which case only one comma is necessary.

  • Mary, a member of the board of directors, asked that we attend this important meeting.

In this case, since ‘a member of the board of directors’ is not necessary to the sentence, it is the appositive.

  • A member of the board of directors, Mary, asked that we attend this important meeting.

Here, ‘Mary’ is treated as the appositive. However, this sentence could also be written as:

  • A member of the board of directors, Mary asked that we attend this important meeting.

Here, the noun phrase is treated as the appositive, but is at the start of the sentence.

The trick to understanding punctuation for non-essential information is to identify which noun or noun phrase you are treating as a bonus. Non-essential appositives can be flexible.

Essential appositives

  • Member of the board Mary has asked that we attend this important meeting.

When an appositive is acting like a label (CEO Smith, Vice President Palmer) then it is essential information and the name is the appositive. Why is the name the appositive? The name is what makes the label more specific, changing it from a general member of the board to a single member. The name is also essential information. You could not remove Mary from this sentence and have it still make sense.

  • Member of the board has asked that we attend this important meeting.

Because we’re no longer talking about a member but a specific member, Mary is no longer bonus information and is no longer set off with commas.

Tips and Tricks

To discern between essential and non-essential appositives, first identify the noun and noun phrases that interact in the sentence.

  • I’m heading to Paris and Madrid over the long holiday.

Both Paris and Madrid are nouns, but they aren’t modifying one another so they are not appositives.

  • I’m heading to Paris, France, over the long holiday.

‘Paris, France’ is a phrase in which nouns are modifying one another. Now, try removing one at a time from the sentence to see if it makes sense.

  • I’m heading to France over the long weekend. I’m heading to Paris over the long weekend.

Since both can be removed, we’re in bonus territory. In this case, France is the appositive because it modifies Paris. You’re headed to the Paris in France, not the Paris in Ontario. Make sure France is offset by commas.

Let’s revisit Mary.

  • Member of the board Mary has asked that we attend this important meeting.

We’ve established you can’t remove Mary from the sentence. You can, however, remove ‘member of the board’. When one of two nouns/noun phrases can be removed but the other can’t, we’re in essential territory. The noun that cannot be removed is the appositive and does not need commas.

All clear?

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