Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Copy writing is often a pain in the ass

So, writing is part of my job. I’ve found that writing for business-related purposes is often a real exercise in futility.

For example, recently I was asked to write a summary of our company and its services. I was given a competitor’s website as a sample and told, “write something like that.” Obey kaybee. So, with their basic content as an example, I re-wrote ours in a similar – but not identical – manner.

The manager sent it back. “I thought I mentioned that I wanted ours to sound like theirs.” Well yeah, you did, but see the problem is that I sound like me. So, today, I created a 2-column table with their text on one side and my draft of our company’s on the other. I tried to make it as identical as possible without blatant plagiarism. Not easy – even with a thesaurus.

Here is my skinny on this: We are competing companies. Why do you want to sound like someone else? Find a unique way of stating the same thing without sounding like the same thing. Find a creative way of phrasing it that sets us APART from our competition. Right?

I had the same problem working for another company in Kuwait years ago. They were an IT company and wanted it to sound as packed with jargon as humanly possible. They wanted more network-y, out-of-the-box (but still in-the-box) words. Give me a break. Keep it simple, stupid.

We want you, but we want it to sound less like you. Huh?

One time, I was at a McDonald’s in Virginia with my nephew who was quite young at the time. I was watching him play from the sidelines, sitting with parents of the other kids. A man next to me struck up a conversation, “Which one is yours?” I said, ‘No, I’m here with my nephew. I don’t have kids.’ He said, “What do you do for a living?” I said, ‘I’m a technical writer.’ (That was then.) He responded with something so wise that I have remembered it all this time, “Oh.. you have kids. You have LOTS of kids. How many engineers do you work with?”

Everybody has an opinion and they all think theirs is the best way to do something. So, if you don’t like the way I do it, why don’t you put your own words down or edit what I have given you instead of just handing it back and saying, “Write something else.” What IS “else”? It is very vague and general, don’t you think? ... and a real pain in the ass.


Traveleer said...

this means the manager is incompetent. If he could write, he would have done himself. Besides, if your manager is Kuwaiti then he would not think of plagiarism as a crime. On the contrary, they think its smart to steal other people's work.

Desert Girl said...

Hi T,

He really isn't incompetent (nor is he Kuwaiti, but I think you are right about the plagiarism). I think a lot of people just don't write well, but they can't articulate what they want either, so it is a hard call. Basically, the task won't be completed because it will reach a stalemate.

Anonymous said...

"Find a creative way of phrasing it that sets us APART from our competition. Right?"

Your manager is just WRONG. You want to sound BETTER than the competition! Sit back, close your eyes, take a deep breath and write it the way it should be, for yourself, if for no other reason. Take a chance, take it to your manager and tell him you want (your company) to look better, and to just look at what you have written and see what he thinks.

If he is still stupid, oh well. At least you took a shot at giving it the best you could give it instead of the mimicry he is after. Pity.

Desert Girl said...

intlxpatr - One would think, right? Not in this part of the world - everybody wants to sound like everybody else, but "not exactly". WTF

I wrote one that was different - unique in fact; answering the questions that people generally want to know about a company in Kuwait. It "didn't sound like theirs". Fekit.