A new acquaintance asked me recently if I’m one of those writers who is a perpetual insomniac, scribbles poems at the back of receipts, and lives on copious amounts of alcohol so I can write drunk, edit sober. Plus, do I deliberately seek heartbreaks and drama in real life so I can have the best material ever for the next Dear John?
I’ve probably done one of those things in the past. But for now, I told her that I use words not as an excuse to guzzle on alcohol, but for nobler (hopefully) and practical (there are bills to pay of course!) reasons.
As a copywriter, I persuade people to take action. This could mean signing up for an email list or clicking the Order Now button.
On the other hand, I help people complete a specific task with ease (minus the “wtf is this app about?!” moments) within an app or website as a UX writer.
What do they have in common?
Endless curiosity about human behavior.
Apart from figuring out the right words to say (or write), here are three things copywriters & UX writers like me do on a regular basis as a student of human behavior:
1. I research (or stalk people) until I get to the bottom of things.
There are days when I don’t write a single word but I’m still doing my job. Instead of writing, I wear my Sherlock Holmes’ hat (with or without Dr. Watson!) and get as many insights as I can about the people I’m writing for. This will also help me put myself in the place of the people I’m writing for and anticipate their concerns.
Let’s say that I’m writing for an audience of small business owners. For research, I will probably visit the Reddit sub for small businesses and try to understand the pain points and common concerns of redditors in the sub.
Besides knowing what my copy or content should be talking about, it’s also a great way to understand the “language” as well as context and nuances of the problems that they’re trying to solve. By doing so, I can create copy that will be more relatable and resonating with them.
2. I find ways (might include “sleeping on it”) to keep my words simple, concise, and useful.
When I started writing essays in elementary, I’ve always thought that the more “big words” I have in my composition, the more I will impress my teachers and classmates.
Decades later, I eventually learned that these big words have no room in copywriting and UX writing.
While there might be exceptions to the rule, using plain and concise language is 10 times better than using empty, big words and phrases that will only confuse the heck out of your readers or users.
Instead of writing “in the event that”, how about writing “if” or “when”?
Instead of using “nominate your password online”, how about writing “create your password online”? Who am I nominating?
The more concise your copy or instructions, the more you can get your reader’s attention or help them complete their task as soon as possible.
As a copywriter and UX writer, this means going over my draft several times. One of my favorite things to do when reviewing my drafts is to “sleep on it” and read it again the next day. Sometimes, you have to test your copy with the product/ marketing team, and reiterate as indicated in your test findings.
3. I create scenarios in my head and transform them into compelling stories.
Being clear and concise doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to write dry, boring interface instructions or create lackluster email copy. After all, the best way to get your message across is by using anecdotes and telling stories. It’s no secret that the best way to win someone’s heart (and perhaps logic) is through good storytelling than spewing out plain facts and figures.
When writing for marketing and UX teams, I make it a point to find a balance between clear, concise writing and writing with style and tone that is unique to the brand. This is what style guides are for. I love working with brands who have style guides already in place, or clients who are interested in working with me to create their own. Shopify’s product content style guide is one of my favorites.
How do I exercise my storytelling skills?
Reading and exploring various genres tend to work for me. When I’m reading a book that is completely unrelated to a project that I’m working on, I still consider it as part of my writing job.
In hindsight, it exposes me to different forms of storytelling and helps me look at a project or writing task from a different angle. Listening to other people tell their stories is also good practice.
Write drunk, edit sober
For me, the best part about writing for the web or other digital interfaces is how I almost always learn new, interesting insights about humans and the world every day. Not to mention that stories have the power to connect people from various backgrounds. For a brief moment, someone from Asia will recognize the same feeling, sentiment, or idea in a story or essay from someone living in the Antarctic.
There’s also the occasional alcohol binging part so I can “write drunk, edit sober” and fit myself into one of those writer stereotypes. Heh.