Friday, May 13, 2011

Five Essential Tips for Copy Writers

          The summer I was ten, I gave a one-girl performance of Romeo and Juliet on the lawn in our back yard.
I memorized the balcony scene, the potion speech, and (my favorite) the part where Jule is sobbing her heart out over Romeo getting kicked out of Verona. I reveled in the death scene, where she does herself in with her husband’s dagger. I ranted and screamed and wept. I leaped into the air and flung myself onto the grass. I knocked myself out (almost literally.) If there’d been any scenery, I’d have chewed it to splinters. My parents and their friends cheered and applauded. (It was a warm day, and the gin and tonics flowed freely.)

But the part I remember best came later. That evening, after he’d given me a thousand proud hugs, my dad said to me, “You know, Frey, you were a little hard to understand."

“Not loud enough?” I asked.

“No, no, it wasn’t that. How can I explain this? When artists perform, they’re doing it for their audience. Not for themselves. I know it’s exciting to have a big emotional experience, but you want your audience to be able to join in. Art is about connecting—not just expressing.”

Those may not have been his exact words, but they were close. I’ve never forgotten that moment. 

As a writer and editor, connecting with people is my job and my privilege. I have a friend who composes poetry in Klingon, and keeps all of his work private. For him, writing is a form of self-care—like meditation, maybe. But for me, it’s all about offering something to the reader—insight, companionship, a laugh, or information that may improve her life.

That’s why I like business writing. 

White papers and press releases may not seem as glamorous as fiction. But every one of them is an opportunity to help readers. Each time I sit down to work, I know I’m bringing people together with other people, or with information, or both. That’s what gives web writing its unexpectedly personal edge. It’s about empathy, and it’s about education. No offense, Luke, but I’d rather write one good case study than an epic poem that no one will ever get to read. 

With that in mind, here are my five top tips for copy writers:
  • Keep your audience in mind. What’s important to them? What can you do to guide them toward the best possible experience?
  • Pay attention to the language your readers use. Are they engineers? Marketing directors? Dental patients? Of course you don’t have to learn every bit of trendy tech jargon. But make sure your work sounds appropriate for your audience.
  • Be consistent. A lot of communication depends on expectations. Don’t promise Romeo and Juliet and then suddenly switch over to Dexter.
  • Make your work easy to read. Write clearly and precisely. If you have some control over the project design, learn how to create appealing visuals.
  • Whenever possible, learn from reader feedback.
 Great copy writing merits great respect. It’s time for us business writers to stand up and take a bow.

Freya Shipley is a freelance writer with a background in linguistics and history. For a free quote, visit her at Follow her on Twitter: @freya_221.

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