How to Write for Other People — The Art of Copywriting at #DigitalPorts

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

My favorite quarterly Portsmouth event is Digital Portsmouth (#DigitalPorts to us on Twitter). This time around, the theme was “The Art of Copywriting” and we covered all kinds of writing — straight-up marketing copy, personal blogging, tweeting, Facebook posting, email marketing, name brainstorming, etc. The event took place at The Music Hall Loft.

The Art of Copywriting Lineup

I joined Anna Goldsmith, co-founder of The Hired Pens, and Quiana Agbai, of Harlem Love Birds, to talk about all things copywriting.

Anna talked about naming things (websites, businesses, products, etc.) and shared some super helpful tips. You can read Anna’s recap and see on The Hired Pens blog. I also wrote up her session here: How to Pick a Name.

Quiana about smart and tactful online sharing of your work, and taught us that getting a retweet from Beyoncé is not a distribution strategy.

I talked about how to write for other people. As a freelance copywriter with years of experience as a full-time copywriter in agency settings, I have spent years writing for other people.

How to Write for Other People

I shared tips on how to write for other people consistently (style guides!), expertly (multichannel immersion!) and without going crazy (keep writing for yourself!).

How to Write for Other People Consistently — Style Guides

Style guides are the secret to writing for many different people while maintaining a consistent voice for each one. You should start off by discussing with your client which existing popular style guide is right for their industry. Here’s a general rule of thumb for style guides by industry:

  • AP: Journalism, online publications, B2C companies (no serial comma, lowercase “internet” and non-hyphenated “email”)
  • Chicago: Academia (lots of citation guidelines here)
  • APA: Psychology
  • Oxford: UK/Legal (Hello, Oxford/serial comma!)

Once you have the general baseline of a widely-accepted style guide in place, the next step is to add in all of your exceptions and additions. You might start with your own company name, department names or products — anything that someone outside of your company might not know, or which would clarify and make consistent internal communications. You may also want to add in things like date formats (important if you publish events information) and quantity markers (“sq.ft.” or “square feet”?). It might also be helpful to add in what one might refer to as the “greatist hits” in grammar: the official stance on the serial comma, spaces after a period or any other frequently-debated stylistic or grammar issue.

Finally, the ABCs of a style guide: “Always Be Checking.” Seriously. The thing won’t do anyone any good if no one ever looks at and adheres to it.


Coffee’s for clos- NO! Coffee is for CHECKERS! -@laughtercrystal #digitalports

A photo posted by walterelly (@walterelly) on

How to Write for Other People Expertly — Multichannel Immersion

Multichannel immersion is a term I came up with to describe the crazy way that I get myself very quickly up to speed on an industry before writing for a particular client. If you write for a specific organization regularly, it’s well worth the time to build a few private Twitter lists for industry leaders, competitors and otherwise similar entities in that client’s field. It’s also a great idea to subscribe to some email newsletters in that industry, too.

Pro Tip: Subscribe to an email newsletter with your Feedly email account to keep those emails from your own inbox. Checking the Feedly RSS Reader as part of your immersion time for clients will save you time and organizational headaches.

Set up Google alerts for the organization, their competitors and other hot industry words (you can set up Google Alerts through Feedly as well — you can judge which alerts are important enough to come into your email and which to reroute to your Feedly account.

Twitter, email lists and Feedly are just three examples of useful channels — there’s also Facebook, LinkedIn, podcasts, Instagram, Pinterest and even Evernote notes with lists of URLs for those go-to websites that don’t push info out through these other channels.

Again, with Twitter Lists, Feedly accounts, etc. — Always Be Checking! Setting a few minutes each writing session for this multichannel immersion will help get your brain in the zone, keep you from missing important industry trends and — bonus! — can give you smart tidbits to discuss in your client meetings.

See also my suggested multichannel organization tools in the slideshow below.

How to Write for Other People Without Going Crazy — Write for Yourself

Even if spend your whole work day writing for other people — you STILL need to write for yourself. This is non-negotiable. You can’t spend all your words on other people; it’s not fair to you. Writing for yourself doesn’t require rounds of client approval and feedback. Writing for yourself gives you the opportunity to be silly — or, if all of your client writing is silly, it gives you the chance to be … macabre. Or philosophical. Or nerdy. It just plain keeps you from going crazy. That’s really the number one to do it, though there are plenty of others.

Writing for yourself “sharpens your saw,” as Stephen Covey would say (staying sharp by practicing your writing craft), and it’s also really, really helpful for your own marketing. An active blog shows your website visitors that you can crank out consistent content, and also helps attract new visitors and prospective clients to your site through the magic of SEO and social media distribution. It helps you find your OWN voice, which you have to hide while you’re writing in your clients’ voices. And you can take bigger risks and experiment in your own writing in a way that you can’t when you’re getting paid to write tried-and-true, reliable copy.

So — don’t go crazy. Write for yourself. Austin Kleon suggests that you do this in the morning BEFORE your day job takes all the life out of you. But maybe you love typing or scrawling away the dark hours of the night. You choose!

Taking Note — The Slides

For more detailed information on all of the above, here are my slides:

I hope to see you at the next #DigitalPorts — and if you want to share additional tips, or if you’d like ME to write for YOU, please do contact me.