Breaking “The Curse of Academia”: Subject Matter Expertise and Writing for a General Audience

You are an industry expert. You know your stuff. You wrote the book on it – literally. But when tasked with stepping outside of your industry-specific box — for example, if you’re asked to contribute copy to a sales brochure or draft an editorial for a customer-facing web copy — you often find that it’s easier said than done.

Why? It’s not a lack of expertise. And it’s not that you can’t write. But you’re also very close to the material, and you’ve grown accustomed to writing almost exclusively for an audience that speaks your language. You’re also probably used to writing in the highly formal style that’s often required for industry journals and technical papers.

We half-jokingly call this “the curse of academia” (although it applies equally to any field or industry, from oil and gas and finance to hospitality and HR). Fortunately, though, this “curse” can be lifted. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can make your subject matter more accessible to a non-technical audience.

Write like people speak.

In other words, aim for a conversational tone. In non-technical, non-academic settings, highly formal writing can come across as stuffy, stilted, or unnatural. A few keys to conversational writing include:

  • Use contractions. Words like “you’re,” “it’s” and “they’re” always sound more natural and conversational than “you are,” “it is,” and “they are.”  
  • Use sentence fragments. Sentence fragments can create a more natural, less monotonous flow in your writing, especially when used immediately after a longer sentence. Make sense? If you’re trying to emphasize an idea, you can even use a one-word sentence. Really. 
  • Start sentences with “and,” “or,” “but,” etc. It might make your high school English teacher cringe, but in conversational writing, this is perfectly acceptable.
  • End sentences with prepositions. At some point, someone probably told you that it was never, ever okay to end a sentence with a preposition (we’re looking at you again, high-school English teacher). This is simply not true. It’s perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. In fact, sticking to this “rule” is a good way to create awkward, unnatural-sounding sentences (Need convincing? Check out this example from Quick & Dirty tips. We’re pretty sure you’ve never heard anyone say, “On what did you step?”)

Here’s a great example of conversational, non-technical marketing copy from Apple. This writing breaks several “rules” but it communicates the benefits of a highly technical product in a conversational, accessible way that just about anyone can understand:

Use plain, straightforward language.

Remember, when you’re writing for a general, non-technical audience, the goal is clarity. Whether you want to showcase the features and benefits of your product or explain what sets your company apart from the competition, it’s best to use clear, plain language. Avoid industry jargon and technobabble. Go easy on the acronyms, and if you must use one, write out the whole phrase on first use. And steer clear of overused stock phrases and buzzwords like “synergy.”

And, to be clear: “plain, straightforward language” does not mean “dumbed down.” Need proof? Consider online clothing retailer Everlane. The company, which has few physical storefronts, is popular for its durable, ethically sourced basics like jeans and t-shirts. Everlane also has a reputation for its transparency and open, honest communication. In this example, the company spotlights one of its denim factories in Vietnam and explains how its manufacturing processes help reduce waste.

This page has the potential to be bogged down with jargon, numbers, and “green” buzzwords – but it’s not. It’s clear and straightforward and it does a good job explaining a complicated topic in an uncomplicated, accessible way:

If it’s not common knowledge, explain it.

When you’re writing for people in your industry (or in related industries), you can assume that your readers know what you’re talking about. You likely don’t have to explain the basics of a product, service, tool, or technology. But when you’re writing for a general audience, you might want to back it up a bit and provide some basics.

In the example below, we learn why Exxon’s Mobil 1 Annual Protection explains the science behind synthetic oil — beginning with a quick lesson in viscosity. To a chemical engineer, this stuff is probably pretty basic. But to the average consumer, it provides important background knowledge and helps explain the benefits of the product:

Use graphics.

Sometimes, it’s easiest for the reader to “see” what you’re saying. Don’t shy away from using infographics, charts, illustrations, and other visuals.

Here’s great infographic about Amazon’s distribution network. Although it ran alongside a meaty article and podcast published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, you don’t need advanced knowledge to understand it. You don’t even need to read the whole article to get the main takeaways:

When in doubt, get an outside perspective.

Is your writing clear? Have you skipped important steps or skimmed over critical background information? Does your writing make sense to a non-technical, non-industry audience? Chances are, you’re too close to your subject matter to tell. That’s when it helps to bring in a fresh set of eyes. Send your draft to someone in a different department or to a friend who is unfamiliar with your industry, product, or service. Ask them if it makes sense, if they can follow the logic, and if it raises any questions.

How to Prepare Your Content Before Migrating to a Digital Asset Management System: Part One

If you’re thinking about migrating to a digital asset management (DAM) system, you likely have one key goal: to centralize your content so that it’s more easily retrieved, edited, and shared. And DAM is the ideal solution for many organizations.

But before you migrate, it pays to do some preliminary work so that your content is ready to be transferred.

We’ll talk about how to do that in this 2-part series, but first, let’s address some basic issues.

What is a Digital Asset Management System?

You likely use a primitive form of DAM right now, even in your personal life.

For instance if you organize your files into folders, you are centralizing them in a way that makes sense to you.

That way, when you need to find a document, you have a hierarchy of file folders that you can sift through to retrieve the desired file.

A DAM works much the same way, but instead of the system making sense to only the creator, it works across an entire organization.

Its core competency is to centralize all digital assets, and then make it easy for employees, partners, or other authorized users to find, edit, use and share the content.

Some types of content stored on a DAM system are:

  • Digital documents
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Audio files
  • PDFs
  • Removable media on flash drives, CDs and DVDs
  • Digitized analog media such as slides, prints, and negatives

What are the Benefits of DAM?

To make the best use of digital assets, they must be properly structured in order to increase organizational efficiency.

A DAM system does that in 4 main ways:

  • By organizing documents into pre-defined classifications, millions of pages can be corralled into a system that makes sense to everyone who uses it.
  • User governance. Not all content is meant to be public, and DAM can help restrict access to sensitive assets.
  • Audits. It helps to know when a document was last updated, edited, or used and DAM systems keep detailed records.
  • Through the use of unique metadata, which we cover in-depth in part 2 of this series, end users can easily retrieve the assets they need.

How to Find Your Existing Data

The first step in preparing your data is to locate all of the assets you currently own.

According to Kevin Gavin, CMO at Canto.com, it’s common for digital assets to be scattered across a lot of storage platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, SharePoint, and other file storage systems.

“Our customers usually start with the content owners who already know where they are storing various assets and ask them to provide an inventory of digital assets to be centralized in the DAM,” he says.

Amy Chan, SR Product Marketing Manager at Extensis agrees that identifying the key stakeholders and asking them to deliver the assets that need to be cataloged is the best way to accomplish the task, but she doesn’t believe it needs to be done in one step.

“This can happen in multiple stages,” she says, “with the first focused on the primary assets the organization wants to include in the DAM.” She notes that with Portfolio, her company’s DAM solution, additional assets can be identified and added at a later time.

Some of the types of stakeholders that may own content in your organization are:

  • Marketing team leaders
  • Creative team leaders
  • Visual and audio specialists
  • Content creators
  • Customers
  • Distributors
  • Vendors
  • Customer service representatives
  • Social media campaign managers
  • Sales representatives
  • IT department members

Deciding Which Content to Migrate and What to Leave Behind

Once you have an inventory of all the digital assets, it’s time to determine what you will migrate and which files you will delete or archive.

For example, some content will be outdated, no longer used, or duplicated.

Gavin says the best approach to deciding what should stay and what should go is: “If in doubt, centralize it in the DAM.” He says that the cost of storing the files is relatively small unless you’re storing high-resolution video files, so best practice is to centralize the storage of all digital assets in the DAM.

“Once they are centralized, then you can run reports and see which assets are being used and which ones are not. Those that are not being used are candidates for deletion or for transfer to archive storage.”

Chan has a different approach.

She suggests first defining the goals of the DAM, and then having all stakeholders agree to them.

“This can be based on the greatest challenges the organization is facing with their digital assets,” she says.

For example, if out-of-date or unapproved assets are being used, identifying those assets and archiving them should be the driving factor in deciding which content to migrate.

The Next Step: Adding Metadata

Now that you’ve located your content, organized it, and deleted any duplicates, it’s time to add metadata to it so end users will be able to find it easily.

This is a big topic so we’ll cover it in part two of this series.

A Proofreader’s Checklist

Proofreading can be scary at times because it carries so much responsibility.

The proofreader must deliver a product that is as perfect as humanly possible.

In some businesses, the proofreader is the last person to touch a document, making the final changes before it is published.

Like editing, proofreading can require a light or a heavy hand, depending on the subject matter and the complexity of the text.

Some drafts require only minor fixes – typos, missing punctuation, misspellings – while others require extensive fact-checking in addition to correcting grammatical errors.

The Writers for Hire team has worked through a few kinks in its own processes, and shares the results here.

These tips, which focus on generally accepted best practices, are intended to ease most – but perhaps not all – of the anxiety sometimes surrounding the proofreading process.

1. Begin with a Discussion.

The proofreading process should begin with you, the proofreader, and the editor or client talking through how the project will proceed.

At the outset, you should agree on the preferred style guide and any deviations from or in-house exceptions to the preferred guide.

Most companies use a preferred style guide.

The Associated Press (AP) Style Guide, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Chicago Manual of Style are the most common.

Despite the preferred style, some documents may require adherence to different guidelines, such as a client’s own style guide.

  • Project-specific guidelines could include:
  • Using European date format (day/month/year)
  • Using 24-hour clock time (0930 versus 9:30 a.m.)
  • Using only words or only symbols for monetary units
  • Abbreviating or spelling out titles
  • Keeping industry-specific usage, capitalization, or punctuation
  • Using specific transliterations or spellings of foreign names and places
  • Making exceptions to AP style, such as using the Oxford comma

But, of course, these are only a few of the various elements that you, the editor, and your client must agree on up front.

Otherwise, you could end up in a vicious cycle of editing each other’s changes back and forth.

2. Print and Read Out Loud

Proofreading the hard copy of a text and pronouncing or mouthing each word can catch many more errors than reading it on a computer screen.

Reading each word out loud identifies missing and repeated words – a very common occurrence.

Checking for consistency in formatting is also easier when you page through a printed document.

  • Other mistakes this best practice helps identify include:
  • Incorrect subject verb agreement
  • Incorrect antecedents
  • Complex sentences that are confusing or too long
  • Commonly misused homonyms and other words (their/there, its/it’s, and affect/effect, for example)

3. Check the Facts

Not all drafts require fact-checking, but for those that do, this is a critical step in proofreading. At a minimum, you should fact-check the following:

  • Official country names and names of individuals, places, and organizations. Enter each into Google to confirm the correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
  • Ages, birth dates, and death dates. Check for errors such as someone turning different ages in the same year, or an event involving someone before they were born or after they died.
  • Dates of events. Check all references to a specific day and date in a specific month and year to make sure they are accurate.
  • Captions of photos and graphics. Make sure they match the text exactly, paying close attention to names, dates, places, and subject matter.
  • Math in tables and graphics. Check what you can calculate using simple math, such as percentages and totals.

4. Look for Internal Inconsistences

Consistency in longer documents can be especially challenging because of the human tendency to read what should be on the page instead of what is there.

As you read, make a list of items to check for consistency against the agreed guidelines. Such a list might include:

  • Formatting, grammar, and punctuation of bullets, headings, and subheadings
  • Capitalization and use of titles
  • Use of first names, last names, or both
  • Capitalization of captions
  • Chronological consistency
  • Use of colons, semi colons, en dashes, and em dashes
  • Formatting of dates and time
  • Symbols or words for numbers and currencies

5. Use the Spell Check and Find Functions

The Spell Check and Find functions are very helpful, but a proofreader cannot rely on them to catch everything.

“ABC Spelling and Grammar” in Microsoft Word, for example, automatically identifies misspelled words, sentence fragments, and common grammatical errors, but it also can suggest changes that are wrong in the context of a document.

Spell-checking will, however, catch all unusual names and terms – because it doesn’t recognize them.

After you have confirmed that the spelling of a word is correct, click the “Ignore All” option.

If spell-checking catches another version of the word, then that word is spelled different ways in the document.

When proofreading on a PDF, use CNTRL A (to highlight all) and CNTRL V (to paste all) into a Word document.

Word will identify misspellings, but it also will catch words that aren’t misspelled because of the way it cuts and pastes in.

This is still better than no spell check at all, however!

Along with spell-checking, the Find function helps ensure consistency by checking for all instances of style choices in spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and punctuation.

Searching for specific word and editing choices is easier using Microsoft Word’s “Advanced Find,” which has several options, including “Match case” and “Find whole words only.”

On a PC, click “Find,” then “Advanced Find,” and then “More” to see all the search options:

The “Navigation” pane in Find offers the choice of searching “Headings,” “Pages,” and “Results.”

Searching “Results” returns a list of results within their surrounding text; this option could be useful when checking for consistency in long, complex, documents.

On a Mac, be sure that your Standard Toolbar is open. Do that through “View” at the top, then scroll down to Toolbars > Standard:

The “Advanced Find” can be accessed from the top right “Search” box:

Click on “List Matches in Sidebar” to call up the “Find and Replace” window down the left-hand side of your document. Insert the word you’re looking for into the “Search Document” field:

Choose the gear icon to access a pull-down menu of advanced search options:

Once you’ve entered all your changes, spell-check the entire document a final time to uncover any glitches that escaped your attention.

Take Your Time

Proofreading takes time.

If your client only has a limited amount of time – or budget – to complete the proofreading phase, be sure to find out what the most important elements are, so you know how to focus your time.

And be sure to let the client know if the expectations aren’t reasonable. A rushed proofing job inevitably leads to further corrections

End with a Discussion

Review with the editor or client the changes you made to the document and discuss any remaining areas of concern that require your attention.

If the document contained tracked changes and comments, bracketed text, or highlights, make sure to remove them if you have addressed the issues.

If not, insert your own comments and raise them with the client or editor.

We provide white label content for marketing communication and PR agencies. In other words, we can function as a seamless extension of your in-house marketing and public relations staff. And if you’d prefer not to disclose that you’re using an outside copywriting firm, we’re okay with that.

High-Quality Copywriting for Marketing and PR Firms

Have a large, deadline-sensitive project on the horizon? Need extra creative juice for an upcoming campaign? Looking for copywriters with experience in niche fields or experience writing about very specific industries? The Writers For Hire can provide the necessary bandwidth to get the job done right.

Our writers are passionate about crafting compelling content for marketing, advertising, and public relations — and we’re ready to fall right into step with your team

Why Work With Us?

The Writers For Hire, Inc. has longstanding relationships with several local and national marketing and public relations firms, providing creative services for campaigns, product launches, editorial content, social media, tradeshows, and recruiting events.

Perhaps more importantly, though, our writers are professionals, which means:

  • We’ll treat your project like our own.
  • We keenly understand that the quality of our work and our customer service reflects on your organization.
  • We’ll meet your deadlines.
  • We can provide you with additional writers, editors, and proofreaders as needed.
  • We’ll listen when you and your clients provide feedback.
  • We don’t need hand-holding or extensive onboarding. Our writers will fall right into line with your firm’s processes and procedures.

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Gordon Graham “That Whitepaper Guy”

The whitepaper is arguably the keystone of a great content marketing campaign.

Origination2A single, comprehensive whitepaper on an enduring industry topic can last years – creeping up month after month in search results, circulated and posted by peers and potential clients, attracting hundreds or thousands of mentions on social sites.
The whitepaper can also be incredibly versatile. Think of a whitepaper as the Mr. Potato Head of the content marketing campaign. Pull out the pieces and put ‘em back together again for endless combinations – from email blasts to social media, infographics to speeches. (Need some ideas on how to make your whitepaper’s shelf life even longer? Check out our blog on repurposing content.)

Such a versatile and powerful document has certainly attracted the attention of a marketers in almost every major company in every major industry. (We listed just a few examples, below.)

Oil and Gas

Real Estate

Insurance

Software

Business Consulting

But where do these things come from? Often, whitepapers are credited to a company’s subject matter experts (SMEs) – but are they really the ones writing these things? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a resounding no. SMEs are busy people, and whitepapers – good ones, anyway – take hours of work. This is why almost all whitepapers are either ghostwritten, or at the very least heavily edited by professional whitepaper writers.

Like the whitepaper writing team at the The Writers For Hire, Inc.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones. There are a growing number of specialists in the industry. Like Richard Goulde, Wilton Blake, and options on sites like UpWork or Outsource.com.

Gordon GrahamGordon GrahamYet, arguably one of the most well-known players in the field is Gordon Graham, renowned author of the 2013 book Whitepapers for Dummies, who has been writing whitepapers since 1997.

Gordon Graham was generous enough to interview with us late last year, providing us with some insider tips on whitepaper promotion, ROI metrics, and trends.

 

The Writers For Hire: What is a whitepaper, anyway?

Gordon Graham: It is a time-tested format for long–form copy that combines expository and persuasive writing, whose roots go back more than 100 years, and whose future stretches ahead for as long as companies sell anything relatively new, complex, and expensive that needs explaining to a B2B prospect.

 

The Writers For Hire: What is the best way to promote a whitepaper?

Gordon Graham: It should be promoted long enough and well enough to be effective. Promote it everywhere; promote it like a madman. Promotion plans consist of multiple tactics to give exposure to the whitepaper. So treat it like you would a product launch, use everything from social media to advertising.

 

 

The Writers For Hire: Have you seen any changes in the past couple of years in marketing strategies and tactics?

Gordon Graham: I think social media continues to grow. We have used LinkedIn and Twitter for a while now to inform each other about new documents. Now, people are posting covers of their visual media like whitepapers in places like Instagram and Pinterest. I guess I would say, look at every social media channel, especially if any of your prospects are using those channels. Any marketer should learn where their audience visits, in social media, and use those channels to present the whitepapers.

Also, companies are beginning to want to know specifically how much revenue is being generated by each whitepaper. They want to know how many downloads, leads, sales and revenues result from the document. They want to be able to say, ‘We can attribute $3.2 M in revenues directly to our XYZ-Whitepaper Campaign.

 

The Writers For Hire: What is the best way to quantitatively calculate whitepaper success?

Gordon Graham: Clicks, CTR, comments, cost-per-lead, downloads, email bounce rates, leads, likes, e-mail opens, open rates, page views, perma-links, registrations, reposts, revenues and sales can all be measured to determine the effectiveness of a whitepaper.

RevenueMetrics

The Writers For Hire: How many whitepapers per year do your large company clients post and market?

Gordon Graham: For a large company like 3M, they are probably a Fortune 100 company, they may have seven major divisions. For example, a division might be ‘Healthcare.’ So each division would want their own whitepaper. In one year, a single writer may compose 10 whitepapers just for that one division. So that gives you an idea. On the other hand, a lot of mid-size companies who do just one whitepaper per year. So, it depends on the size of the company and their specific needs.

 

The Writers For Hire: How long does a whitepaper generate ongoing income?

Gordon Graham: As long as people are having the same problem that is being described in a whitepaper, the document could be generating interest for 10 years or more. For example, in industry, corrosion is a major problem that needs treatment. Unless new treatment to control the problem is invented, the original whitepaper, describing the effective solution, would suffice. There’s no limit to that. A “backgrounder” whitepaper will continue to work until the product changes. That’s why I like whitepapers…because they’re very meaty and substantial. Companies can put them on their website and they’ll work very hard. They work harder than any other kind of content and they last longer, literally years for some.

 

Many thanks to Gordon Graham for sharing his expert insights and knowledge for this blog! He’s a good guy and an amazing writer, so if you hire him, we’re OK with that. Although, admittedly, we’d rather you hire us.

 

Concise Writing Cheat Sheet

“Vigorous writing is concise.”

-William Strunk Jr.

The writing tips resource section covers an abundant amount of information on clear and concise writing, but this “cheat sheet” proves useful when you need an answer quickly.

The following guidelines serve as a concise-writing overview. Print out our printer friendly version to keep on your desk or carry in your briefcase as a quick reference tool.

  1. Only repeat a word if it is necessary for clarity or emphasis.

    Original: My brother Chris, who is my only brother, graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in English.
    Edited: Chris, my only brother, earned an English Degree from the University of Houston.

  2. Avoid redundancy — using two or more words or phrases that mean essentially the same thing.

    Original: When I was a child, Mom made me completely finish all of my brussel sprouts.
    Edited: When I was a child, Mom made me finish all of my brussel sprouts.

  3. Avoid beginning sentences with “There is,” “There are,” “There were” or “There was.”

    Original:  There are over 12.7 billion people living in Zimbabwe.
    Edited:  Over 12.7 billion people live in Zimbabwe.

  4. Avoid using too many nouns in one sentence.

    Original: The cause of the plane crash hasn’t been determined by the government
    nor by the employees who work at the airline.
    Edited: Neither the government nor the airline employees have determined why the plane crashed.

  5. Remove adjective clauses, such as “who are,” “which was,” “that were” and “that was,” whenever possible.

    Original: Two movies have been made based on the book “Little Women”, which was
    written by Louisa May Alcott.
    Edited: Louisa May Alcott’s book “Little Women” is the basis of two movies.

  6. Use single adjectives or adverbs instead of prepositional phrases.

    Original: Most of the stores we visited were overpriced and snooty.
    Edited: We visited mostly overpriced, snooty stores.

  7. Replace “to be,” and all of its tenses, with active verbs.

    Original: Barry Manilow isn’t considered to be a musical genius by the majority of people.
    Edited: Most people don’t consider Barry Manilow a musical genius.

  8. Avoid using the phrase “the fact that.”

    Original: The fact that a dog scratches himself does not always mean he has fleas.<
    Edited: A dog scratching himself doesn’t always mean the has fleas.

  9. Don’t get sidetracked with verbs.

    Original:It is important that there be no discussing the test in the room designated for quiet studying.
    Edited: Don’t talk about the test in the quiet study room.

Wanted: Paladin. Telepathist. Saint. Writing Skills a Plus.

Do you know the No. 1 reason good writers fail at writing as a profession? Bad customer service. Well, no, that’s not exactly accurate. A lot of writers have customer service skills. But, in the end, they’re only human. And the truth is, to be a great copywriter, you must be superhuman.

The good news is: Anyone can become superhuman. But it does take a lot of work, a lot of dedication, and an ability to swallow that all-too-human emotion: pride.

Here are my top three tips to developing paranormal powers and, along the way, establishing long-lasting, successful relationships with your clientele.

Roland receives the sword, Durandal, from the ...
Image via Wikipedia

1. Set Expectations. Earn Paladin Status. On your first meeting, do not be afraid to meet your client in your brave white Dodge Charger, brandish your blazing pen, and slash through the fabrications to the simple truth. Seems basic. Yet, you’d be surprised how difficult this can be. The overzealous human copywriter will often want so badly to please a client that they’re likely to promise anything: Want that 100 page document proofed by tomorrow? Sure. Want a guarantee that you’ll be 100 percent satisfied with my work on the first draft? Absolutely. What? You want me to promise you a bestseller? Of course! Wrong.
As a superhuman copywriter, here’s what you say instead: Tell them when you can reasonably have it done – even if it means losing business if you can’t meet their deadline. Tell them that it’s likely that they will have edits on their copy the first time around. It’s normal. Tell them you will write a bestseller – but whether it becomes a bestseller, that’s not something you can promise. No one can.

2. Listen to What Your Client Actually Means. Become Telephathic. You have to remember that most of your clients are going to be of the human variety. And while you are working on your superhuman status, they are probably just going to stay human. So that means that you really need to learn how to listen. That’s your job. Remember. You are the communicator. That’s what they hired you for.

So, as a superhuman copywriter, you have to listen between the lines when your client is writing (or talking) to you. And in order to listen, you have to learn how to ask the right questions to get at the meat of the matter. As a copywriter, you can never ask too many questions (although you can ask stupid questions, but that’s another blog).

So here’s an example:

Human criticism = This paragraph is just not working for me.

Standard human copywriter answer = Why not?

Human response = Well, I just don’t like it. It’s just not good.

Human copywriter answer = Well, I want to make it right, but I’m just not sure I understand what you don’t like about it.

And round and round you go. In the end, the human copywriter leaves completely baffled as to what the client wants, and the client leaves frustrated.

So, here’s how you fix this:

Human criticism = This paragraph is just not working for me.

Superhuman copywriter answer = Ok, not a problem. Is it the information that isn’t working? Or are you not pleased with the way the paragraph sounds?

Then, the client either tells you that the info isn’t right, in which case you ask what specifically he would like included/excluded. Or, he’ll tell you that he doesn’t like the way it sounds, in which case, say:

“Ok, is there anything about the paragraph you would like me to keep?”

If they say no, don’t even try to figure out what’s wrong. Really. Most people just can’t tell you what it is about voice, tone, or flow that isn’t working. Just say…

“Ok, no problem, I’ll rewrite this a couple of different ways and send it back to you.”

Then rewrite it a couple of different ways and send it back. And what I mean by this is start with a blank sheet of paper and write a completely different paragraph. Don’t reference your original. Don’t pull any phrases from it. I don’t care if you loved the first one, and you don’t see what’s wrong with it. It doesn’t matter.

Just clear your head, think of a different angle, and go with it.

“”

3. Do Not Under Any Circumstances Become Defensive. Achieve Sainthood.

Here’s what I tell clients, “I only have one feeling, and you can’t hurt it.”

Here’s what I tell copywriters, “If it doesn’t hurt when a client doesn’t like it, you aren’t doing it right!”

Ok, so there’s a method behind this madness. Clients can’t feel like they are going to hurt your human feelings, because then you’ll never get the truth out of them; and if they aren’t happy – even if they are unhappy with a single word – you need to be the first to know. That’s the only way you’re going to have truly happy clients. Copywriters on the other hand have to love their work or else they aren’t giving it their all.

So, the only solution to this is that all good copywriters must become saints… and telepathists…and paladins.

Oh, yeah, and you have to be a great writer, too.

Say Goodbye to Fluffy Web Copy

So, how many websites have you visited that are “dedicated to providing superior customer service”? Or whose “mission it is to make customer satisfaction a top priority”? Or whose products and services “meet your needs”?

And so on.

Fluffy phrases like this are easy to write and, on paper, they sound nice. After all, who doesn’t want superior customer service? Problem is, these phrases have been done to death and overused to the point where they don’t mean a darned thing. And, they do absolutely nothing to drive sales or tell visitors what you actually do (other than provide “superior” customer service).

Good web copy should be clear and easy to understand. It should tell visitors what you do and how you do it. It should provide solutions. Good web copy should contain real information, not meaningless buzzwords.

Here’s what I mean:

“At XYZ Law Firm, our mission/our goal is to . . .” Instead of telling potential customers what you’d like to do, tell them what you actually do. Use strong verbs and clear language. Instead, try something like “At XYZ law firm, we . . . “

“At Uncle Bob’s Mini-Storage, we are dedicated to providing the utmost customer service . . .” Okay, that’s nice and all, but can I store my priceless antiques there? Is there 24-7 security? It’s better to get to the point. For example, “At Uncle Bob’s Mini Storage, we provide gated storage units and round-the-clock surveillance to protect your valuables . . .”

“At Mama’s Restaurant, customer satisfaction is our #1 goal.” Okay, but what do you serve? Do you have breakfast? Why should I eat at Mama’s? Good web copy should entice readers to try out your menu. How about: “At Mama’s, we’ve been serving up old-fashioned, down-home favorites since 1952. From huevos rancheros to chicken-fried steak and gravy, we’ll satisfy your big Texas appetite, 24/7.”

Have any other suggestions for killer web copy? Want to add to my list of fluffy words and phrases? Leave a comment!