Tips, techniques and inspiration for marketing communications from Richard Groom at Peterborough Copywriting Bureau.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Why you shouldn't sweat too much over draft #1

Writers know that it's important that everyone involved understands the process we use. The process may seem painful to some people, but it's how all writers eventually produce the right words.

We writers churn out (sorry, carefully craft) thousands of words each day. Most of what we write is intended to be draft copy for others to review. Ultimately, it is a client - either an actual external client, or a boss if we are working in-house - who has final say on what's published.

Experienced writers know that we can't hope to get every word right, every time. Or rather, we can't hope to write what our client wants, every time. There is a process going on where we write a draft, get feedback on the draft, write another draft and so on.

Anyone - writer or client - who thinks that a 'perfect' version should always be written on draft one, two or three is being unrealistic. Yes, it can happen, and it's great when it does. But more often than not, it's a process that takes a bit longer.

Let's look at why multiple drafts might be needed before we get to the final, approved and published version...

Writers don't care as much about words as clients do


What? Is Richard now saying that even though he has been writing for 20+ years he doesn't care about words? In a way, yes.

The issue is that we writers have lots of options about the words we use. There is never 'one correct way' to phrase something. Ultimately, it is the client who chooses what's right. That's why we don't labour endlessly over every word and every phrase in early drafts.

The client reading a draft usually has a very clear idea about how they want the message to be phrased. Or, more likely, they instantly know whether they like or dislike the writer's choice of words when they read a draft. So it would be daft for the writer to try to make a first draft 'perfect' because no matter what we write, the chances are the client will see things differently.

Here's an example. A writer working in the automotive sector writes this:

'Buy this product and you will instantly transform your motor maintenance costs'.

The client could like that and approve it immediately, or have any number of thoughts about that phrase, such as:
  • We shouldn't say 'buy' as that emphasises the fact they customers have to give us money, so we should say 'invest in' instead'.
  • I don't like the word 'product': I prefer 'solution'.
  • 'Instantly' is too big a promise so we should say 'soon' instead.
  • I think that 'vehicle' is better than 'motor'.
  • Using the word 'you' sounds too informal.
Now, none of these reactions are wrong. And none are right. They are all subjective feelings about words. True, they may be informed by knowledge of the target market and overall context, but they are subjective nonetheless.

The point is that the writer cannot possibly know whether the client would rather say 'motor' or 'vehicle', or 'buy' or 'invest in'. Even the best briefing process won't go into that amount of detail about every word or phrase.

Great writing is a process of draft, feedback and re-draft

At some point, the writer has to get something down on paper (so to speak) and get it out to the client. The client needs to know that the writer will very likely use some words or phrases that the client won't like. The writer may miss out important messages. The overall tone of voice, length of copy, amount of detail and so on may be wrong.

But here's the thing: it doesn't matter. Because when the boss/client gives detailed, specific feedback about the first couple of drafts, the writer will be in a much better position to craft words that are suitable. 

That feedback stage is a vital part of the briefing process. Writers and clients alike need to embrace the process. Yes, it can feel a bit painful at times. But it's an important part of the work both parties must do if the end result is suitable, effective content.