Good afternoon everybody!
I’m taking a poll of sorts – have any of you ever been asked any of these questions?
“What’s taking so long?”
“They’re only words…”
“That’s too much.”
“That’s too little.”
“Why don’t you get this?”
If your answer is “Yes”, chances are you write for a living…and I’m not talking to you fancy-dancy storytellers who write books for people to read, I’m talking creating and communicating messages for the corporate/private sector. Internal and external communications, online and offline copywriting, digital media content (including social media) and anything else you can think of – it all comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually a content writer / copywriter / (insert writing job here).
Of all of the various jobs I’ve done in the past, one thing has remained constant – I’ve always been communicating a message. I’ve been a writer for both online and offline material for over 10 years, and just like any job, sometimes the finished result is easier said than done. Some days you’re on fire, and everything you write is gold. Sometimes you’re colder than ice, and everything reads like you’re still only halfway through Hooked on Phonics.
“Why can’t you come up with text? Just type whatever words come up in your head!”
Anyone who has ever said this has never really thought of the consequences. I can guarantee you this person never wonders if the words written are the right words for the job, only that they have something to show their superior/client/etc…but it’s more often than not that the message is wrong. Why do people do this? Usually it’s due to workplace stress, in today’s on-demand world everyone is expected to deliver a project sooner than expected. But I also believe the problem stems from what writers do (communicate) and what they are perceived as doing (typing) is seen as the same thing. Most people think writers just type and viola, perfect message! Why? The simple answer is this – because today everyone communicates through typing and receives immediate replies.
Our on-demand world curses us again! Communication through typing happens everyday, through emails, text messages, in fact we communicate instantaneously through instant messaging now more than ever before. You type your text and hit “send”. Your text is received and you expect a reply, and (usually) get one in kind – therefore if this form of communication is easy and instant, then all communication should be easy and instant.
The problem isn’t about typing, it’s about creating a good message to communicate and this can take some time to formulate. Communicating should never be about instantaneous quantity, it should be about effectiveness. To be effective one should be able to think and follow a process, just like any job, in order to achieve the best result possible for the project at hand. Processes differ from writer to writer, and typical writing processes can be found in practically any marketing website that brag “Is your Site converting? Try these SEO writing tips!”…I love them, don’t you?
I’m just going list my 3 ultra-quick question points that I go over in my head at the first sign of a new project – call this “Pat’s Mini Process” – and if I can actually get farther than this, I usually consider myself lucky:
1.) Who are you communicating to? – Self explanatory. You don’t use the same language to a 30 year old mother of two children in Atlanta, Georgia as you’d do to a 65 year old rich retiree living in Costa Rica. Not only are their vocabularies different, but so are their ways of thinking. Where these people live should also be taken into consideration – are there any cultural taboos to consider? Is it an internal message where everyone will understand the discourse, or is it an external message where you may need more space to explain things? One thing I always try to be aware of are cultural taboos and slang – unwitting use of cultural taboos can instantly destroy even the best messages. A good, quick example of this is in Japan, where the use of a certain number that is more than 3 but less than 5 is shunned – using this number is a sure-fire way to get the Japanese market to literally RUN from your message.
- (Note to Japanese readers: See? I didn’t actually use that number. Please stay and read the rest of the blog. Thanks!).
2.) What are you communicating? – This again is self explanatory, but I’ve seen companies write a whole lot of text and you have no idea what they’re trying to tell you about their product/service. Don’t forget that you must communicate what makes you different from the competition as well – why should I buy your vacuum when I know all about Hoover vacuums? This is vital to your unique selling point, and therefore your unique selling message.
3.) Where and how will the message be seen? – Big text? Small? Serif or Sans Serif font? Television? Youtube? Magazine? Online or offline? Top left, bottom right, or centered? All of these things will affect not only when and how the message is seen, but how much importance readers will put into the message when they see it. Not everyone reads left to right – will this affect the WAY the message is seen and understood? Remember good old Marshall McLuhan’s theory of “The Medium is the Message” – he wasn’t just blowing smoke.
The above list is Communications 101 but when a whole project is being rushed, sometimes you can forget even the most basic ruling of creating an effective message. However, as with all processes there’s only one problem with the above list – even when it comes to a mini-process to create an effective message, nearly nobody in an “on demand” world has time for that. Your client/supervisor may seem impatient, terse, and sometimes degrade you and your skills, especially if you’re in the middle of a “rush job”. They’ll tell you things like:
- “Don’t write too much” but “don’t skimp on the meaning”.
- “Make it SEO friendly” but have no real idea what that even means.
- “Why isn’t it ready now?”…and if you can’t tell, I LOVE this one.
For those of you looking to do this kind of job, prepare yourself with a thick skin. Just count to ten, drink heavily from the Fountain of Patience and calmly remind them it’s a process. Remember, they’re under stress too, and stress can cause people to do and say some nasty things. However, if they continuously tell you it’s easy and they accuse you of dragging on/being incompetent/etc…, sometimes you just got to tell them “try it yourself”. Believe me when I tell you, more often than not they’ll quickly ask you to continue when they realize how bad they are at it and why they hired a writer in the first place.