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When Real Estate Marketing Copy Just Seems "Off..."

Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

There's nothing glaringly wrong; you think you understand what the writer was saying; but somehow what you just read - or wrote - seems "off." confused man

There's something wrong with it, but what?

Sometimes the problem is “parallel construction,” or rather lack of it.

What does parallel construction mean? It means that when you use 3 or more items in a series they need to match.They need to be all the same part of speech and the same tense.

If you saw a sentence such as "You need to stop, look, listening,” the error would jump right out at you. You'd instantly see the non-parallel word. When non-parallel words are used in a long sentence, they can be harder to spot. They just “feel wrong.”

Take this sentence for instance: “Our goal is to provide a high level of service by being attentive, proactive, and maintaining up-to-date market data.”

What’s wrong, and how can you fix it? These three items, separated by commas, are not parallel.

  •        Being attentive
  •        Proactive
  •        Maintaining data

You understand the meaning, but the words are somehow jarring.

You could fix the sentence in two ways. You could write “…by being attentive, by being proactive, and by maintaining…” Or, you could do away with the series and simply write “…by being attentive and proactive, and by maintaining…”

Another example:

“Today my plans include cleaning the bathroom, walking, and write an email.”

Fix it by changing write to writing.

Sometimes the problem is a case of misplaced modifiers.

These are so common that it’s hard to escape them, especially when reading news articles.

Here’s one from this morning: “The decision follows the revelation of a previously undisclosed security flaw that exposed users’ profile data that was remedied in March 2018.”

It tells you that profile data was remedied – why? Did that data need to be remedied? No, of course not. The modifying clause should have been attached to “security flaw,” not “profile data.” This long sentence should have been turned into two sentences.

Sometimes misplaced modifiers confuse the issue and leave you wondering what was wrong.

Sometimes they’re downright funny. For instance:


  • Janice was walking the dog on the telephone.”
  • “We need a babysitter for our toddler who doesn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs.”
  • “Barking at full volume, the intruder ran from our large dog.”

Again, when these errors are in short sentences like these, you see them right away and laugh.

When they’re in long sentences – the kind news articles tend to use – they simply feel “off.” The reader might understand the intent, but… something isn’t right.

 Proofread. Then do it again.

I nag you all the time about proofreading to catch spelling, grammar, and word usage errors. I also warn you to watch for typos and missing or doubled words. Now I’ll nag some more – re-read what you wrote to make sure it makes sense.

Check the modifiers. Just because YOU know what you’re trying to modify doesn’t mean you put them in the right place.

One more thing – When checking for doubled words, check to see if you’ve doubled the part of speech, not just the exact word. I’ve found this happens sometimes when editing and changing sentences around. I’ve done it, and I see it in blog posts quite often.

It looks something like “I see find it in blog posts…”

 The words you write do matter, so take that extra few minutes to make sure they say what you meant to say…


Confused man image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Rose King
David Tracy Real Estate - Friendswood, TX
Friendswood / Pearland / Houston Bay Area

I love this post, Marte! I was a journalism teacher for many, many years. As a result, I am a grammar nerd!

Oct 09, 2018 10:27 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Marte, you always provide us with so much good advice, now my question is: why is it so hard to follow good advice on so many different levels??Endre

Oct 09, 2018 10:36 PM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes and it can be ugly! You seem to have it under control with your ideas here

Oct 09, 2018 11:37 PM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

It’s easy to read and advise but it’s always hard for us to take it iand to follow it. Endre Barath, Jr.

Oct 09, 2018 11:43 PM
Debra Leisek
Bay Realty,Inc Homer Alaska - Homer, AK

Stop Look and Listen to Marte Cliff  

Love the post! Thank you! 

I bet you cant read twitter comments for very long without frustration! 

Oct 10, 2018 12:06 AM
Kat Palmiotti
eXp Commercial, Referral Divison - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

This was an interesting post. I have noticed parallel construction issues but never knew they had a specific name!

Oct 10, 2018 03:04 AM
L. Scott Ferguson
Ask4Ferguson - Your House-SOLD Name in Real Estate - West Palm Beach, FL
Sunny Florida Real Estate Professional

Proofreading is key Marte!  Great post!





Oct 10, 2018 07:32 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Rose King I learned most of my grammar from my Mother and Grandmother - so didn't learn the proper terms for things. Where I went to high school they still let kids put up banners that say "Support Are Team." As a result, sometimes I'm not positive about usage, so I turn to Grammar Girl.

Endre Barath, Jr. - Good question. Why is it so hard?

Oct 10, 2018 10:28 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Laura Cerrano When it comes to writing, just keep practicing and going back over the things you know you need to learn.

Debra Leisek - I stay away from Twitter. You're right, that would be frustrating. I used to visit there years ago. Then one day a woman explained why she needed to use the rest room, and I said "That's enough for me."

Oct 10, 2018 10:31 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Kat Palmiotti I'm not sure where or when I learned the name, but using it is easier than trying to explain it in just a few words.

L. Scott Ferguson Thanks for the good wishes. And yes, proofreading is key.

Oct 10, 2018 10:33 AM
Marie Story
Coldwell Banker - Pinecrest (Miami) - Pinecrest, FL
Broker Associate, Pinecrest (Miami) Specialist

Marte, years ago you gave two pieces of advice that I still follow when I write:

1. Read what you wrote out loud.

2. Put it down for a while and come back later and re-read.

Oct 10, 2018 04:28 PM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Marie Story Thanks! It's fun to know someone remembers my advice from years ago.

Oct 10, 2018 06:31 PM
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

I am learning that the lessons are important but the teachers of it even more so

Oct 11, 2018 06:36 AM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Pasadena And Southern California 818.516.4393

Hello Marte --- excellent examples.  The ability to communicate and to be understood is so important. Bookmarked this post.

Oct 11, 2018 06:49 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

 I don't know about that Richie Alan Naggar - but I thank you.

Michael Jacobs Yes - misunderstandings are the cause of way too much trouble.

Oct 11, 2018 09:41 AM
Lynn B. Friedman CRS Atlanta, GA 404-617-6375
Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty - Love our Great City - Love our Clients! Buckhead - Midtown - Westside - Atlanta, GA
Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers

Marte Cliff 
Thanks for the lessons!!!!
I love learning from you.

Oct 11, 2018 05:08 PM
Kevin Mackessy
Blue Olive Properties, LLC - Highlands Ranch, CO
Dedicated. Qualified. Local.

Clear and precise language will never be replaced.  Clients require that care.  

Oct 17, 2018 01:21 PM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Thank you Lynn B. Friedman - I love that you take the time to read my posts!

Kevin Mackessy We do need to communicate clearly, and I fear for those who rely on texting!

Oct 17, 2018 01:49 PM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

You are always provide a wealth of information about usage of the English language, Marte.

Oct 21, 2018 01:53 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Thanks Myrl Jeffcoat - I do find communication through the written word to be a fascinating subject.

Oct 21, 2018 12:01 PM