The US Department of Labour statistics paint a less-than-rosy picture about the future of high-quality copyediting. They say the number of available jobs in the industry is going to shrink by over three percent between now and 2028. This will represent roughly 3,400 jobs lost.
But a look into the real numbers tells a somewhat different story, which starts with fascinating findings from the American Press Institute. They funded a study into the value of copyediting. Surprise, surprise: content vetted by a copyeditor was found to be more professional, more organized, a better read and more valuable across the board
So, in a time when valuable content is more valuable than ever, the contraction in the industry isn’t leading to less copyediting being done. It’s leading to high-quality copyeditors taking on more work.
The Five Characteristics of High-Quality Copyediting
High-quality copyediting is thorough
It’s more than catching boo-boos. It’s identifying and cutting superfluous language, questioning arguments that don’t hold up as well as they could and ensuring a brand’s voice doesn’t deviate from what makes it unique. Also, it considers the reader, which too many companies can’t do because they’re too close to their messages.
High-quality copyediting is timely but never rushed
Ever seen an art restorer in action, and how meticulous he or she is? They could spend an entire day on an eyebrow or a ray of sun or tree in the background. They have a responsibility to maintain the original’s vision, feeling and brilliance. And they know that speeding through it leads to mistakes made or imperfections missed. Copyeditors have the same responsibility, and it’s an impossible responsibility to meet if you’re watching the clock. A copyeditor who promises speed is not to be trusted. Do it right or do it (and pay for it) twice.
High-quality copyediting is collaborative
Don’t think of your copyeditor as a service provider. Think of them as your second set of eyes when you need them most, and a message dissemination expert you can and should leverage. Your copyeditor should be taking the time to understand your business, your goals, your competitors and your motivations. You should be hearing from them often and you should feel just as comfortable challenging them as they are challenging you.
High-quality copyediting is consistent
Within a piece and across the entire content library, a reader should always feel like what they’re consuming is coming from the same place. This is a challenge for a large corporation or department pumping out a ton of content initially written by different people. A high-quality copyeditor can mold a piece to fit comfortably and naturally within a greater content offering so nothing ever seems out of place.
High-quality copyediting is creative
From grade school to graduate school, we’re all taught to follow a message delivery formula. We’re told to respect the way information is consciously consumed and to understand what gets a brain to move in a certain direction. The problem with this approach is that it discounts the subconscious, which is 30,000 times more powerful. The only way to get past the head and straight to the heart is with creativity that encourages thinking AND feeling. A high-quality copyeditor looks for opportunities in your copy to push through to readers’ subconscious and increase your content’s effectiveness and ROI.
As Demand for High-Quality Copyediting Increases, Patience for Poor Quality is Decreasing
Four million blog posts are published on the Internet every day. If you want to stand out in that crowd, hoping you’re putting your best foot forward isn’t going to cut it. High-quality copyediting removes the guessing. If that’s something you can get behind, add it to your process.
Unless you’ve successfully mastered mind control, effective writing is all you have to drive the behaviour you want. Whether they’re heard or read, they have to be convincing, true and interesting enough to maintain attention. It seems easy enough, but if you think about how many times you say no as a consumer versus how many times you say yes, it’s actually not that easy at all.
Effective writing starts with a reason
It can be anything, as long as it’s single-minded and clear. “The human mind finds it challenging to make sense of more than one concept at a time,” says Ben Dermer, Senior Vice President of Development at Spin Master Toys. He says the idea of developing toys isn’t that different from developing copy. “If it’s super obvious what I want the kid and the parent to get from the toy, it has a much better chance of selling. The toys that try to be everything to everyone are the ones you find in the discount bin.” The same’s true for copy, he says: “Unfocused copy is worse than an unfocused toy because someone’s always going to buy the toy. No one’s ever going to buy from copy that confuses them.”
Effective writing answers this question:
“If you give me what I want, what am I going to give you?” If any part of your writing veers away from this question, it probably doesn’t belong in your piece.
This isn’t limited to selling stuff. The question holds just as true in an email to colleagues, an invitation to your birthday party or a resume. Marla Baum is the Head of People at Freckle IoT, and when she considers candidates, she’s always looking for what they are going to give her beyond their work experience. “I’ll usually skim their work timeline,” she says, “but I pay close attention to the profile or ‘about me’ section. That’s where I find out what and who I’m really getting and what I can really expect.”
And she says she doesn’t have time to sift through lines of jargon to get to the essence of a candidate. “If a candidate (proverbially) sends me around the world to understand who they are and how they can help the company, I’m not the kind of person to go along for the ride. I’ll throw out the resume and move on to the next one.
This leads us to the next characteristic of effective writing, and quite possibly the most important one.
Effective writing is economical
That’s not to say it necessarily has to be short. If your piece is 15,000 words, so be it. But make sure each word is adding value. A few ways to ensure this include:
- Cut out any information your audience already knows. You’re wasting your time and theirs.
- Avoid repeating yourself. It’s not easy when you’re trying to be persuasive, but it usually has the opposite effect because it’s patronizing.
- Use five-cent words over five-dollar words. Big words don’t make you look smart. They just take up space.
- The extra space gives your reader a chance to breathe. And big blocks of text are off-putting.
Effective writing is honest
In 1912, ad agency McCann Erickson opened their doors with the tagline “Truth Well Told.” A few of us have worked there at one point and they live by that mantra. It’s why they’re still in business 108 years later
Notice how “Truth Well Told” starts with truth. No one likes lies, and people don’t forget them. This is important to consider as you answer the question, “If you give me what I want, what am I going to give you?” Make sure you can deliver what you say you can.
Effective writing is proofed
The fastest way to turn off a reader is to demonstrate that their time is more valuable than yours. If you’re not willing to take the time to review your message before putting it out there, why should they take the time to consume it?
Effective writing ends on a high note
Be funny or hopeful or caring or aspirational. Because last impressions are just as important as first ones, and if you can leave people smiling, they’re much more likely to come back.
Tech copywriting is a funny tightrope because you have two audiences with vastly different knowledge bases: the techies and the strategists.
The techies want the specs. They want them quickly. And they don’t need explanations. They know what they need and why they need it. And they need to know you have it.
Specs mean very little to strategists and buyers. They want to know benefits. How will your technology make their lives better or their days smoother? How easy is it to adopt? What should they expect in terms of a return and when can they expect it?
The natural answer would be to include both information sets, and herein lies the tightrope.
Because techies and strategists are also people. And like everyone else, they put their pants on one leg at a time, pay their taxes and stop reading when something’s not interesting.
So the key to tech copywriting is to talk to both markets simultaneously without boring either. Here’s how:
Dig three levels deep into every feature
Your solution delivers 1.21 jigawatts of power. That extra power translates into 10 percent less downtime (level one). Ten percent less downtime means 10 percent more productivity during the day (level two). Ten percent more productivity during the day translates into a 4 percent jump in revenue YoY (level three).
So in this case, your message might be:
With 1.21 jigawatts of extra power, you’ll see a 4 percent jump in revenue thanks to less downtime and more day-to-day productivity.
Bullet point where you can
If you’re lucky enough to have a lot to say about your product or solution, getting it all across clearly is key — especially if your features benefit different people in different ways. Bullets make sure nothing gets buried.
- They make key points easier to see
- They let you get more emphasis from bolded concepts
- They highlight specifics like a low price of $8.50 per seat per month
- They appear less intimidating to your audience
In a technology piece where numbers can get mangled together in a sentence that would confuse the most savvy engineer, splitting up the information makes it all easier to digest.
Use reputable sources to back up your claims
You know who the key opinion leaders and influencers are in your field, and so do your prospects. A stat or support point from anyone else looks desperate and damages your credibility. And at the pre-buying stage, credibility is all you have.
If you can’t find credible support for a claim or position, change your position or rephrase your assertion. With the average MSP contract ranging between $125 and $250 per user per month, you have too much at stake to be making statements that can damage a relationship before it starts.
Use strong CTAs
Many tech companies will go on endlessly about the superiority of their products and hope the reader will think, well, I have to have this now. Yet so few actually give their readers an easy and legit way to make that choice.
Your Call to Action (CTA) should be crystal clear and easy to understand. And if you can make it more unique than “Learn More” or “Buy Now,” all the better. The former is vague, the latter is pushy.
We recommend sticking to benefits in the CTA with something like “Start earning 4 percent more every year.”
A pro will talk to your two audiences seamlessly and simultaneously.
Designers at design agencies have a unique ability to stare at copy for days at a time and never know what it says. To them, it’s another graphic element, as it should be.
But what if design agencies could evaluate the copy as well as lay it out? What if they could truncate to it make it pithier and easier to fit? What if they could augment it to better complement a visual idea they had? What if they could go back to the client and say “we know what you were going for but here’s a better way of getting there?”
What’s that worth to a client? And what’s that worth to you?
Design agencies should offer copyediting
Juli A. Herren wrote a great piece about the value of good writing to designers for InVision. All 1,466 words of it are bang on. But far too often, designers aren’t given good copy to work with. They get copy written by marketing managers or junior SEO strategists who, to be fair, did their best. But what if their best isn’t good enough to compete in an oversaturated world? And what if no one on the client side has the bandwidth to get it where it needs to be?
You can, though. And it’s an easy sell when you consider what better copy can do for your client:
- Further the brand
- Drive more awareness
- Improve resonance
- Increase conversion rate
- Promote shares
- Make designing so much easier
The disciplines are too divergent. And any senior client worth their salary will know that a design firm offering original copy is compromising both. It’d be like the salt factory making pepper.
But copyediting is different. It’s about improving what’s already there. It’s about a messaging perspective. It’s about truncating and reordering, punching up and toning down. It’s about turning 70 percent into 98 percent. And it’s about coming back to the client with “this is what your piece looks like when everything’s working well.”
So how should design agencies offer copyediting?
First and foremost, it shouldn’t be a full-time position. Even if you have a large need and could keep a copyeditor busy 40 hours a week, you’ll want your copyeditor(s) to be as removed from your process as much as possible. It’s the only way to get a truly unbiased perspective, which is what you want.
Secondly, you want a copyeditor with cross-industry experience. You’ll want them to have been exposed to different message presentation styles they can draw from when reviewing your work. Like with design, the possibilities for copy are endless when you know what needs to be conveyed.
Thirdly, you’ll want affordability. That’s why you won’t want to bring on a copywriter to do your copyediting. A copywriter will charge on average 40 percent more than a copyeditor because starting with a blank page is a different skill that commands a higher price. If you position the value prop of copyediting properly, you could profit upwards of 25–35 percent on all jobs that include copyediting ¾which really should be every file with words, even if it’s a proofread.
Now think about how many files you send out in a typical month and do the math.
What can copyediting do for a design agency?
- Increase revenue
- Improve the work
- Protect against misprints and other costly embarrassments
- Demonstrate care for clients
- Make designers’ jobs easier
If you’re a design agency looking to boost revenue in a helpful way and you don’t yet have a reliable go-to copyeditor, let’s talk. We’ll make your client feel better about you and the work you give them.
Marcus Gee wrote a great piece in the Globe and Mail about dangling modifiers. This line jumped off the page for us:
The smallest hint of confusion can give the reader “a breach in time to check mail, get up and make a sandwich, shoot a cat video.” English, he says, is a subject-verb-object language. “If you’re unclear in your own mind about the relationship between these components, or if you muddy it for the reader, you’ve fried the motherboard.”
The person Gee is quoting is Paul Knox, another Globe and Mail staffer and Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University. We’re big fans of this #Paulism, and if you’re in communications or marketing, you should be too.
Avoiding confusion is your number one priority.
Selling might be (and probably is) your number one goal, but priorities and goals are different. You won’t sell if you’re confusing. Or worse, you’ll sell for the competition. We’ve seen this happen a few times. One company clearly identified a legit problem no one had addressed previously, but then did a poor job articulating their solution. Prospects left to find more digestible explanations (drop-off data demonstrated this), which a few of their competitors had. It’s that easy to earn then lose an opportunity.
If you care about customer growth, use a copyeditor.
Customer growth starts with customer satisfaction. That begins with valuing customers and, more specifically, valuing their time.
That breach in time referenced in the #Paulism above cuts more than one way. Your prospect has lost interest, but have they forgotten? If you’re lucky, they have. If you confused them and wasted their time, they might not.
Think about it: they chose to devote a sliver of time (their most previous resource) to let you convince them to do/feel/say/buy something. And you couldn’t even take the time to scan it for sloppiness.
Imagine a dirty bathroom in a nice restaurant. It doesn’t matter how much they spent on European toilets, or what the food was like for that matter. You’ll always remember the dirty bathroom. It will be part of what you tell people. And what if you’re the kind of person who takes pictures of this kind of stuff for BuzzFeed listicles? Not so good for the restaurant.
Now think about how many BuzzFeed-style typo listicles there are.
Do you really want your name associated with that? Do you really want someone describing you as sloppy? Here’s some sloppy copy (ha!) we saw yesterday. We know we’ll see it make the rounds. And these guys definitely don’t want their name associated with carelessness.
Not exactly awesome for a tweet about education.
If you care about customer perception, use a copyeditor.
The last reason to use a copyeditor has nothing to do with customers unless the people who write your materials are also customers. Another person Gee quoted in the piece was Mary Norris, a copyeditor at The New Yorker, who said:
“Even the best writers often turn in sentences with danglers, insisting that they know what they mean and that readers will know, too.”
So even if you believe the people writing your materials are among the best writers in the world (and we sincerely hope you do believe that), you should still use a copyeditor. Your writers worked hard on whatever you’re bringing to market. So did your designers, publishers, account executives and strategists. And so did your client. Do you really want to be the person who flushed all that effort down the toilet? These people have your back every day. Using a copyeditor demonstrates to them that you have theirs.
If you care about your people, use a copyeditor.
Last point about using copyediting: It’s not expensive. But don’t look at it in terms of ROI. Look at it in terms of DOI (depletion of investment). Copyediting a 12-word transit ad is a negligible cost, over and above the thousands it already cost to produce the ad. Not using a copyeditor, letting a mistake go through and having to reprint will cost a lot more.
Social media is the great equalizer of our time. It gives everyone the same opportunity to share their views, thoughts, wisdoms and gripes — and people take full advantage of that on a regular basis. But the power to say what you want when you want about whatever you want comes with consequences, ranging from public shaming to getting fired.
On the more benign end of the spectrum, consider the story of Alex Johnston, a political candidate for office in 2015’s Canadian federal election. She was called out for a ridiculous Facebook post she made seven years prior about Auschwitz. These posts came to light weeks before voters went to the polls. And while she was a long shot to win anyway, this revelation all but guaranteed a loss. While members of her party won surrounding ridings, she only captured 16% of the vote in hers.
On the other side of the spectrum is a group of bank executives from HSBC in London who were fired for creating and posting a fake ISIS-style execution video they thought was just a funny joke. Clearly, the higher-ups at the publicly traded company they work for didn’t quite see it that way.
These are obviously extreme examples, but the lesson is clear: think before you post. Think about who might see it, how they might see it and what they might do with it.
Five ways to avoid social media-related problems
1. Never post on social media when you’re angry
Ranting and raving when you’re upset is human nature. And when that happens, you say things you regret (everyone does). But these utterances belong in the ether, not on the internet. So, if you feel the need to get negative thoughts off your chest, do it in a Word document. Write pages and pages of vitriol, save it if you want to and go back the next day to read through it. You’ll be surprised how differently you’ll feel after 24 hours, and you’ll be thankful you didn’t put your temporary ugliness into the universe.
2. Steer clear of sharing your political opinions on social media
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t share them. If you’re with friends at a pub and the topic comes up, let it all out. But delivering your political manifesto on social media is kind of like an unsolicited diatribe people don’t want. Also, one day your views might change, but that won’t matter because what you put out there today is there forever.
3. Leave work out of your social media
Having issues with your boss or your colleagues or your industry? Social media is NOT the place to air those grievances. The first thing a potential new employer will do is check out your social media channels. If they see you going off on your current colleagues, they’ll be far less inclined to hire you.
4. Don’t overshare your personal life on social media
If you’re struggling, seek help from professionals. That’s why they’re there. Getting opinions from the social media mob on how to deal with personal crises won’t do you very good because (a) you’ll get too many opinions and (b) you’ll forever be known as the person with that issue. And you’ll always be judged for it. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.
5. For the love of god, proofread your social media posts
Putting typos out into the world paints you as careless — like showing up to a dinner party in a stained shirt. And again, if a potential employer checks out your feeds and sees that, they’ll think “well, if they’re like this in their personal life, are they really that different in business?”
Social media isn’t going anywhere. On the contrary, it’s become a fact of our lives, and one you need to respect lest you wind up on the wrong side of a story.
A few years ago, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (they run Toronto Pearson) had a problem with noise complaints. They needed a copywriting team to give them messaging they could point people to and say “this is why we make so much noise, these are the factors that are fully out of our control, and these are the things we’re doing about what we can control.”
Sounds easy enough. Except that we had to essentially learn about airplanes, airplane noise, acoustics and how sound travels. Then we had to learn about how Toronto Pearson works. We learned how they mitigate noise through runways positioning, and the shared responsibility of everyone involved in getting a plane off the ground to noise abatement; from the air traffic controllers to the pilots to the airlines.
When copywriting gets really fun
Obviously none of this can happen without thorough research. And what better way to do it than to get a private tour of the runways and the towers? Yep, we got to go into the air traffic control tower and watch the magic happen. A few observations from there:
- It was a lot quieter than we imagined it to be. Although, to be fair, our frame of reference was the control tower from Airplane!
- The folks in there are seriously dialled in to what they’re doing. That made us feel a bit better about air travel.
- Watching planes take off and land from the tower is pretty spectacular. It’s like a well-choreographed ballet.
As part of our copywriting research, we also sat down with a real-life audiologist who broke down the science of airplane noise. One of the more eye-opening takeaways was how much louder a plane is when its flaps are down. And, of course, the flaps are down when it’s closest to the ground so the noise is that much more pronounced.
But the most interesting thing we learned copywriting for this project was the flight routes in and out of the airport.
See, when a plane is coming to Toronto from the eastern United States (this makes up the majority of landings at Pearson), it comes in over Lake Ontario, then travels east away from the airport, makes a 270˚ turn and then takes a straight line in. The act of turning a plane does two things to increase noise.
First, because the plane isn’t straight, the noise from the wind friction is much more pronounced.
Second, because it takes more power to turn the plane, the engine is louder. But here’s the unfortunate part: the area of town underneath where the turn occurs happens to be one of Toronto’s poshest neighbourhoods. And when you put down $2 million on a house, you don’t expect to be bombarded with engine noise 19 hours a day. So, ironically, most of the noise complaints come from there, about 20 kilometres from the airport. Very few come from the area surrounding the airport, presumably because if you live near the airport, you kind of expect the noise.
And then, we wrote.
The project took about two months to complete, with a lot of back and forth from the team at the GTAA, the scientists, the airlines and, of course, our internal team. It had to be on point and accurate, but also accessible for the average person to understand so when the GTAA team directed them to the site, they would be satisfied with the answers they found.
The final product is fantastic
The website launched last month, we couldn’t be prouder of the work, and everyone knows more about where noise comes from.
Like great copywriting, great lyrics will make you pay attention.
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly aging.
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
That’s from The Times They Are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan — whose lyrics were and are so powerful that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Interesting conversation starter about that lyric:
He placed mothers ahead of fathers. Keep in mind that this song came out in 1965 when society was still patriarchal. So to put mothers before fathers was a big deal, especially for a generation that had spent the past 20 years protecting an American ideal that was being questioned by a guy with a guitar who couldn’t sing.
But then in the next line he refers to sons and daughters, reversing the gender order. Why do this? We’d argue that “your daughters and sons are beyond your command” would have been phonetically better because it has fewer syllables to trip up on.
So was Dylan saying that there was to be a temporary redefining of roles in society and then it was going to go back to normal? Or was he saying that social roles won’t change but need to be reconsidered by the elder generation?
These are the types of conversations good lyrics can evoke. And unfortunately, we’re getting fewer and fewer great lyrics.
We’ve felt this way anecdotally for some time, Something feels different about modern music — it’s lacking depth. But is it really? Musical historian Shane Snow looked into it empirically.
Snow analyzed a cross-section of North American songs from 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015 to see what words were most used in lyrics. Then, he plotted those words into six word bubbles:
Lyrical word cloud from 1975
Lyrical word cloud from 1985
Lyrical word cloud from 1995
Lyrical word cloud from 2005
Lyrical word cloud from 2015
You’ll notice that “love” appears prominently across the board (no surprise there). But what we found interesting were the words that stood out as unique to the era.
In 1965, it was “nowhere,” which made sense given the uncertainty of the times and what was the beginning of the counter culture movement.
1975’s was “supernatural,” which, given the drug-induced haze society was in, and the post-1960’s answers everyone was looking for, made sense.
“Obsession” stood out in 1985, and that seems to be in lock-step with the over-indulgence of the 1980s.
Then, something interesting happened in 1995. Lyrics moved away from “concepts” and towards “utterances”: banal words that didn’t reflect anything except the vapidness of a mass-produced, over-exposed industry that was pumping out music for money instead of art. “Candy” and “raindrops.” Seriously?
2005 was more of the same, except we started to see the rise of words like “ain’t” and “yeah.” And by 2015 lyrics were completely devoid of concept. Not one word in that bubble is even close to statement-worthy.
We wonder if, by 2025, the pendulum will have swung back a bit. It should, given the state of the world today. If there was ever a time for artists to speak their minds, this is it. But with far too many places to consume music and way too much access for vapid lyricists to get their music produced, would we even be able to find it?
Only time will tell.
2.7 million Canadians watched Game 7 between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, and all hopefully got to see the Kawhi Leonard shot.
It was magic — one of the great sporting moments in our city, and possibly even the country. Right now, only Sid the Kid’s Golden Goal at the Vancouver Olympics, Joe Carter’s Series-winning blast and Jose Bautista’s bat-flip even come close (the Leafs have had their moments, but it’s been so long that they’re hard to remember).
As much as we’re sports people, we’re word people first. So we jumped onto YouTube to find footage of “the shot” as described by sportscasters around the world.
On first listen, they all sound kind of the same: men losing their minds at the ridiculousness of what was unfolding in front of their eyes.
But if you listen closely, the subtle nuances of each language come through.
If you listen closely, you’ll hear the two announcers talking over each other. This is uncommon in Korea, as the etiquette norms in the country trend towards more respect for others versus less. In fact, of all the broadcasts in the video, the Korean team was the only one where the announcers spoke over each other. Chalk it up to the moment.
This one was interesting to us because of how down the announcer sounded from the time Kawhi Leonard got the ball to the moment the shot went down. So we did a bit of digging and found that Portuguese people have a reputation of being happy when they’re sad.
We were puzzled here; not for the language but for the visuals. Instead of showing the play, they were showing the crowd outside the area. Not a choice we would’ve made. But when you’re the People’s Republic of China, you focus on the people.
Spanish from Spain
In North America, we tend to refer to our athletes by their last names, but in this case, the announcer only referred to Kawhi Leonard as “Kawhi.” Perhaps he spends a lot of time calling soccer games with Brazilian players who only go by one name?
This one might be our favourite foreign language call on the video. The announcer’s gruff voice gives the clip more excitement. And we loved the way the two guys went nuts after the shot went down. These guys were having fun.
Spanish from Latin America
American Spanish has such a mellifluous sound and it comes through in this clip. And perhaps the best word to describe the moment came from this announcer: fantastico!
And then there was ours
The last clip in this video is from Matt Devlin at Sportsnet and he’s one of the best in the business. We love how his voice goes up about three octaves and 20 decibels when he gets excited. He’s known for that.
But the best part of seeing Kawhi Leonard’s shot in different languages…
Getting to watch the shot over and over again.
Go, Raps, go!
Social media has done quite a number on the English language. In less than two decades, centuries of writing rules, conventions and accepted norms, most of which we were taught to treat as carved in stone, have been washed away as if they were doodled in sand.
What’s most fascinating about watching this linguistic revolution happen in real time is that it’s a first for humanity. Yes, language has clearly evolved since the grunts and yelps of early man. But in the past it’s taken multiple generations. For example, it took almost 200 years for thou, thine and thee to become you, your and yourself.
In a short 15 years, though, all the hard-and-fast rules we were taught in what used to be aptly called “grammar school” have been either loosened to the point of being optional or flat-out cast aside as conventions from the old world.
Is this a bad thing? That depends on who you ask.
Writing for a Modern Audience
Every form of written communication has been affected by this sweeping lexicographical change.
Traditionalists see it as the erosion of the proper and another step towards global anarchy. Ten years ago, when this revolution was just getting off the ground, the BBC put out a warning that this trend towards the “slangification” of language would have dire consequences. They said it should be nipped in the bud immediately.
On the other hand, more progressive pundits see it as a necessary progression, and one that should be embraced. Like the way adults in the ’60s had to embrace the sexualization of music, and accept the fact that “Rock Around The Clock” and “Mr. Postman” weren’t resonating.
For the most part, it looks like the traditionalists are acquiescing. They’re accepting the LOLs, ROFLs, OMGs and IDKs. They’re okay with alternate spellings of words like god (gawd). They haven’t yet accepted this new lingo into the upper echelons of the business world — resumes, for example, are still by and large written formally — but who knows if that convention will last into the 2020s.
One thing we can say for certain is that this revolution is having a two-pronged effect on professional wordsmiths. One is positive and exciting, the other is frightening and somewhat debilitating.
The New Rules of Writing: Yay AND Nay
On the plus side, the acceptance of these new non-conventions create possibilities we in the writing community had never really had. Sure, we could make a statement with grammatically incorrect copy like this genius vintage tagline from Apple.
But you really need a progressive client like Apple to get on board.
On the flipside, it’s a lot more difficult to appear sincere. Go too far with the lingo and you’re trying too hard. Don’t go far enough and you’re not relatable.
Writing in 2019
The key to good writing, as it’s always been, is to stay true to yourself. And the best way to do that is to read what you write aloud. If it feels awkward coming out of your mouth, it’ll be 10x more awkward going in through people’s eyes, ears and heart. Find your sweet spot that holds the line between “This is my cheeseburger” and “Haz Cheezeburgur,” and stick to it. You don’t have to speak social slang to be noticed by people who do, but you should have confidence in the voice you own.