What traits and skills should a copywriter have? We asked our entire team what they felt was most important – particularly about the skills and traits you can’t necessarily develop on the job.
A genuine love of language
At the risk of stating the obvious, enjoying the written word is a really important attribute for any copywriter, because loving language in all its forms gives you a feel for when something isn’t quite right. This helps you to find the tweaks that take ordinary, mundane copy and turn it into something that speaks to readers. Sure, it might mean you don’t want to get a copywriter onto discussing their personal pet grammar peeves – unless you want your night at the pub ruined – but it does mean they can often transform dry, uninspiring business communications into content that’s really worth reading.
A keen eye for detail
It’s easy to miss an error in a long piece of text. You’ll often notice it a minute after it goes to print, or seconds after your company newsletter has just been sent out. To some extent all you can do is review, review, and review again, and ideally get a second pair of eyes to take a good look too. That said, good copy editors know their grammar and have trained themselves to spot mistakes before it’s too late. A keen eye for detail puts you one step ahead of the pack if you’re thinking about working in this field.
A willingness to take criticism…
You can’t be precious about your work. Even the best of the best won’t hit the mark with a copy draft the first time, and that means being open to advice and constructive criticism. A fresh, independent pair of eyes works wonders, helping to spot potential problems like repetition, awkward sentence structures, and perhaps even the odd typo. The trick is to take it on the chin and learn – every single critique is an opportunity to learn and better yourself.
…and the courage to dish it out too
When called upon, you have to be ready to take issue with things you feel aren’t right with another person’s work. A formidable weapon in any good copywriter’s arsenal is having the confidence to politely disagree. If you feel what’s being asked of you will be detrimental to the piece, stand up and explain why – providing you have a solid defence at the ready. Look for a happy compromise using the wisdom of your experience, and always try to suggest an alternative approach.
Our job demands that we’re experts on everything: restaurants, weather radars, smartphones, genetics, steel processing, minerals and precious metals – heck, we’ve even written about toilets! But unless you’re a genius, it’s not possible to be a universal expert. That’s why a good copywriter must be, by nature, curious. A genuine desire to learn how things tick is crucial to being able to communicate just the right message.
This extends beyond doing basic research online (which is a given), but talking with people on the client side to really understand what you’re writing about: for example, how do salespeople approach customers? What are the words that really speak to them? You’ll need to learn and understand industry vocabulary and concepts inside out. So you have to embrace this part of the job, not fear it.
Walk a mile in your audience’s shoes. When you’re presenting expert knowledge to non-experts, you need to make them comfortable. You’ll need to translate that corporate jargon and technobabble into genuine, human communication. You’ll also need to bear in mind their pain points – what problems can whatever you’re writing about help them solve – and make them jump out in the copy.
People are busy and impatient. They need as much information as possible to help them make an informed decision. Whether you’re writing for a blog, a website, a brand’s Tweet, or a print ad, each medium serves a different purpose, and you need to be aware of who’s reading your text and where they’re reading it, as well as give them a good reason to spend their valuable time reading it. Waste their time and they’ll lose patience, get frustrated and move on. Every word counts.