Here’s the Thing…

Any experienced copywriter will tell you, usually with a sad shake of the head, that most clients think they can write, and that nearly all of them are wrong. Oh, sure, they got through college or university okay. And they can bang out a decent marketing report. But writing for professors or colleagues isn’t the same as writing for clients, website visitors or customers. Believe me.

So, here’s the thing. Although we value your feedback and input (we really, truly do), we won’t let your well-intended copy changes go by us without a thorough review. Because, as any experienced copywriter also will tell you, everybody needs a good editor. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a communications professional for ten days or three decades. A talented colleague will make your work better. Every time. Once you’ve changed or corrected our copy—as we want and expect you to do—we’re going to tweak your tweaks, for the good of the finished piece. Here are some things we’ll look for:

Simple declarative sentences. You might think it’s easy to write one of these. But it can be surprisingly difficult, especially if you have a lot to say. Not long ago, a client rewrote several case studies, inserting information we hadn’t seen previously. If you had tried reading some of those long new sentences aloud, you’d have been gasping for breath by the end. We fixed those sentences, often by breaking them in half.

Flow. Language, like music, should have a natural rhythm. Some clients have a heavy hand on the keyboard. (They probably have many other redeeming qualities.) A word change or a deletion here or there can make all the difference.

Consistency. We’re paid to follow your style guide and to notice the little things. Whether your tone should be breezy or formal, for instance. Or whether you capitalize a title after a person’s name. Whatever you do, you need to do it the same way on every page.

Punctuation. When clients type — (triple hyphens), we know they really mean — (em dash). So we’ll fix it. And we’re often tempted to send clients a free box of commas, in hopes that they’ll use one every so often. We also know about serial or Oxford commas, and whether the client uses them or not. (To start a heated argument among real word geeks, just ask about the Oxford comma.)

We’re not being snobs about all this, just professional … which is why you hire pros like us in the first place.

ABOUT Jim Leeke

Widely experienced in journalism, marketing communications and advertising, Jim has worked with top creative agencies to deliver print, Internet and interactive projects to Fortune 500 companies. His expertise ranges from technology and healthcare/pharmaceuticals to defense and veterans issues. Jim is also the author/editor of six books, writing extensively on the Civil War and baseball. In addition to his Wordsmithie role, Jim is Co-founder and Creative Director of Taillight Communications.