What an English Degree Teaches You about Internet Copywriting
Welles Wiley Jan 3 2011
When I graduated from college last May, I was met with countless words of congratulations
from friends and family, and even more questions on what I planned to do next. After
spending the first 22 years of my life on the relatively straight-forward academic
path, I now found myself without a clue of where to head next. It was like I was
standing at Robert Frost's crossroads in the woods, but I didn't even know which
path was the road less traveled.
To further complicate things, my degree wasn't pointing me on any specific career
path. I graduated from a liberal arts university, which only carries with it the
ambiguous suggestion that I am a "well-rounded" person. To make matters even worse,
I majored in English, which at face value only proves that I indeed have a grasp
of the language I was born speaking.
After launching a job search for a myriad of different job titles from barista
boy to a paralegal at an ambulance chasing law firm, I finally found an ad for an
open position as a copywriter. I figured this might be one of the few times an English/Creative
Writing degree is ever put into direct usage, so I jumped at the opportunity.
After only a few weeks on the job, I quickly learned that much of what I learned
in my English courses had to be completely ignored. Thankfully, however, there are
a few other aspects of my education that have helped me greatly in my quest to become
the world's greatest internet content writer.
I will now share my findings with you in list form, because that's just what
you do when you write for the inter-webs.
Top 3 things that are now useless
- Descriptions- You know the countless hours you spent in
your creative writing classes trying to create
vivid descriptions of places and settings? This is no longer needed for
two reasons: 1) You can use images to show your readers what you would need
to describe 2) People just don't have the patience for lengthy descriptions.
Internet copywriting is about writing short, punchy sentences that deliver information
quickly. So ditch your attempt to be the next Walt Whitman, and stick to the
- Vocabulary- Mark Twain once summed up his view on having
a good vocabulary by saying, "The difference between the almost right word and
the right word is really a large matter- it's the difference between the lightning
bug and the lightning." Mark Twain clearly wasn't an internet copy writer.
While situations can arise where one of your SAT vocabulary words would just work
perfectly in a sentence, if it's too obscure a word you will lose some of your
audience. There's a reason why Nike sticks with the massively successful "Just
Do It" slogan, and not something like "Procure the Paragon of Athletic Prowess."
Stick to simplistic English and you'll never have to worry about this problem.
- Formatting- When you write for the internet, you've got
to format your writing entirely differently. Paragraphs should not be more than
a few sentences.
One sentence paragraphs are fine, too.
Lists, bullet points, images, and all the other stuff that would have given your
professors heart attacks if you had tried to submit it to them are now completely
fair game. The more you can visually break up your writing, the better.
Top 3 things that still apply
- Inspiration is Everywhere- I always thought one of the
joys of creative writing is the fact that every conversation, experience, or
observation in your life has a chance to manifest itself in your writing. Inspiration
is truly everywhere when you're a writer, and that doesn't change when you write
- Excess Language- I'll always remember what my creative writing
professor once announced to our class as we were editing a classmate's short
story, "Right now we just need to get out the pressure washer and blast away
all this excess language."
That quote has helped me try to remember to be concise. Excess language
can be a huge flaw, so be stingy with your words.
- Peer edits- Perhaps the greatest part of creative writing
classes is peer editing. You can never know if the outside world will understand
your writing without having one of your peers look at it before it's published.
Every time one of my coworkers edits my work, I receive invaluable suggestions
that always make the end product better. Never skip an opportunity to have another
set of eyes go over your writing.
While it certainly is an adjustment changing your writing voice from academic
to internet, it is comforting to know that the investment in my education wasn't
completely made in vain. At least you won't be likely to make any of these
copywriting blunders. If you too are an English major and have found things
that you needed to forget or retain, leave a comment!