What they don’t tell you about internships

Chandler Cooper was our intern here at WordsFresh for summer 2018. We asked her to share her thoughts about the experience.

The word “internship” flashes automatic stereotypes into a college student’s brain – at least it did for me. I’d seen all the memes. Sitting at a desk licking envelopes all day sounded dreadful, but not having enough experience on my résumé sounded even more distressing.  

I didn’t lick a single envelope at WordsFresh. In fact, I’m not even sure where the envelopes were kept. I wasn’t in charge of getting office supplies or making coffee or walking Fluffy. 

I wrote. I researched. I wrote about what I researched. And I grew. I grew not only as a writer but as a person. 

An internship is an invaluable learning experience, but it can be an awkward transition into the so-called “real world,” especially if you believe the stereotypes about internships to be true. Here are four things I learned during my WordsFresh internship that I didn’t know before. 

1 ) Learning is your number one objective. 

I used to think internships were for employers to assess my abilities. Crazy, right? The definition of an internship is “any official or formal program to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession,” according to www.Dictionary.com. The key word here is beginners. Employers know you’re a beginner and you’re learning. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t focus on trying to impress your colleagues. Do learn as much as possible. 

Take advantage of every learning experience even if they aren’t ideal. For instance, mistakes allow you to learn things you wouldn’t otherwise learn. And we all make mistakes. Learn from both the good and bad experiences of your internship. 

2) Perfection is unattainable. 

Throughout my internship, I kept saying to myself, “I did this one time in school, so I should know how to do this perfectly on my first try, right?” Wrong. Developing skills takes time even after college. Even after you have developed an experienced skillset, you keep building on those skills to become better. 

Instead of focusing on being perfect, focus on learning as much as you can. This transcends outside of internships and into life experiences as well. 

3) Take time to learn the jargon. 

If you don’t know what somebody is talking about, speak up. Think about it. Why would you know their jargon? I walked around the office hearing certain words constantly and never asked what they meant but always wondered. However, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on some lingo that you can take with you somewhere else so you sound seasoned in industry vernacular. 

4) You are not an outsider. 

As an intern, it’s normal to feel like an outsider, especially when you have little to no experience around a group of people who are highly experienced. Feeling comfortable in a professional learning environment is important, but that level of comfortability can be acquired through one’s own mindset. 

It’s important to understand that there’s really no reason to feel like an outsider. Chances are, the people you are working with have been an intern before. They know what it’s like, and they’re usually more than willing to answer questions and show you a thing or two. Don’t become intimidated by colleagues. Instead, consider yourself lucky to be able to learn from such experienced individuals. 

How to know if you’re special (in the specialized topics sense of the word, that is)

All of our clients are great. But only some of them are special – at least when it comes to how we categorize our two core areas of business: marketing communications and specialized topics.

The latter can be kind of a head-scratcher for some folks. What does specialized topics even mean? Well, in contrast to marketing communications, specialized topics tend to be a bit more technical in nature, usually with a need to dive deep into the details of a particular subject. These projects may make their way to us after someone has become exasperated by trying to “tell a story with these numbers” or “explain this procedure in plain English.” Maybe you’ve been there, wishing you could find someone to help make sense of the murkiness. Good news! You’ve found us.

You might have a specialized topic on your hands – and not even realize there are writers like us who can help – if you:

  • Are a subject matter expert and know your project topic inside and out – but could use some assistance refining content for your audience
  • Have an idea of what you want to communicate but aren’t sure of the best approach or format
  • Need guidance on how to present your data or research
  • Shudder at the thought of having to write/design/edit/wordsmith anything!

In the past, we’ve helped specialized topics clients write, edit and produce:

  • White papers
  • Corporate research reports
  • Academic or university research reports
  • Project proposals
  • Training materials
  • Instructional materials
  • Multimedia learning materials
  • Online courses
  • Technical documents
  • E-books
  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Exhibits
  • Apps

Still not sure? Just ask. We’re happy to talk through your project details and help you determine if working together is the right fit.

 

 

How to Simplify a Complex Topic for Non-Experts

Your information is useless if not understood by its intended audience.

Every writer knows this. But making it happen can be tricky. When you possess deep knowledge of a topic, it can be challenging to simplify what you know for a general audience while preserving the integrity of the subject matter. It takes particular skill to communicate complex or high-volume information in a way anyone can understand and feel engaged. Whether you’re a researcher who needs to share your findings with the masses, an organization that needs to craft a narrative around its data, an employer who needs to explain a process to workers, or anyone with knowledge who wants to share it, in order for your information to be valuable, it must be understood.

Compile relevant information

First, gather up all the information you need to share, leaving out anything that isn’t essential. When you have a vast understanding or strong interest in a topic—if it’s your “thing”—it can be tempting to share every minute detail about it. But it’s important to remember that your audience may not need (or want) to know all the nitty-gritty details. In fact, too much detail can muddle your message and overwhelm your audience. So consider what is most important and be smart about what to include and what to omit.

Break it down

Once you’ve compiled all of your information, distill it down to its smallest parts. What are the main components of what you’re sharing? What are the smaller pieces that support those main ideas? Ask questions from the perspective of a layperson, and look for holes that could confuse a non-expert.

Organize the information

You have to assume your audience has no knowledge of your topic, so the organization of the content should be based on clarity. You could start with the most basic information and introduce layers of complexity as you proceed. Or, you could organize the content into steps or action items that are completed in a specific order. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and pretend you’re new to this topic, or think back to when you first learned about it, and organize it to best facilitate comprehension.

Use clear language

Using clear, succinct language is the most significant thing you can do to help others learn about your topic. Avoid jargon, industry terminology and “insider” phrasing. Replace big words with shorter, simpler words. Use short sentences. When the purpose of your content is to inform, don’t fall into the trap of trying to impress your audience with your knowledge by using complicated verbiage or complex sentence structure. Keep it simple.

In addition to clear language, use analogies and examples that your audience is already familiar with. Draw parallels between your information and simpler or commonly understood concepts.

Use formatting to your advantage

When you’re trying to optimize comprehension, formatting is your friend. While you don’t want to over-format and clutter things up with too many graphics, fonts or colors, you do want to use formatting that enhances clarity. Here are a few ways you can achieve this:

  • Incorporate headings that follow a logical structure.
  • Present information in brief numbered or bulleted lists.
  • Use different fonts and colors judiciously to highlight, emphasize and differentiate pieces of information. Keep it easy on the eye so as not to overwhelm readers.
  • Insert clear visuals (such as images, maps, graphs or tables) that supplement your written information, illustrate difficult concepts or present supporting facts and data.

Get feedback

Solicit opinions about your work from those who have no familiarity with your topic. Do they find it easy to follow and understand? Do they come away feeling as though they’ve learned something? If so, pat yourself on the back!

Besides the obvious payoff of teaching others something that may have seemed out of their reach, the process of approaching your area of expertise through the lens of simplification may cause you to look at it from a different perspective or notice things about it you didn’t realize before.

And fear not. If simplifying your complex topic seems, well, complicated, you could always hire a writer to do it for you!

The Fresh, New WordsFresh

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No longer crammed into that cheery little sardine can of an office across from ‘O Shea’s, we WordsFresh word nerds are reveling in our new digs just five blocks up Baxter.

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Considerably more conducive to creativity, writerly inspiration and, you know, breathing, the new WordsFresh (501 Baxter, 2nd floor) features ample light, a peek-a-boo view of Downtown Lou, motorized Ikea standing desks, a fetching teal sectional, a thinking room replete with inspiration-boosting bean bag chair, and a few choice accoutrements like a vintage button-upholstered bar.

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Most of all, the space offers more room——room to grow as a business (we love getting writer résumés, and may be hiring soon), room to think and to write and, yes, to imbibe, though not necessarily at the same time.

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Did we mention we have a bar? And some pretty good beer and such? And a 4:00 happy hour—Terribly Parched Thursdays—every couple of weeks? So if you’d like to come by for a local craft APA or refreshing rosé and perhaps a grueling round of Scrabble, please do let us know.

 

rebecca@wordsfresh.com would love to send you an invite.

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Brand Voice: Much Ado About (Sometimes) Very Little

In my second installment of The Marketing Curmudgeon series, I “investigate” brand voice. Which is to say, I take it for what it really is: just one component in a brand’s marketing effort. Sometimes it’s an important component requiring a certain amount of attention—and quite often it’s just no big deal.

Brand voice…no big deal? Let’s see if I can justify this apparent heresy.

I’ll put it this way: placing too much importance on engineering every little aspect of your brand’s voice—by which I mean the language and written style you employ to create an attitude or persona—can lead to results that sound stilted and static, if not schizophrenic. And when you consider the quick scan-and-click pace of the marketplace, its multiplicity of channels and potential audiences, the gospel of One True Brand Voice feels downright burdensome—and very difficult to maintain.

Over at his blog Storyneedle, Michael Andrews, a content strategist with a certain intellectual weight about him, has argued that some brands need more than one voice. Cleaving to one consistent voice only for consistency’s sake is potentially counterproductive, especially for those brands with those multiple audiences and purposes. Another way I’ve heard this put is that a brand will indeed have one voice but different tones for different audiences. (What have you. At some point, as is not uncommon in our industry, a fairly straightforward process is subjugated beneath the tyranny of semantics and jargon. Just get on with it already.)

However you choose to define it, the voice you employ should be engaging and authentic. Often brand voice is nothing more than your natural way of communicating your product or service—an approach with real merit in a marketing environment where authenticity rules the day. Or it’s a direct reflection of your product without any extra noise. Think about Apple’s brand voice, such as it is. Simple, quiet, clean, and confident, the Apple voice grows entirely from the elegance of its products.

Indeed, a lot depends on what it is you’re marketing. If it’s another sugary energy drink in an ocean of sugary energy drinks, you may have to try harder to contrive a personality-driven voice to set you apart and “cut through.” But if you have a solid, well-differentiated product or service, simply do no harm.

Cutting-edge companies like, say, Uber (or its competitor Lyft) don’t have to labor over brand voice—I see little to no difference in the so-called voice of those two brands, but so what? It’s the product doing the talking. Could one of these brands retool their voice to be more distinct and persona-driven? Of course. Would it boost revenues? Doubtful. Because, again, it’s the product that’s in the, well, driver’s seat.

Anyway, with certain brands there’s not much time or space to get all voice-crazy. Uber and Lyft live on their customers’ phones. On both companies’ websites, it’s all crispness and clarity. It’s the kind of brand language that is engaging solely because of its directness and simple, pleasing rhythms that let the product shine. You can argue that this is just another type of brand voice if you want, but really it’s just good writing.

But here’s the rub: voice or no voice, writing sharp, clear, engaging copy is harder than it appears. At the end of the day, I recommend hiring ONE good writer to learn about your brand and begin writing until something begins to gel. (Trying to engineer brand voice by clusterfu committee is like committing copy seppuku.) Maybe a distinct voice gets developed, and maybe it’s just writing that rings true to your brand and lets its real attributes come alive.

“Organizations are artificial entities,” says Andrews, “and need to be purposeful in how they coordinate their activities and communicate them.  Without coordination, they seem chaotic; with too much coordination, they can appear robotic or artificial.” So yes, by all means, attend to your brand voice. Develop a certain style and structure for your communications to avoid that chaos, but try not to overbuild. Try not to pare back here and graft on there and fiddle and tweak and massage until you’ve birthed a tome: The Ultimate and Absolute Voice Standards and Communication Commandments for Our Brand, Volumes I IV.

After all, the marketplace is fast, fluid, chaotic. You have to go with the flow and avoid the swirling eddy of blah-blah-blah. And to the extent that you can, be human and true when you communicate your brand. First trust your writer, then trust your ear and your heart. Voice or no voice, you can still make your brand sing.

5 Simple Ways to Make Any Topic Interesting

Do you want to seduce readers with captivating content that will leave them wanting more?

Of course you do. After all, the reason you create content is to get readers’ attention, stand out from competitors and build your following. It’s not enough to simply put your blog posts, articles or white papers out there. To get lasting results, you have to make sure people actually want to read what your business or organization has to say. But this can be a challenge. Especially if your topic is, to put it bluntly, boring.

Take it from me. During my career as a writer and editor, I’ve had the pleasure of working on a variety of topics, some of which are generally perceived as dry subject matters. A few examples: math textbooks, transportation research, sewer system reports, technology how-to guides, manufacturing training courses…I could go on.

But today I’m here to tell you it’s possible to make even the dullest of subjects interesting. No matter your topic, you can leverage your content to communicate what makes your business, product or service exciting and relevant. Use the five strategies outlined below to make sure readers will not only enjoy your content, but will come back for more—and share it with others.

 

1. Start by asking a question.

Open with a question that will pull readers in, catch them off guard or make them think. Ask a question that immediately draws their attention to the importance of the topic or speaks to their needs.

For example, an accounting firm’s blog post on the importance of choosing the right business structure could start with the question, “Did you know that setting up your small business under the wrong business structure could cost you thousands of dollars?” Since no small business owner wants to make a mistake that could cost them thousands of dollars, they will be compelled to read on. And, subsequently, they are likely to contact the accounting firm for a consultation to ensure their business is using the correct structure.

 

2. Make the topic relatable.

As Dale Carnegie said, “People aren’t interested in you. They’re interested in themselves.” When readers can relate to a topic, they recognize why it’s important and they feel invested in learning more about it. Rather than simply listing the facts, make sure readers understand why a topic matters and how it impacts them. No topic is too boring to be relatable. Think about the “why,” and go from there.

Let’s say a local hospital is publishing an article about their recent implementation of a patient-centered care model. In the article, it’s important to get the facts across by defining the patient-centered care model, citing statistics that back up its efficacy and explaining how the hospital is transitioning to this new way of doing things. But how will the new model benefit the community? What’s in it for patients? And most importantly, can it save money? To ensure readers make the connection between the hospital’s new model and their own lives, emphasize how patient-centered care results in improved patient outcomes and fewer hospital readmissions. Explain what patients and their families can expect from their future visits under the new model. Readers will immediately think about their own hospital experiences, or those of their loved ones, and will feel emotionally invested in the article.

 

3. Tell a story.

Everyone loves a story. Stories bring content to life, they’re entertaining and they aid memory. Telling a story will instantly make your content more engaging—it’s scientifically proven. You can tell a story from your personal experience and relate it to the topic at hand. You can share client stories (with their permission, of course). You can relay a story you’ve read or heard somewhere else (citing sources and giving credit where appropriate). A story is like glue; it will help your content stick in readers’ minds. If it’s a good story, it will speak to readers’ emotions, which is even better.

So, a nonprofit organization produces a biannual magazine that is sent to everyone on their list of donors. They hope this publication will result in continued or increased donor gifts. What should they do to make it interesting and increase engagement? You got it! They should share real-life stories of the work they’ve done in the past year and all the positive impact it’s had on their cause.

 

4. Connect your topic to current events or trends.

How does your topic relate to what’s going on in the world? A great way to establish relevancy and interest is by showing readers how what your business is doing is correlated to a current event, hot topic or popular trend. Look at your subject matter from all angles and don’t be afraid to present opposing viewpoints or spark a little friendly debate.

For example, if you’re a manufacturer who would like to keep the public up to date on your green initiatives, use the public’s interest in environmental issues to your advantage. In your content, emphasize the measures you’re taking to do your part in addressing global warming. Share your results so readers understand the difference you’re making.

 

5. Inject humor.

When appropriate, spice up your boring topic with humor. The duller the topic, the more effective humor can be, because readers won’t expect it. Take a tip from comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David: they created one of the most popular TV shows in history based on the concept of making the mundane funny. Jokes can come in the form of witty metaphors, humorous similes, puns, sarcasm or a funny story. You could also include an image that uses humor to relate to your topic. In addition to making your content more engaging, humor provides relief when addressing a serious or otherwise bland subject matter.

If you’re creating corporate communications content, for instance, you can use humor to get employees’ attention so that they’ll be interested in the information you’re providing. Poke a little fun at corporate, 9-5 life by including a funny quote or reference about cubicle life or expense reports. Tell a funny story or include a cartoon that illustrates your point.

With a little creativity, any topic can be interesting—and even meaningful or funny. Next time you have to create content around a tedious topic, liven it up and hook your readers using these five strategies.

Why Your Organization Needs an Editorial Style Guide and How to Get One

Is your meeting at two-thirty in the afternoon, 2:30 p.m. or 2:30 PM? Are you writing an email or an e-mail? Do you use a serial comma, or not? How do you know what to capitalize? How do you number and identify the figures and tables in your report? Should you use a hyphen, an en dash or an em dash? Are these questions a bit overwhelming?

If so, there is a simple solution. Adopting an editorial style guide for your organization provides an all-in-one manual to the conventions of written communication. An editorial style guide ensures all your marketing and communications materials—from emails to client correspondence to your website to reports and everything in between—are presented in a consistent manner. This not only contributes to the clarity and effectiveness of your communications, it conveys an image of professionalism and quality.

It used to be that editorial style guides were mainly associated with publishing and academia. But these days, nearly every business is a content creator. Websites, social media, blogs, ads, reports and white papers all consist of written content. Using an editorial style guide for your business or brand is imperative to creating content worth reading, viewing, liking and sharing.

What is an editorial style guide?

An editorial style guide is a manual that maps out specific standards and conventions for writing and designing documents. Everyone within an organization (as well as freelance writers and other contractors) can use this guide to ensure consistent style, tone, usage, terminology and formatting across all communications. There are many established style guides used by specific industries or academic disciplines. (You may remember using one in school to cite sources in research papers.) An organization may adapt an established guide or create a house style manual to suit their own needs.

Some of the items typically addressed in a style guide include:

  • Grammar and punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Numbers and dates
  • Abbreviations and acronyms
  • Terminology and preferred wording
  • Style and tone
  • Formatting
  • Images and tables
  • Procedures for producing content

Frequently used style guides

Let’s flash back to your high school or college writing class. AP, APA, MLA, CMS, ACS, AMA… Do any of these acronyms sound familiar? Chances are you used one of these guides to format essays or research papers for school assignments. To refresh your memory, here’s an overview of some commonly used style guides and the industries and disciplines they’re used for.

  • Associated Press Stylebook (AP): AP style provides guidelines for journalistic writing and is used by most newspapers, magazines and public relations offices (although some newspapers, such as the New York Times, have their own style guides that deviate from AP style). The guiding principles of AP style include consistency, clarity, accuracy and brevity, with an emphasis on avoiding offensive language and stereotypes.
  • American Psychological Association (APA): This guide is primarily used in the social sciences. The APA states that its guidelines were developed “to assist reading comprehension in the social and behavioral sciences, for clarity of communication, and for word choice that reduces bias.”
  • Modern Language Association Style Manual (MLA): This guide is used mainly in academics and for scholarly publications in the humanities.
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS): Cherished by editors, CMS covers manuscript preparation, publication, grammar, usage, documentation and more. The guide and variations of it are widely used in publishing and across a variety of disciplines.

Some industry-specific guides include the AMA Manual of Style (for medicine and health fields), IEEE (for technical fields), ASCE (civil engineering), The Bluebook (legal) and ACS (American Chemical Society). If your business doesn’t have an industry-specific guide, or if you need a different manual to suit the needs of your marketing and communications materials, you can use AP, APA, MLA or CMS as a base to create your own guide.

How to adopt a style guide for your organization or brand

Because you want to produce more effective, better quality content and communications, I’m sure you’re wondering how to establish a style guide for your business. Here are the steps you can take.

  1. Who typically produces your content? Get together with them, along with any marketing personnel who work with or for your organization. Have a talk about issues that may exist in your current content and what might make it better. Discuss the tone you’d like your content to convey.
  2. Look over some already established, commonly used style guides. The four detailed above are great starting points, as well as any guide that may be widely used for your industry. You can take key guidelines from CMS, for example, and build your own guide around it, supplementing it with your own exceptions or additions.
  3. Using your discussion from Step 1 and an established guide as a base, draft an editorial style guide that covers basics such as grammar, punctuation, formatting, terminology, tone and procedures, along with anything else specific you need to address (branding colors, image preparation, design conventions, etc.). Keep your guide straightforward, well-organized and easy to understand—and make sure the guide itself adheres to conventions it is establishing.
  4. Share the draft with others in your organization for feedback.
  5. Create a final document. If your guide is long or includes a lot of information, consider creating a “cheat sheet” that summarizes main points for quick reference. Keep a pdf version of your guide in one place where everyone can easily access it, or distribute it to the employees and contractors who will use it.
  6. Update your guide periodically and redistribute.

Your current and potential clients are inundated with written content on a daily basis—make sure yours stands out. Using an editorial style guide across all marketing and communications will streamline your content creation and improve the overall image you convey.

Down to a Science: How a Copywriter Can Grasp and Write About Your Complex Topic

From small businesses to large corporations, everyone has information to share. Regardless of how it’s distributed, to be effective, it needs to be well-communicated—captivating, accurate and articulate. Copywriters help businesses and organizations achieve this. Sometimes all it takes is one great line that packs a punch. Other times, the audience needs more explanation and detail. That’s where I come in.

At WordsFresh, I’m the specialized topics writer and editor. I work on longer form writing projects that can include reports, white papers, e-books, how-to guides and articles. This means I’m often required to present complex or unfamiliar information in a way that’s interesting and easy to understand. During my career as a writer and editor, I’ve worked on topics spanning engineering and science, business, education and the social sciences. When I tell people about this, one question that tends to come up is, “If you’re not an expert on these topics, how do you write about them?”

It’s a fair question. After all, isn’t an economist better qualified to write about U.S. job market trends, or a civil engineer better qualified to write about innovations in green infrastructure? As counterintuitive as it may seem, not necessarily. There are a couple of reasons for this. When you’re entrenched in a topic, you may not be able to discern what non-experts struggle to understand about it. Also, copywriters are, after all, experts in written communication. This expertise is vital in producing a high-quality report, white paper, article or other written material that will produce results. Which brings us back to our original question: How does a writer come to understand a complex topic to write about it?

For me, writing about complex topics is achieved in part due to my nerdy obsession with learning stuff. I simply enjoy knowing about different topics, and this desire drives me to dive into them and figure them out. To work as a copywriter or editor, you have to have an innate thirst for knowledge and ability to wrap your head around a variety of subjects and industries. Most writers and editors can attest to the mental reserve of random information they’ve amassed in their work. Beyond that, there are several different strategies I use to process information I’m working with and then communicate it in an intelligent and interesting way. I like to think of these strategies in three different categories: research, writing/editing and formatting.

Researching the topic

When I receive an assignment, the first thing I do is get to know the subject matter. Typically, I gather information in three ways:

  • Receiving data or background information from the client
  • Interviewing subject matter experts
  • Googling the topic

If I was asked to write a report on the types and benefits of green stormwater infrastructure, for example, I would start by reviewing any data or information the client shared with me upfront. I would also interview the client or other experts within the organization to ask questions and get a sense of how they talk about the topic in their own words. And, naturally, I would turn to the internet to see what I could find there. Through this research process, there are some things I keep an eye out for to aid my understanding of the topic:

  • Keywords associated with the topic and how they’re used or defined by people in that particular field. For instance, what is biofiltration? What is an extensive green roof vs. an intensive green roof?
  • How other organizations approach the topic in question. This might include looking at how different municipalities across the country are incorporating green infrastructure into their stormwater systems, or if there are engineering firms that specialize in green infrastructure.
  • Anything controversial or sensitive about the topic that I should be mindful of. Using the green infrastructure example, this might include paying attention to how green practices impact taxes or how community members tend to respond to green infrastructure implementation.

The writing process

Once I’ve gathered the information necessary for the project, I start the writing or editing phase by bringing everything together in an outline. This is helpful in determining the most logical way to present the topic to the intended audience, and it helps me organize my thoughts around the subject matter.

After outlining, the process of writing itself can help clarify a topic. Writing forces the brain to analyze and make connections. As I write, I may notice holes in the information or develop new questions.  This is significant. If I was already an expert on the topic, rather than a writer learning about it for perhaps the first time, I might not pick up on where the information should be simplified for the reader or where additional explanation is necessary. This is why there is value in hiring a writer who can approach a topic with fresh perspective.

Formatting for clarity

While outlining and writing, I am constantly keeping an eye on format. Not only does good formatting guide the audience through the topic, it also helps the writer present information logically and clearly. To ensure good formatting, I focus on the following:

  • Writing paragraphs and sections that are easy to digest and void of extraneous information.
  • Creating headings and subheadings that act as a roadmap through the document.
  • Including graphs, tables and images to enhance understanding of the topic.
  • Using bulleted lists or numbered lists to break down information.

Research, the process of writing/editing and ensuring good formatting—combined with an interest and capacity for broad-ranging knowledge —all contribute to a copywriter’s ability to write quality pieces covering a variety of topics. Just as an engineer, scientist or business executive receives education and training specifically tailored to their work, a writer is trained to process and communicate information accurately and effectively. The takeaway: you can trust a good copywriter to transform your information, data and ideas (even the challenging ones) into high-quality, professional written materials.

Social media is the life of the party

I’m not much of a partygoer. I’m much more likely to bond with the cat in the corner. Lots of socialization drains me. Especially when it goes something like this:

“Whitney, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a digital content writer and strategizer.”

*blank stare*

“Digital content, you know, like blogs, social media and websites. I do work for some really neat clients

like—“

“Oh. So you sit on Facebook all day.”

“Not exactly.”

You see, this conversation is exhausting and it happens ALL. THE. TIME. And a party isn’t the best venue for me to launch into an explanation of my job.

From the outside, my job may seem simple—update the company Facebook page, write a blog once a week and answer customer inquiries on Twitter. Easy. Except it’s not.

Luckily, educating clients is something I can do. Much of my job is selling them on the value of social media. Why hire me, when their just-graduated nephew can run their Twitter?

Would you also hire the nephew to manage your books? Design your next full-page ad? Why not hire him to run your whole marketing campaign?

You wouldn’t put him in those roles because he’s not a professional.

Professionals in the field of social media know how to plan and strategize to hit business goals. We know how to answer client questions like:

  • Why aren’t my fans seeing my posts?
  • How do I get more of my fans to participate?
  • How can I get more fans?

And most of all,

  • How do I know this is working?

When you hire someone inexperienced, they learn to answer those questions by using your business as a guinea pig. Because they don’t understand the marketing side of social media, it’s a huge risk for very little potential reward.

So, what do I do?

1. I listen. I listen to you to learn your business goals, to figure out tone and voice, to tease out important details. I listen to your customer. I find what your audience likes and what’s important to them so I can create content that is engaging and adds value.

2. I focus on quality. Obviously, the quality of writing is important, but so is the quality of fans. I focus on engaging with the fans that will read, share and talk about your brand.

3. I create value. If suddenly your brand stopped posting my content, they’d miss it. Your fans will come to love seeing the content I produce.

Though I’m not much fun at the local gatherings, the social media party is where I thrive. While your nephew is yelling at the top of his lungs about your brand, I’ll be chatting up the most interesting people, telling your story and adding valuable content to the social space instead of adding to the noise.

Branding, We Hardly Knew Ye

I read a short interview not long ago with a bloke called David C. Baker. He runs a marketing consulting business out of Nashville, ReCourses, and has, at least to my ear, some pretty fresh things to say about how marketing firms should operate.

As a copywriter at WordsFresh, I tend to look out for interesting and even contrarian takes on marketing and strategy in relation to cultural trends. In fact, I only discovered Baker because of my Google search for “the death of branding.” The whole notion of branding had been sticking in my craw for some time. I felt like it was slowly dying as a buzzword and at least showing signs of its age as an unassailably viable marketing concept. And I was OK with that.

Indeed, a satisfying little shudder ran through me when I saw a cartoon in this month’s The New Yorker.

Branding, right there next to bacon. I love bacon, to be sure, when it’s produced with quality and pride, but bacon got out of control. I don’t love branding, per se, but I think it can (and should) be done well. I daresay that it, too, got out of control. At some point, branding, branding, branding was suddenly everywhere, like bacon, in copious quantity––quality be damned.

Which brings me back to Mr. Baker. He was able to put a fine point on what I’d been wrestling with––that branding is often just used as an excuse for marketing agencies to play around and be “creative.” To most agencies, argues Baker,

…clients are like patrons of the arts, kindly paying for what the firm wants to do because the firm can’t make a living selling pure creativity without tying it to business needs. If they could figure out a way to make money without clients, they’d jump at the chance.

Which, in turn, brings me back to my life as a Louisville copywriter. Do I come to work at WordsFresh because it fulfills my deepest creative urges? No.

Is marketing art? Not really. (I’m not going to pull some 100-level philosophizing on you, but suffice it to say that the intention’s not there, blah, blah, blah––tweet me @malq if you want to get into it.)

Is marketing craft? Of course. I come to WordsFresh to ply my craft for our clients, to apply what expertise I have as a thinker and copywriter. Baker says that for many “creative” firms “variety is more important than deep expertise that benefits the client.” Agreed.

And then he launches into a particularly inspired riff:

Branding is what a farmer does when all the cows look alike and he needs to know which ones need shots, are pregnant, or need to be slaughtered. So that’s what most marketing firms do; they wrestle the “client” to the ground and “brand” them. It hurts like hell, it smells, the client cries a little inside, and the client is forever changed.

But nothing changes about the company. Branding, to the marketing firm, is merely an attempt to move upstream and have more influence, make more money, and fatten the portfolio but in the process––and here, indeed, this is the saddest thing of all––the marketing firm misses the whole point.

This reminded me of the way I had started to think about brands—which is that, in literal terms, a brand is just an external stamp used to identify and differentiate an entity, be it cow or cola company, to the outside viewer. In marketing, good branding is said to capture the essence, personality, innate values and emotional qualities of a service or product. But does a canister of air freshener or a chain of transmission repair shops have essence, personality, innate value, emotional weight? Kinda? Maybe? Or are branders just grafting on these touchy-feely components, finagling, retrofitting, shoehorning in some emotional resonance?

For me, most of it comes down to what Hemingway called his “bullshit detector.” As someone who recently completed his MFA in fiction up in Brooklyn, I have a deep and abiding love for the art of storytelling. But like branding, “storytelling” has become de rigueur as a marketing tactic—it sounds so artistic, so human—and, as such, it tends employed ad absurdum. As Baker points out, “storytelling is just like branding; there are a few people actually doing it right and the rest are just getting on the next bus.”

But just like bacon, just like branding, “storytelling has a place.” Baker says “it brings context and transparency to branding” and “involves the company’s employees in less gratuitous ways.” I know what he means. We crave good stories. We like things to be humanized and real.

Of course, devotees of branding and branded storytelling will say they can and should be applied robustly to every client. Perhaps, but you’d better do it right. Increasingly, in our granular (another word inching toward the graveyard?) world, in our evermore bespoke-minded, meta-maniacal, info-savvy, über-snarky, BS-detecting digital cluster headache of a world, people can smell the marketing cow dung.

As Baker wisely proclaims, “None of it matters unless you are telling the truth.”

Huh. Maybe it is art, after all.