Why you can’t just copy and paste your copy – website writing versus printed material text
“Can’t you just copy it from our existing website?” Sorry folks, no cutting corners (or cutting and pasting) here. Web copy does not translate well to print (or vice versa), even when you’re talking about the same product to pretty much the same audience.
Just these last few days, I’ve been writing brochure copy. I’ve written for this client before, and up until now, it’s all been web copy. Switching from updating the website to starting on the brochure, with only a quick coffee break in between, was not a good plan. After I’d been writing for a while, I realised that I’d been automatically writing SEO-type headers. New habits die hard. Oh and don’t type in a hyperlink (red face…).
So, the obvious aside, why do we need to write differently for web and printed copy?
It’s largely because people read differently depending on whether they are looking at a screen or at printed text.* Faced with something on paper, we are more likely to read it “properly”, from beginning to end, like we were taught at school. Looking at a web page, we go more anarchic, our eyes wandering all over the page, looking for headers and snippets that allow us to get to the point quickly. I don’t know if it’s reverence for the written-down word or simply a time issue, but I bet most of us read more carefully when we’re holding a piece of paper. Web copy deals with scan reading by keeping sections short and well-signposted.
Printed stuff is, well, posher. There is an expectation that printed material is a bit more formal. There’s less reliance on nice, lazy punctuation, like hyphens. The convention tends to be more “it is” than “it’s”. This doesn’t mean that the language has to be less contemporary or more straight-laced, and it still needs to be clear (don’t suddenly morph into a Victorian author just because you’ll see your work in print).
Proofreading has to be even more careful. It’s one thing emailing your designer to say “Argh, just noticed a typo!” – it’s quite another to take delivery of 2,000 leaflets and spot you’ve got your name wrong on the front cover… I’m about to start on a brochure proofreading project – wise people.
With any printed copy, please make sure you like it. Websites can be changed easily, whereas a flyer is a commitment. Make sure that the writing and design (or the writer and designer) work closely together to make the best use of the space. Future-proof a brochure by not putting this year’s prices or dates on it – a link to the website with its nice updateable format is a good plan here.
So you see, this is not what we wily writers do to drum up a few extra quid. The same principles of readability, clarity, accuracy and tone apply – but those few tweaks between media can make all the difference.
*OK, for the purposes of this post, let’s forget about Kindles etc and reading the newspapers on your tablet. It’s going to confuse my point. And me.