Write early, iterate often.

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When do you start writing for a project? If you asked me a few years ago, my answer would’ve been “Whenever someone asks me to.” More often than not, the first time I heard about a project was when someone came to me with a 99% completed design and asked me to write something for it — “Oh, we need a paragraph about our features that fits in this space right here. Hit these bullet points. Thanks!”

This will probably be a familiar scenario for lots of copywriters — copy can be generated quickly and iterates extremely fast, so it tends to get pushed to the end of the process. Countless pieces of web copy begin life as lorem ipsums or vague blobby shapes labelled “Feature list goes here.”

In my opinion, this is the absolute worst way to create copy. Rather than use the speediness of copy as a reason to delay it, we should use it as an opportunity to get started early. Continue reading

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Case studies are not advertising. (And that’s good!)

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Take a deep breath and say it with me:

Case studies are not advertising.

An advertisement tells people how great your business is. Case studies show people how great your business is. It’s a very big difference.

Still not convinced? I don’t blame you. There’s a special sort of fear inherent in doing a case study: “What if our customer says something bad about us? What if it makes us look like schmoes? What if it reveals something our competitors can use against us?” Every business is concerned about what people think of them. Nobody wants bad press.

Advertisements are carefully crafted, precisely planned, and meticulously executed. They feel safe. We can review and edit and tweak to our hearts’ content, exercising total control over the entire process. Case studies are messy, challenging, and all-too-human for our comfort. They’re scary. They can reveal our missteps, not just our elegant pivots and twirls.

And that’s why they’re so powerful. Continue reading

Do you have the content your audience wants?

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Here’s a story.

Back when I wrote for EContent magazine, I worked on a yearly feature called the EC100. It’s a rundown of the 100 most influential companies in digital content, complete with key info (location, size, chief executive, major products, etc). If you want a bird’s-eye view of the companies you should know about as a content professional, it’s a great place to start.

Part of my job was ensuring that all this info (and more) was correct. In fact, not just correct — confirmed via e-mail or phone by a named person at the company in question. We took it seriously, too. I spent many an hour e-mailing, calling, and otherwise nagging PR folk, marketing directors, and anyone else who would go on record to confirm. Continue reading

In defense of storytelling.

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Hey, have you seen this pretty awesome vid from Stefan Sagmeister? If not, do yourself a favor and watch it. (It is short and amusing — if there’s anything funnier than accented cursing, I haven’t yet discovered it.)

Okay, clearly there’s some hyperbole going on here, but the man’s got a point. Not everyone needs to be a storyteller, and not everything needs to be telling a story. That’s even sometimes true with the written word, that least sexy of website elements. Help centers, tech specs, lists of unambiguous information that mustn’t be misunderstood — not great places for storytelling.

But elsewhere, storytelling is both ubiquitous and beneficial.

Continue reading