Guided by voices: listen, and improve your copywriting

hiresHearing voices in your head? If you’re a copywriter, that might not be such a bad thing.
As writers, we talk a lot about “voice.” It’s a concept that’s been drilled into our heads since tenth-grade English: voice is a piece of writing’s personality or style. Voice can be humorous, formal, condescending, thoughtful. You name it, there’s a voice to match.
Since it applies to written content, this “voice” is strictly metaphorical. But Nancy Webb, a speaker at this year’s APMP Bid & Proposal Con, got me thinking about voice in a new way. What if we interpreted “voice” in a literal sense? That is, what if we imagined our on-page writing being spoken aloud?
“Written words make you hear spoken words,” Nancy says. And one way to sharpen attention to the voice in your written words is to imagine who’s speaking. What do they look like? Are they male or female? Young or old? Are they trustworthy? Understanding? Friendly? Bossy? Standoffish?
By reading your work out loud, you may find that the voice you’re writing in doesn’t match your intended speaker at all.
Let’s say you’re copywriting a brochure for an investment firm. You’re asking clients to turn over their life savings to you; casual, chummy language isn’t going to cut it. Imagine what kind of person you might be willing to entrust your money to. He or she might be assertive, but not overconfident. Highly knowledgeable, but easy to understand. Experienced, but not jaded. Get as clear a picture you can of that person, then imagine them talking. Now write down what they say.
Unfortunately, hardly any writing sounds the way people really do when they talk. But good writing gets close. Shifting voice can be as simple as switching words or adjusting reading level—but it’s most easily done by just listening to your writing.
So let those voices in your head make themselves heard. Your writing will thank you.
To learn more about topics discussed at APMP, check out http://apmp.sclivelearningcenter.com/index.aspx?PID=6539&SID=124610. For a small fee, you can listen to recordings of conference presentations like Nancy’s.
Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial.

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