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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Consistent Copy
Using The Same Voice And Tone

 7:33 am on Apr 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

I just finished up the second round of edits on some copy for a site and went back to make my third round. I printed out all the copy and started reading. There were no glaring errors, it needed a few revisions, some lazy words needed pulled. Then I noticed the overall tone.

My ad copy was upbeat, informal and used an active voice. Copy on the informational pages was passive, dry and dull. Copy on the privacy, contact and legal pages read like bad legalese. I started thinking about why it looked like three people wrote the copy for the site. I enjoy writing ad copy. Since I enjoyed what I was writing my enjoyment was reflected in the tone. The informational pages were a chore, tedious and time consuming. The privacy, contact and legal pages were simply obligatory copy. I plodded through them and was relieved when I was through.

I ended up with copy that sends a mixed message. I went from upbeat to dull to plodding. I also ignored one of my own rules. Every page has the potential to make or help make a sale. While the reader may not notice the change in tone immediately, they may end up with a nagging feeling, a subliminal message that something just isn't quite right. After all, they met the upbeat, slightly irreverant guy selling them a product, but the guy asking them to send an email sounds like the clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Name, Registration. Cash, check or charge? Thank You.

I know I often write a page or two of copy at a time. After the editing I'm usually happy with the copy and a day later I repeat the process. Until I actually get all the copy written though I can't read it and check the tone and the consistency.

Inconsistent copy creeps in, the active voice lapses into passive, author intrusion finds its way into corners. I'm left with Jekyll and Hyde copy and I have to wonder how that affects the 'ole conversion rate.

How long has it been since you checked your copy for consistency? Does it look like a schizophrenic wrote your site? Are your surfers wondering why the nice guy selling them widgets turns into a dull oaf when he asks them for their credit card? Is it costing you sales?

[edited by: digitalghost at 8:30 am (utc) on April 13, 2003]



 8:18 am on Apr 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

That's a topic near to my heart, digitalghost. One of the challenges I face is that I write for clients, rarely for myself. And I hardly ever create a site all at once and then its done - they're all much more of a process than a thing.

Early in our relationship a client can be very insistent that I do only minimal editing. Later they give me more latitude, and even pay me to write copy from raw materials. So a site that I work with often develops an uneven tone, and there almost never seems to be a time to rework older pages unless something just jumps out as very wrong.

Another challenge for me is that I am a bit of a sponge, and we're all surrounded by arid business language. Somewhere along the line, a lot of people got the idea that businesses should sound like lifeless drones, and our environment is filled with that colorless langauge. I need to follow a strong discipline not to lapse into that same stupid swamp.


 8:47 am on Apr 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>a lot of people got the idea that businesses should sound like lifeless drones, and our environment is filled with that colorless langauge.

Oh yeah. Not sure why that happened but it is hard not to fall victim to gray copy. I keep several poetry anthologies by the PC and I try to remember to read three or four poems before I start writing but my discipline needs improvement.

I've been collecting ad copy for years and with the recent P2P developments I've found that I can find lots of old commercials, (yes, I watch commercials and abuse parenthetical statements) and some of those old commercials remind me to add color to my copy.

Consistency requires discipline, especially when the copy is lengthy or spans several pages. Fortunately, I can find copy I wrote 5 years ago for the web and compare it to the copy I write now. Some of the old stuff makes me wince and that helps a bit with discipline. ;)


 6:32 pm on May 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

It helps to think of yourself as an actor, then get personal with the "Brand character" of your site or your client. We often do brand development itself as a project for clients, which includes a description of the company as a person with explicit personality traits and key phrases that express the company's way of thinking. When you start writing copy, put on the brand character and talk out your copy in the voice of the character. Then the type of content can change, the audience can change, but the copy can respond to those kind of differences without breaking out of character.

Of course, if the voice in your head starts telling you to go out and burn things, it's time for a nap!


 6:45 pm on May 21, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think many copywriters find their tone tends to creep into whatever they are writing.

There are times when I can sit down and write for hours, resulting in consistent and well written pieces. But when it is a subject that I find boring or tedious, that I tend to rush it just to get it over with. Those are the pieces I always need to go back over and edit about a week later, and only then will it result in the same tone as the rest of the articles.

I also find that sometimes when I am writing about a subject that hits close to home that my writing tends to be have a completely different voice and tone. I tend to bring my passion on the subject into the article to a greater extent than if it was on a topic I didn't personally care about. Sometimes these articles can stay in their original form, and they work well this way, but I often find I need to go over these a couple times to be sure that it doesn't sound too over the top.


 10:28 pm on May 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

Coincidentally, I recently debated the consistency of some text in a draft of a client's site. In the "About Us" page I used the term "the company" in describing acquisitions, while using "we" on other pages. For example, "we are serious about quality" and "we are 30 minutes from xyz Airport".

I guess I rationalized that the client will probably want changes anyhow.


 12:06 pm on May 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

I agree topics that are close to your heart get more attention from you than other topics which don't really interest you or appeal to you! Its quite natural....but I think it is absolutely essential to go over the content you have written on a regular basis to make sure it's still relevant (it depends on the subject you have written on, though). I always try to make sure that I am consistent in what I'm trying to say!


 10:23 pm on Jun 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

I find that I write copy differently depending on how I think people will find it. If I know someone is going to land on a page through a Google search, the tone of the copy will be very different than if I know someone is going to land on a page after several clicks of navigating through the site.

I suppose this will make for an inconsistent user experience for those few people who read LOTS of things on the site. But those folks are few and far between.

I could probably do a better job of pulling everything together in a common voice - and still keep the different objectives of the pages intact.

Now I just need to find the time to go back and crank through it all. :)


 11:18 pm on Jun 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>find the time to go back and crank through it all

I never seem to be able to find time so I have to make time. I've scheduled 6 hours a week for "copy cleaning". My weekly hour total is now 206. ;)

Once you start cleaning up your copy to make it consistent you'll get addicted to the process. You'll also find that you'll keep your copy more consistent as you write.


 11:30 pm on Jun 6, 2003 (gmt 0)

Six hours a week? Wow! Unfortunately, I've cut my hours on this particular set of sites down to about 10 a week. So there's no way I can spend all that time on copy.

I think I'm just going to have to pick and choose the worst offending pages and go from there. It will have to evolve, just like everything else on the site. :)

Wish I could do six hours a week of copy. That would go a long way towards making it a truly high-quality site. As it stands, the quality of the copy is fair-to-middlin' at best.


 4:52 am on Jun 7, 2003 (gmt 0)

Just keep plugging along, and you'll get there - before you know it, you'll have copy edited the site. And remember, some might need only minor tweaking and can be finished quickly, while others need major overhauls ;)

Once you start cleaning up your copy to make it consistent you'll get addicted to the process.

Oh, this is soooo true! For me, the whole process of copywriting is addicting, whether it is writing the original draft, or going back for the polishing and tweaking.

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