I easily moved from tech writer to marketing writer, but I have worked with at least two tech writers who failed dismally at marketing writing and a third who told me she would never even try. Why? What do you need to move from one to the other – or to do both and broaden your value to your employer? Today I am going to discuss the seven qualities you need to become a great copywriter, and many of these apply to becoming a great writer in general
A Creative Spark
Yes, you do need at least a little bit of talent for manipulating words in clever ways, but the old saw that great work of any kind is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is what’s really important. By this time, I have some skill, but I still write and rewrite. Then I walk away and come back and rewrite again. Copywriting does get easier, but I never dash off copy and expect it to make sense or to be work that I am proud to submit.
The Skill to Write Grammatically
Don’t laugh. I have worked with tech writers who can’t write anything beyond a simple sentence, and as most experienced writers know, word processing programs can catch a lot of grammatical errors, but they are also easily fooled.
Writing grammatically is especially important in copywriting because you are trying to persuade your reader. You want them to concentrate on what you are saying, and whenever you write awkwardly or make a grammatical error, they are distracted and are not paying attention to the content.
An Ability to Ignore Detail
The two tech writers that I mentioned who couldn’t make the switch to copywriting were apt to get too obsessed with detail. After all, what are manuals but mountains of detail? A copywriter needs to respect detail, but be able to select the main ideas and write about them without getting mired in minutiae.
An Appreciation of Ergonomic Reality
People read a printed page and a web page differently. Just as publishers used to study how best to format a printed page, web designers now study eye movement on web pages. Copywriters need to understand the differences and write accordingly.
Graphic design is similar. Left to their own devices, designers will create a piece that looks beautiful or dramatic but is unreadable. A perfect example is reverse type. Designers think this looks great and it does when used for emphasis, but whole pages of reverse type are simply too hard to read easily.
And people often don’t read documents (in hard copy or PDF) the way you think they do. They don’t obediently read the introduction and table of contents just because you put them there. They read summaries and use the search facility.
Curiosity and Research Skills
A copywriter has to be a life-long learner and research skills are essential. Whether you are learning about new technologies for a white paper, new products for a brochure, or unfamiliar customers for a case study, you have to be able to find and absorb knowledge easily – and enjoy it.
A Respect for Marketing and Sales
Marketing is both a science and an art. Marketing has no fixed rules like hard science – if you use a technique once and it works, you do it again. If it doesn’t work, you do something else. The science is in using tools and statistics, such as response rates and click-thrus, to find out what is working
A great artist works hard for many years, until what they do seems artless and spontaneous. Sales is like that too. You can’t sell effectively if you haven’t completely mastered the sales guide and had experience using tools like proposals and presentations delivered to a wide variety of customers. It’s not just crass manipulation.
Some Understanding of Business and Capitalism and the Real World
Copywriting is not literary fiction. It has strong roots in the practical, and the more you know about how the real world works, the better.