I was recently asked to write some content for a hotel chain, which is known for being cheap, cheerful, and conveniently close to local airports and town centres.
Not that you’d have known that from what they wanted me to write. Heavily focused on five-star, goes-the-extra-mile service and exceptional cuisine, the brief read as though it might have been prepared on a gleaming golden typewriter at The Ritz.
Reader, I called bullshit.
I also tend to call bullshit when people ask me to describe CV skills they haven’t got, or when big, hairy, white-male-dominated companies request email newsletter copy that promotes “our commitment to diversity.”
If that sounds harsh, rest assured: if I’m not buying it, neither will the people you care about.
There are lots of reasons why we don’t write as who we really are. One is embarrassment; we don’t feel that who we are is quite enough, which is why we sprinkle our writing with glittery language we’d never use when speaking.
(I’m saying “we” because I have been guilty of exactly this in the past. The first version of my own web copy was, quite frankly, an embarrassment.)
Another reason why we don’t write as who we really are is because we don’t know who that is, so we look at the things other people are writing, and copy them.
Or we think about what people might want from us, and then write that, even when it doesn’t bear any resemblance to how others see us, or what we offer (for illustrative examples see: the average online dating profile, or any company that describes itself as being “unlike any other”.)
Find the evidence
There are lots of reasons why I can be a massive pain to work with. But the top one is that I’m always asking “why”.
It’s because I don’t want to write anything that’s inaccurate, or that someone you know well wouldn’t recognise you from. Neither would give readers the right impression of you at your authentic best, and showcasing that is partly why you’ve hired me (if it isn’t, look away now.)
If you’re worried about writing copy or content that unwittingly sounds nothing like ‘you’, look around for some objective evidence.
As an example, for CV skills, such evidence would include courses, qualifications, or clear descriptions of when you’ve used them. If you’re writing a profile, ask a few trusted people how they would best describe you.
And if you want to shout about your company’s “commitment to diversity”, try explaining something you’re actively doing (if you’re not doing anything, say something else instead.)
On a journey from one ‘you’ to another? Explain where you’re starting from and why it’s happening, rather than presenting the results as a done deal.
Aside from general accuracy, the nice thing about evidence is that looking for it often reminds people about how great they naturally are, without all the extra fluff and glitter everyone sees through anyway.
So, if you haven’t already, why not give it a try?
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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