No business can function without words. Whenever you draw up a contract, give an instruction to an employee or answer the phone, you use words to communicate.
But you can’t use any old words.
Often, a few, well-chosen words will convey a message more effectively than pages and pages of text.
Just imagine the shopfloor of a department store. You probably won’t see a sign saying: “Please select the goods you wish to buy, place them in your shopping basket, then go to the checkout next to the fire exit where our staff will scan them, take payment and wrap your purchases.”
But you probably will see a sign saying:
The first sign is more accurate, but when you’re scanning the horizon for a checkout it’s unlikely to catch your attention, whereas the shorter, less comprehensive statement actually tells you all you need to know at that stage.
The “pay here” message works because it is appropriate. This is important, because there are so many ways we can use language to communicate and in each case the writing must suit the purpose.
Adopting a suitable style
For example, a business producing two newsletters – one for its customers and another for its employees – will probably use different styles for each audience. It is likely to adopt a more serious tone for its customers, to ensure it appears professional, while the employee newsletter will tend to feature more light-hearted, even irreverent articles to entertain staff.
But that does not mean that customer newsletters shouldn’t include light-hearted content or that employee newsletters should not include serious articles about the company. Generally, each newsletter will adopt a tone finely tuned to its specific audience. And this is where the skill of the copywriter comes into play. Understanding the message that needs to be communicated and the style most likely to succeed with the target audience is crucial.
After all, a brochure aimed at selling music to a teenage audience is unlikely to succeed if it is crammed with long paragraphs of text, while a magazine aimed at readers of epic literature is unlikely to be filled with jokes and gags.
So knowing your audience – or your market – and the best way of communicating with them is very important.
In business, people like to receive their information in different ways – from business magazines to web sites, text messages, brochures and detailed technical documents. If we are trying to communicate with a specific group of people, we’ll have more chance of succeeding if we use the method of communicating that they find works best for them.
Can I write it myself?
Yes. Why not?
Some people are perfectly capable of writing good copy. Others may find it more difficult or not have the confidence. If you can write good copy yourself, there’s no reason why you should not write your own text for your brochures, web site or press releases, other than whether it is the best use of your time. Do you do your own accounts, your own legal advice, selling or IT support? Probably not, because you don’t have the time to do them all. You’ve got to run your business.
Tips for good writing
• Develop your own style. See how other people write, by all means, but the best writing comes from ourselves.
• Don’t use jargon. Assume everyone reading your copy knows nothing about the subject.
• Keep it short. People are bombarded with so much information these days that many will not even bother to read something that looks long-winded. Length does not guarantee quality.
• Check your spelling: it does make a difference. Use a dictionary rather than a spell-checker.
• If you’re unsure of your grammar and punctuation, start writing in a simple style and develop it as you become more confident.
• Sometimes grammatically correct writing does not sound right. It’s nearly always better for your writing to sound natural, so learn the rules, but know when to break them to avoid clumsy-sounding text.
• Check your writing by reading it aloud. Does it sound natural? Or ask a colleague or friend to read it. It’s better that someone close to you spots any mistakes before you send it out to the rest of the world.
Words are a powerful tool
Always remember that words are a very powerful business tool. Whether you’re writing text for a brochure or a presentation or speech, words can achieve a lot – often at little cost to yourself.
Although you may not have a big budget, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to communicate more effectively than your competitors, and many small businesses are better at communicating than bigger ones.
• You can find more practical advice and prompt sheets at www.editorialresources.co.uk