Borrowed thoughts in borrowed words

It’s now so common to express your ideas through a quote borrowed from a prominent writer or expert that we’ve decided to give in and join the practice, starting with:

People who like quotations love meaningless generalizations.”
Graham Greene, Travels with my Aunt

A great question for an essay or maybe to discuss over a drink in the pub, but sadly too many people take the lazy way out and quote away with very little accompanying original thought.

I enjoy reading the work of Jerome K Jerome, but if you search for him on twitter there are two specific quotations tweeted so many times daily that you wonder whether these people have actually read anything by him. (You’ll have to search yourself as I won’t include them here.)

Quotations can be very powerful when used sparingly. After all, how many of us can better the words of the greatest thinkers and writers? But if we communicate our ideas solely through someone else’s language we end up sounding like receptacles for soundbites with no ability to think for ourselves.

I imagine that a lot of people who issue their daily quote quotas don’t think deeply, while some can but don’t feel confident enough to express themselves effectively. Perhaps they think their ideas will carry more weight when shored up by the words of a well-known figure, even though the genius of a great writer is more likely to overshadow their message.

My own preference is to hear someone express their thoughts in their own words.

 

Don’t throw your flimsy briefs at me!

One of the skills needed in any creative marketing role is to be able to see the world from the client’s point of view so that you can produce work that achieves their vision.

Last week Simon and I were discussing various briefs – the specifications for a copywriting or other creative project – provided by clients and how minimal some can be. Often a client can want something, but not know what that something is. Our response is to ask questions to identify what they want to help us create it.

Now, we wouldn’t expect everyone to specify a precise word count for an article or list technical production details, but what is important in a brief is to have a reason for the project. Even before any creative aspects are considered, what is the business aim of the project: to sell an identified product, to increase company awareness, to advertise an event, to attract visitors to a web site?

Identifying this reason, the target audience and required result is the starting point for any creative activity. From there we can establish the best way to achieve what the client requires. Whenever starting a project, we always ask what the client is looking to achieve: some can tell us precisely, while others have to be helped to define it.

We include it as part of our service to ask these questions so that we fully understand the client, their needs and the projects they commission us to complete, but it makes good sense for any business to know what it’s looking to achieve at all times.

Doing this doesn’t just mean we receive fewer flimsy briefs, but ensures businesses focus sharply on their commercial objectives. And if their commercial objectives are clearly defined, we think they’re more likely to achieve them.

Structures and signposts help your readers

I’ve been working on a few longer documents recently, which has reminded me how important it is to structure texts.

If writing a book or booklet, a structure helps to keep the reader’s mind focused, whereas text that meanders from one subject to the next without really knowing where it’s going can lose the reader fast. A reader who doesn’t find content useful or entertaining is more likely to just give up.

Creating a structure is not difficult, especially for business or reference works. Start by listing the topics to be covered and arrange these into chapter headings and sub-sections. This not only helps readers, who can find what they’re looking for more easily, but helps when writing, as you will know where to put specific material and will be more aware of wandering off topic.

Very few business books are likely to be read from cover to cover with many people dipping in and out or looking up specific topics, so chapters, effective headings and sub-sections provide useful signposts for readers searching for information or answers.

Robert Zarywacz

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