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.
The heat-seeking missiles are out and pointed squarely at social media. Writing in Time Magazine, Rachel Simmons likened social media to “a bathroom wall, letting teens sling insults with the recklessness that comes only with anonymity.”
Imperial evidence supports Ms. Simmons’ alarmism. A 2016 paper presented robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents.
And current events show us that the vitriol of social media can be just as damaging to adults. This week, a California congressman sued Twitter for $250 million over the words the social media giant allegedly let through their filters to besmirch him and his mother (for real)
Stories like the Congressman’s and research like Ms. Simmons’ are becoming the norm. For all the positive social media has done for the world, the list of negatives is catching up fast.
This begs a few very important questions we should all take a moment to consider. Is social media really worth it? Are we better off as a society with social media in our lives or are we worse off? If someone were to shut down the social media channels for good, would they be doing us all a favour?
Social media: Writing for positive change
Social media has given everyone a voice. And in many instances, that voice has been used for justice. Would the veil of sexual harassment in Hollywood have been pulled back without social media? Would the Arab spring have happened without social media? Writing about Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg identified Facebook’s purpose as making the world a “more open and connected place.” It’s a noble pursuit. And if you remember the early days of Facebook, that was the case.
From a commerce perspective, social media has given companies incredible ways to connect with customers. Just last week, when Air Canada was forced to ground their 737 planes and disrupt hundreds of thousands of March Break travellers, they used Twitter to provide updates. Toronto Hydro does the same thing during power outages. And many companies have moved their contesting over to Twitter, letting customers transparently follow along, which creates even more FOMO
Full disclosure: we have a vested interest in seeing social media grow, as a lot of our business revolves around it. And so when we make an argument against social media, you can be confident that it’s genuine. And this is our argument:
We praised social media for giving everyone a voice. The flipside of that coin is that it removes everybody’s face. Hiding behind handles, people have the power to say whatever they want with zero consequences because nothing they say ever has to be attributed to them.
The result of this is, in our opinion, a complete erosion of civil discourse and bullying, be it of kids in school, politicians in the public square or anyone else.
And this has led to incredible damage. We’re reminded of Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who took her own life after a stream of steady social media abuse. More recently, the Christchurch attacker was heavily influenced by online hate groups.
What’s next for social media?
Writing in favour of a more robust social media has to start with changes to the very fabric of social media channels. Here would be our three recommendations
1. Age gate social channels
We’ve seen time and time again how unprepared young people are to think through the ramifications of posting at will. So why not make social media an 18-and-over world?
2. Get rid of the anonymity
This is an easy one, but in our opinion, a necessary step to make the social media world safer. People would be much more careful with what they put out into the universe if their names were on it.
3. Include a time delay
Wouldn’t it be great if there was an interstitial screen that came up after you hit post and before what you wrote was actually posted that said something like “are you sure you really want to post this?”
Social media is here to stay. And with a few tweaks to the way it’s used, we think it can once again become the positive force it was meant to be.
You hear “Oscar-winning movies” and your mind immediately goes to the big four: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director. They’re the “majors,” the awards you sit through the whole telecast to get to. And they’re usually worth the wait. There was Tom Hanks’s beautiful tribute to two gay men in his acceptance speech for Philadelphia, Halle Berry’s emotional moment on stage after winning for Monster’s Ball and perhaps the best of the best, Steven Spielberg’s plea to the world’s educators to show Schindler’s List to their students.
However, if you’re a fan of the written word like we are, the highlight of the show is Best Original Screenplay. It’s often sandwiched midway through the telecast and rarely gets much fanfare. And the winners don’t see their careers skyrocket to new heights like Best Actor winners (Forbes found that an Oscar win can boost an actor’s salary by over 80 percent).
But when your ears are treated to great words, spoken by great actors and actresses, you leave the theatre energized, inspired and awe-struck by talent.
The Five Best “Best Original Screenplay” Oscar-winning Movies (in chronological order)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane is the story of a man who seems to have everything except the one thing he wanted most: his innocence. Orson Wells, who also played the main character, co-won the award with Herman Mankiewicz who also wrote The Wizard of Oz, another Oscar-winning movie for Best Original Score.
Most iconic line: “Rosebud.”
Best line: “You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
With the civil rights movement in full swing, William Rose took a massive chance writing a film about a young girl who brings her smart, successful, well-spoken and black fiancé home to meet her parents. Rose’s depiction of the parents’ struggle to reconcile their feelings about a black man joining their family is spot on. More than just entertaining, this Oscar-wining movie had white and black Americans questioning their beliefs about a lot of things.
Most iconic line: “You think of yourself as a coloured man. I think of myself as a man.”
Best line: “…you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem.”
The Producers (1968)
When Mel Brooks pitched this story of a failed Broadway producer and a bumbling accountant who figured out they could earn more money producing a terrible play than a good one, he was laughed out of almost every studio in Hollywood until Embassy Pictures picked it up. And even then, they almost didn’t release The Producers for fear over a backlash to bad taste. But they took the risk and it paid off. It’s among the funniest Oscar-winning movies.
Most iconic line: “Springtime for Hitler and Germany.”
Best line: “I picked the wrong play. The wrong director. The wrong cast. Where did I go right?”
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Woody Allen has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay 16 times and won three, but Hannah and Her Sisters is by far his best. It’s the story of three sisters in New York City over the course of two years and how their lives intersect and evolve. Some of the most exquisite writing is the running monologue inside the head of the Michael Caine character.
Most iconic line: “How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I don’t know how the can opener works!”
Best Line: “I read Socrates. This guy knocked off little Greek boys. What the hell’s he got to teach me?”
Pulp Fiction (1994)
When Quentin Tarantino premiered this film in Cannes, it was unanimously heralded as a masterpiece of screenwriting. It effortlessly broke almost every convention, from telling its story out of chronological order to intentionally not having “main characters.” Pulp Fiction is considered the first “post-modern” movie.
Most iconic line: “Ezekiel 25/17…”
Best Line: “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.”
Other Best Original Screenplay Oscar-winning Movies worth seeing
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
How The West Was Won (1963)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Rain Man (1988)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Hurt Locker (2009)