Monday, October 23, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 10-23-06 - What a Stubborn English Professor Taught Me About Writing Copy

In 2004, I went back to school to finish my English degree. The first class on my first day was an English Literature class, taught by one of the hardest teachers on campus. His name's Robert Coleman-Senghor. We called him Bob.

Bob's the kind of English teacher people think about and shudder, 20 years later. He makes your brain take the shape of an Escher sketch. He pounded things into your head about how to write, how to persuade, how to make a case.

After I finished the course with a B (I never heard him give an A, and a B was so rare I was floored), I realized some things Bob taught me were true for other types of writing beyond literary analysis. I've had this Tip in the blog list for a while now. Today seemed a good day.

Here are two nuggets I got from Bob's lessons. They're some of what a stubborn English professor taught me about writing copy.

1. I Don't Care - In a feelings-are-important world, Bob professed never to care. He demanded our essays force him to change that position. We had to figure out a way to make him care with our words.

Customers have the same amount of caring - none. You have to make them care. I don't mean threaten or trick; I mean present a solid case for your products. Back it up. Show readers every possible reason why you've got the best choice.

2. Stay On-Target - The word on campus said Bob kept the local red-ink store in business singlehandedly. I got my first essay back and vouched for the word. He's brutal. Funny thing, it was easy to see how off in left field I was over and over after I got the essay back. What did THAT line have to do with the point I was making?

If you veer off on any sort of tangent when writing, cut the whole section and start over. No, don't save "just a few words" for later. Rip it out. Go back to what you were saying before - the relevant part of the copy - and continue. You will have to do this many times. You'll hate it. But if you stick to the target message (and cruelly remind yourself again & again) your copy will shoot into readers' brains like a laser.

Thanks, Bob. You were right - we DID learn something. My writing is clearer and stronger because of those nerve-wracking classes.



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