When trying to explain something in writing,
remember that less is often more, says Robert Zarywacz
Recently, I’ve been working on several projects where I’ve had to research or summarise information on a lot of businesses.
Reading through text provided by these businesses or browsing their web sites, sometimes it has taken much effort and time to figure out what they were trying to say.
Some web sites don’t even manage to explain what the business does in ‘about us’ text that goes on for four, five or more paragraphs.
The result is that I feel overwhelmed by waffle.
Short and sweet
I know there are good reasons for writing lots and lots (and lots more) for search engines, but we mustn’t forget our human readers. After all, if we want to attract them to our web sites, once there we want them to find what they’re looking for and buy from us, not scratch their heads and wonder what it is we do.
If someone is unable to string two or three words together coherently, it’s unlikely that they will make any more sense in 500 or 1,000 words.
At the moment, I don’t want to look at another web site – unless it’s concise and easy to understand.
Understanding what we do
It’s important for us to understand what we do and be able to explain this simply and succinctly.
If readers are interested, they will read on for further detail, but if they can’t fathom out what we do, we’ll have lost them.
Even though we’ve interviewed and written about thousands of companies, we work hard to understand what makes your business unique
You probably know what you want to tell your customers, but do you hesitate because you’re not sure how to say it? Or perhaps you’re sending out emails, letters or press releases and think your messages could be improved?
The challenge for many business owners and executives is finding a copywriter who can understand their businesses and objectives as well as they do themselves. After all, if you’ve got to rewrite what a copywriter has written for you, there doesn’t seem much point in employing them.
Enthusiasm is essential
How do you know if a copywriter is able to understand your business?
Enthusiasm is a key requirement, both in the subject and the writer.
Over the past weeks, assignments have taken me round a UK manufacturing plant producing $500 million in hi-tech, high quality industrial products every year as well as round a manufacturer producing high quality construction components. It’s a thrill to see real things being made, especially where the people in these businesses are clearly committed to what they’re doing, and I find this enthusiasm rubs off on me so that I can’t wait to start writing about them.
But size isn’t everything and the achievements of small businesses and sole traders can be equally or more impressive, especially when they succeed where larger businesses have failed.
We need to understand
Whether writing a newspaper or magazine article or directly for a client company, it’s our mission to translate this enthusiasm into copy that puts across what a business is doing and attracts people to read their stories. When writing a press release, we have to understand clearly what a business wants it to achieve.
We get to know the specific character and qualities of your business and the people who run it in order to write material that expresses all of this.
We ask questions, we listen to your answers and then we think about them so that we can understand you fully and support you.
A little while ago, I witnessed a document authored by a committee. It was only four pages of A4, but different sections were written by various contributors, sent to a focus group, rewritten again by the contributors, designed and redesigned before being printed and distributed.
This used up a lot of time and resources from all those involved and, I believe, produced a document that failed to achieve its full potential.
Committees can’t write; individuals write.
Appoint an editor
If there’s more than one writer, an editor needs to manage the process to produce a unified text rather than a cobbled-together collection of inconsistent contributions.
This means giving the editor the power to make decisions: tough for committees that find it hard to delegate and prefer to approve every little thing. If they select a good editor, they’ll find it one of the best decisions they ever make and their communications will improve dramatically.
Effective editorial management
An editor can ensure the document:
has an agreed aim
is written in a suitable style for the business or organisation
complies with a style guide or corporate guidelines
is consistent in language, tone and format throughout
doesn’t contradict itself in sections written by different authors
An editor can also ensure contributors make submissions by agreed deadlines and keep production on schedule.
All this should avoid the need for extensive rewrites and designs which inevitably produce a document that satisfies no one.
Today I was asked what value we provide as copywriters. After all, everyone writes these days: blogs, press releases, social media updates. Well, not everyone.
We often meet people who say “I’ve been meaning to write a press release, but I don’t know where to start.”
It reminded me that when we’re writing articles or press releases and a client or interviewee does not have the time to be interviewed, we ask them for any material they have: notes, presentations, emails, web pages. From these we often pull together an article and the client wonders how we did it.
We don’t know either, but that’s our purpose.
If a quote from a client is needed, we call or email them and ask them the right questions to produce a suitable quote.
If facts or details are needed, we research them or contact the best source to get hold of them.
We pull all this together and, using the experience of writing thousands of articles, blend it into a seamless piece of text so that the client is pleased to have an article or press release that does just what they want and in a fraction of the time it would take them to write it.