Updated: Oct 4, 2020
Back toward the beginning of my career as a journalist, I received an angry phone call from Harvey Norman boss and retail legend, Gerry Harvey.
He was right to complain. Other sources – not Harvey himself – had told me they expected he’d close the Glue chain, but in the editing process my original words: “retail analysts expect Harvey to close the Glue stores” had been replaced with: “the Glue stores are likely to close”.
Boy, was I mad with the sub-editor who’d done that to my copy while I was having my journalistic chops questioned by one of Australia’s top businessmen; a feeling that was only exacerbated by the in-print correction we issued in the following edition.
Why using the right words is important
The point of this story is that words matter. In a face-to-face conversation we can rely on body language, facial expressions and tone of voice to convey meaning, but in writing the words are all we have.
For this reason, they need to be chosen carefully and precisely – the kind of language and tone of voice that might resonate with one the customers of one brand will alienate the customers of another.
Writing is a skill and not one that can be left in any old hands, for once something has been written, published (or in today’s world, uploaded) and read, the die is cast.
It was Oscar Wilde, who knew a thing or two about words himself, that said “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. How right he was.
For the record Harvey didn’t close Glue, which still trades today – albeit under different ownership. And he continued to take my calls, which was awfully good of him.