Little words make a big difference

in Top copywriting tips

In my mince pie and sherry post-Christmas haze, I was alarmed to read the news headline that eight in ten 40- to 60-year-olds are either drinking too much, are inactive or are overweight.

Public Health England, the body that revealed the figures, was pointing people towards the How Are You quiz, which gives users a health score based on their lifestyle habits.

Feeling a little bit smug about my lifestyle choices and quietly confident of a good score and a newly repolished halo, I headed on over to the quiz and took it.

Most of the questions were straightforward but I found some of the wording in the section about eating decidedly odd.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

If you had to, which one would you usually pick?
– Chips
– Boiled potatoes
– Roast potatoes
– Jacket potatoes

What exactly does that mean? Which is my favourite? Which do I eat most often? In each of the questions in this section, I chose my favourite. In each case, as you might reasonably expect, it was the unhealthiest option. As a result, at the end of the section, the quiz gave me a serious ticking off about my unhealthy diet. I was a bit miffed by this because it was then clear that what the quiz was actually asking was which I eat most often, questions that would have led to very different answers and much less telling off.

I found the word ‘pick’ very misleading. As the person who does most of the cooking in our house I don’t pick a food to eat I decide what I’m going to cook. And even if you’re writing to include the non-cooks, ‘pick’ is still an unhelpful choice of word that suggests eating out (when you’re likely to choose more unhealthily) than eating in because, like I would guess many households, ours is a dictatorship not a democracy so people very rarely get a choice about what they’re eating, they get what they’re given.

Now I understand that, given the context, I should have realised what the questions were really asking. But even so, wouldn’t a more accurate and helpful phrase have been something along the lines of ‘Which do you eat most often?’ It’s a small change that makes a big difference.

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