Write as though you're speaking

I sat down this morning to write a blog post about copy-writing.  I live in a small North Yorkshire village, and the sun is out, so I grabbed my notepad, filled my unicorn insulated mug (thanks Lidl) with strong coffee, slung my camera over my shoulder (just in case) and my dog and I decamped to the garden. 

After 15 minutes of wracking my brains about what to focus on, I realised my problem - everything is nuts at the moment, and all my brain wants to do is spew forth the sort of rambling nonsense that quickly builds up in the psyche of someone governmentally-mandated to spend his days on his own in a small country cottage.

But no one wants to hear that right now, and when ones very job is to have an ordered and logical mind, committing the madness to paper, under the company banner, isn’t ideal!

So I figure I have 2 choices - I can either ask my dog to write the blog instead, something I worry might force me to confront the fact that our frankly hilarious two-way banter is entirely fictional and that I should probably stop taking life advice from her, or I can keep it simple and offer some guidance that should make things a little easier when it comes to writing your own copy…

I chose the first option, obviously, but unfortunately it turns out Indi’s speciality is French literature from the renaissance period, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to settle for this instead:

 

WRITE AS THOUGH YOU’RE SPEAKING...

For some reason people are convinced that writing and speaking are two fundamentally different worlds.  But as you’re reading this, you’re essentially reading it out loud…  not out loud out loud, but there’s an inner mouth in your head that’s relaying it to your inner ears..  So try reading what you’re writing out loud - make sure it has a nice flow and rhythm to it, that your ideas are clear, and that your punctuation helps to make sense of everything.

 

WRITE AS THOUGH YOU’RE SPEAKING TO A HUMAN...

Once you start to notice it, you’ll see it everywhere, and you’ll start to recognise when you’re doing it yourself - writing in some strange, overly-formal business speak.  You’re a human, the person you’re speaking to is a human, so why do you feel the need to use 3 long words when 1 short one will do?  Imagine meeting someone who spoke like that in real life… within a minute or two you’d be rolling your eyes and wishing they’d just get to the point!  It can be an incredibly difficult habit to break, but once you have you’ll wonder what you were thinking.

 

WRITE AS THOUGH YOU’RE SPEAKING TO A HUMAN WITH THEIR OWN INTERESTS!

We all love our own products and services.  We know their history, the challenges we’ve overcome and the innovations that we’re most proud of.  More often than not there are some very specific aspects that we want to talk about more than others.  BUT… your audience are not reading what you’re writing to hear about what you want to talk about… they’re looking for specific information that helps them decide whether you’re right for them.  Consider their position - are they interested in business benefits or technical details?  Is the end-result more important than how you get them there?  Are they likely to know anything at all about your industry, or do you need to start with the basics before launching into the intricacies?  Building information from the ground up, making sure someone can start from a place of total ignorance and end up understanding everything they wanted to understand is key to writing -ooh, a robin!- strong, effective copy.

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So…  

Don’t worry if it doesn’t come easy!  

After an entire career of writing copy for just about everything, I still find my first attempts often need some heavy editing.  Trying to get it right first time can take forever, so here are my key tips:

 

  1. Start by jotting down all the key points you want to hit through your copy.  Consider them from the point of your audience, and make sure everything’s geared towards where they are, not where you are.

  2. Next try to just get something down.  If you can, consider doing this stage with pen & paper - you’ll find it much easier to write freely without a keyboard in between you and your content.  Revel in your ability to cross things out, circle key points and draw endless massive arrows to correct the structure.

  3. Go back through it, and edit it to make it as natural as possible.  Read it out loud to yourself and, if you can, read it out loud to someone who knows you but not your business.  If they look at you like you’ve gone a bit strange, or are none-the-wiser by the end, find out why!

  4. Give it one more pass and look at how you’ve formatted everything.  Headers, bullets and images all draw a reader’s attention to the key points you’re making, and help them find the information they’re looking for.  No one reads everything, so you want to make sure they’re not trawling through something that’s not relevant to them looking for something that is - because they won’t trawl for long!

 

And that’s probably enough to be getting on with for now.  It’ll take a while, but you’ll get there!

And remember, if you have any problems with any of this, please speak to my dog about it, she told me what to say.