“Two countries separated by a common language.” This well-known phrase, attributed to quite a few people, is not really an issue, at least to this writer, who has spent a few years writing business content for the UK and US markets.

A few key points will serve you well when it comes to writing for other markets who speak a version of English. Firstly, you should decide whether you are going to maintain two discrete versions of your content: two different websites, two youtube channels, two versions of collateral for each piece of content, and so on. I’ve worked for some companies that kept two versions, and other companies who simply decided which was their main market and wrote one version of everything which favoured that market. A third way is to settle on a ‘MidAtlantic’ version which takes from both, as long as it does so consistently. It depends on the relative importance of the markets and how ‘precious’ your audiences are about content which they feel is commoditised and does not put them first.

Secondly, formats. As is often the case with formats and measurements, the US and UK have gone down different directions with their formats. UK A4 is 297mm by 210mm, whereas US Letter is 11 inches by 8 1/2 inches. This makes US letter a bit shorter and fatter than its UK counterpart. I didn’t realise this until I was doing my MBA in the US and printed off copies of my resume for the MBA office files and they wouldn’t fit properly in the filing cabinets. This is also true of digital versions of all your content. So if you live by downloadable pdf documents, then you need to make a call on format size, or else incur the ire of those people who try and print them, only to find they don’t fit so good.

Thirdly, and perhaps most obviously, spelling and vocabulary vary between the two tongues. I won’t go into exhaustive detail here, but I’m sure you’re aware that in the US the ‘favoured’ from the second paragraph of this post would be minus the ‘u’. Also, the US tend to go in for a lot of ‘ization’, so the realization should set in early that you need to watch this area too. Then there are the much more nuanced differences. For example, one would tend to write ‘despatch’ in the UK, but ‘dispatch’ in the US, ‘programme’ in the UK and ‘program’ in the US. Vocabulary is more standardised for business, with us following the US lead, but common or garden situations can still trip you up, with hood vs bonnet, trunk vs boot, retainer vs braces, suspenders vs braces and garter vs suspenders, to use some examples from cars – Americans, read automobiles! – and personal appearance.

Fourthly, phrasing. This is the area that can catch you out if even if you have good familiarity with what I’ve included so far. This is the kind of knowledge you pick up over time, by making mistakes, or by osmosis, or by sensibly looking for feedback from your US colleagues on your drafts – and even we in the UK write drafts over draughts these days. In the US, one would probably say ‘when are you going to write me?’, eschewing the preposition beloved of the folks across the water. Furthermore, if you wrote ‘our software has built-in intelligence’ in the UK, a US audience would expect to write and read ‘our software has in-built intelligence.’ Finally on this, the US audience has a slightly more relaxed acquaintance with adverbs, so at the end of paragraph three a UK person would write ‘so well’ over ‘so good’, wheres a US person might consider themselves ‘real smart’ rather than ‘really smart’.

You can’t really do justice to a subject so vast in one post, especially since I’ve not even mentioned writing styles and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the other areas, so perhaps we’ll return to this another time.

That’s my view, period, I mean full stop, oh never mind…

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