Wednesday 11 September 2013

A Plea to readers and writers

You can throw a brick (or perhaps be gentler and employ a sandwich) in Piccadilly Circus and you’ll hit someone who calls himself a writer. And why not? Almost every single one of us can write and we spend an inordinate amount of time texting and emailing if not actually working on the old fashioned business of furrowing our brows and putting pen to paper.

But my thought is this: because we can write – in that we were taught this amazing skill at school – ought we therefore to take responsibility for the creation of all the many words we pour into promoting our businesses. Should we write our own brochures, our own websites, put together our own annual reports and script our own speeches and presentations?

It is my contention after many years of perplexed experience and plenty of research that the vast majority of proud owners of websites advertising their services and wares are also the proud writers of those very websites. And it is for this reason that so much unrepeatable and terrible prose is published abroad. There are literally trillions of words out there smashing and grinding nonsensically together, desperately vying for reader’s attention: lumpen, clanking, duplicating words, a vast medium for the cliché of the moment and the many clichés of yesteryear, for biz-speke, jargon and general nonsense written in the egg-laying and strenuous pursuit of making sales to potential customers.

My plea is for all such writers to stop and for readers to complain. 

Just think how much better informed we would be, how much more inspired and enthusiastic we could be, if all this fantastic verbiage was trimmed, shaped and balanced for easy consumption. Wait for it – by a professional copywriter who has hard-won experience and plenty of skill.

It’s an amazing thing that website designers can create wonderfully customised sites with both subtle and powerful business branding, full of flair and invention – and when they’ve been through all the iterative design stages to achieve this thing of beauty they ask the client for the copy. They then shoehorn this in somewhere – it is little more than a shape on the page to them and usually the less of it the better.

This approach is typical and it has carried on, in my experience, from the ancient days of printed brochures (rather than websites) to the second and third generation online age. Design comes first and the quality of the message is left to look after itself. Clients pay a lot of money ‘for a website’ and then they fill in the words – because words are cheap. This is all so wrong.

The message you are trying to convey is actually your prime purpose, supported by graphic design and layout considerations rather than the reverse. A skilled professional will use words boldly and strikingly, create useful sub-headings and links to signpost people to other layers of information and, above all, write clearly and simply with the ducks in the right order. In this way, you will hook readers and make them want to explore.