Writer, Reader, Rascal

To be a successful copywriter you need 8 key things. Fingers. Chortle.

This is the kind of massively unhelpful and entirely spurious advice you can expect from Andrew Boulton, ...

...copywriter at Together and all round scoundrel.

Having smashed his increasingly chubby copywriting fingertips against keyboards for many years – starting life as copywriter for Egg before moving on to top Midlands agency Together – he’s learned a thing or two about how to deliver a captivatingly brilliant piece of copy.

Sadly, he’s forgotten all of that and all we’re left with are his shambolic, often scurrilous, ramblings about whatever has caught his wild copywriter’s eye that week.

Enjoy his words, say nice things to him and send him free biscuits. This is all he asks.

You can venture into the world of Together at www.togetheragency.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @Boultini

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12 April 2013 - 11:24am | posted by | 4 comments

Grumpy, Lazy, Busy: why it’s so hard to write for the online reader

Grumpy, Lazy, Busy: why it’s so hard to write for the online readerGrumpy, Lazy, Busy: why it’s so hard to write for the online reader

Writing an opera based on ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ is probably the most challenging writing task I face each week. A very close second is writing online content that people will actually: a. read and b. act upon.

The modern online reader is the most impatient, cynical and distracted creature in the wordy world of words. To perfectly illustrate the point i’d imagine a fair proportion of you who started reading this article haven’t even got as far as this sentence.

No other medium of copywriting demands more thought, structure and strategy than developing and managing online content.

Human biology dictates that reading content online is inherently more difficult and tiring than consuming the printed word. Couple that with the massive, unending distraction that is the internet and online content emerges as a ferocious battle for any scrap of attention.

A clever fellow I know who specialised in managing online content once told me that online communications were the equivalent of trying to read a book while a billion other authors slap you in the face with their own novels.

Before even embarking on a piece of online content there is an enormous check-list of issues that must be considered and attended to. Online content by its very nature addresses an international audience, and the right kind of language and tone must be chosen to allow for this. At the same time, the copywriter must not be seen to be ‘drying out’ their copy in order to make it as universally accessible as possible.

The online field of copywriting is probably the one that requires a degree of sagacity, if not restraint. The flourishes and complexity that one might indulge in printed media are an unstable element when introduced to your online content.

Patience and attention are incredibly short lived in any online engagement between writer and reader. The term ‘skim read’ may be utterly loathsome to any copywriter but the sad reality is that is all you can realistically expect from your audience.

Constructing something beautifully elaborate may make you feel rather pleased with yourself but if a skim reader only takes away the words ‘sesquipedality’, ‘temerarious’ and ‘Promethean’ from your content then you, my friend, are an astoundingly eloquent failure.

Clarity is King, Queen and X-Factor winner all rolled into one when it comes to online content. As is brevity and, most importantly, the meaningfulness of the content. The sceptical and preoccupied online reader needs transparency and openness in what they absorb digitally. Jargon, double-talk, unlikely assertions and impenetrable construction will leave the reader with nothing and the writer with even less. Whereas an open and inviting conversation, with clearly illustrated points and a purposeful structure may do just enough to engage those unfocused rascals.

So apart from being clear, engaging, concise, transparent, authoritative, reassuring, well-structured, easily digestible and providing all the required information without delivering an overload of information... apart from all that, producing online content is a breeze.

An opera about a largely obscure 1980s comedy on the other hand...

@Boultini

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. Please buy tickets for his opera.

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Comments

12 Apr 2013 - 15:24
duh_sponge's picture

Well played Sir. I love a good word. They're bloody marvellous things. And ‘sesquipedality' is a good word for good words. More power to your digits my friend. Type on.

15 Apr 2013 - 15:13
antho20963's picture

Fun post and with a very important point to make — but I wonder if you're breaking your own rules a bit?

You say to bear in mind an international audience, then use difficult language like "sagacity" and write in the passive voice.

You talk about making the structure transparent but avoid two of the most useful tricks of showing structure: subheads and bullet points. You've just got 12 paragraphs of copy.

And you say that readers should be able to act upon online copy — but most of your advice is about what the end result should be (open, inviting, clear, purposeful) rather than how to get there, so it leaves me with no concrete guidance.

I'm hoping this is a case of "when you know the rules, you're free to break them" — because I did enjoy the article! Nice to see a fellow writer letting off steam.

15 Apr 2013 - 16:14
andrewboulton's picture

@antho20963 You've spotted the fundamental contradiction in the piece, you clever rascal. Yes, I absolutely didn't adhere to any of the guidance I offered (rules isn't appropriate, simply because no such things exist). This was because I was writing an opinion piece, which serves a very distinct purpose from online content designed to illicit a very definite response from the reader (i.e. sell them ‘sumfing'). All I wanted to do was prompt people to have a ponder about the issues I raised and then agree or (heaven forbid) disagree. Very glad you enjoyed the piece and really appreciate you getting involved with the comments.

15 Apr 2013 - 16:16
andrewboulton's picture

@antho20963 You've spotted the fundamental contradiction in the piece, you clever rascal. Yes, I absolutely didn't adhere to any of the guidance I offered (rules isn't appropriate, simply because no such things exist). This was because I was writing an opinion piece, which serves a very distinct purpose from online content designed to illicit a very definite response from the reader (i.e. sell them ‘sumfing'). All I wanted to do was prompt people to have a ponder about the issues I raised and then agree or (heaven forbid) disagree. Very glad you enjoyed the piece and really appreciate you getting involved with the comments.

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