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Content design and copywriting go hand-in-hand in the pro writer’s toolbox

All writers need a fully stocked toolbox. Aside from copywriting skills, did you know that design could and should be one of them?

1. Toolbox: everyone needs somewhere to put their talents

A toolbox needs a container. I look at the container of the writer as the entire body, not just the head. I say ‘whole body’ because humans are influenced by many things.

We seek connection, we ride the zeitgeist, and we are moved by stories. Those things are not simply cerebral. Writers need all our senses to be able to empathise with our readers and users. You’re the container.

2. Tools: qualities and basic items you need to succeed as a writer

These are your writerly essentials, the 5 c’s:

Copy: Messaging communicated through text.

Content: Messaging communicated through textual, visual or audio materials (or combination of).

Creativity: You definitely need this to be able to see patterns, make links, place things in interesting ways, contrast elements, and have an overall vision for your project.

Confidence: If you’re starting out as a writer you sometimes need courage to try new things, learn from failures and simply get your voice out there. Your confidence will grow over time. If you’re seasoned, you call on your confidence to keep turning up and writing, because coordinating and producing all things ‘communication’ can be challenging (oh, so many ‘c’ words in this section!).

Compassion: “Empathy” is probably the better word here, but all the others above had a ‘c’. You need to have had sufficient practice to imagine who is going to read or consume the message.

3. Craft: skills that you have honed over many years

Design thinking: Design is setting up a specific scenario to afford a specific experience for the user. If the user is an afterthought, that’s how you end up with ATMs that spit out the card after you’ve taken your money. It’s how you get boring apps people stop using because they don’t fulfil a real need.

To be both a copywriter and a content designer you need the agility to easily shift from macro to micro and back, to structure and words, to creating outcomes and making your words and elements engaging.

Writing skills: You might not be the author of the message that is to be shared; it’s been given to you to spread. Depending on where and who the copy will go, you need to employ the ‘art of writing’. Your skills must respond to the requirements in the purpose of the communication, its readership and where it can be found.

4. Building blocks: the fabric of your writing service

These are the different materials that you may need to build your project. Some of these will be provided. Some of them you will need to make from scratch. Make sure you have some good tools and craftsmanship (above) so you can work your genius into the following:

  • Words

  • Visual files

  • Audio/Visual files

  • Audio files

  • Interactivity

  • Promise of transformation

5. Blueprint: know what you’re going to be working on!

You cannot start a project with a clear brief concerning the audience; their problem; your solution; the intent. The brief might be a copywriting brief, or a content design brief. Here’s what each type of brief can do for your project.

Copywriting brief This provides clarity on the audience, tone of voice, messaging, the goal, the budget and measurable outcomes. Copywriting is single-minded; attached to a single message with one objective.

Content design brief

This will have all the above plus a request for user research for insights to come up with the right questions to lead to the right idea, wireframes to test the waters, and iterations and refinements even after launch. Content design is process-oriented, as it’s about service/product experience and engagement. =

Project time!

What do you need to communicate? How will the building blocks support your message? Which skills have you practised the most? How well do you know the audience you’re making this message for?

Content design project

When you’re creating an immersive experience as part of your service or use of a product. It’s arranging text, imagery, footage, sound. Think of it as curating. Which content to show which users, when?

Content design is 3D as it involves timing, engages more senses, and it is integrated into a product such as a user interface or an actual digital product. The product could be a complete marketing campaign. Even when you are copywriting for a website, you will be making user-friendly decisions around what to put, and where. You need to take into account the user’s journey and experience.

Copywriting project

When you want people to take a specific action: such as become aware of a product or brand, feel warmer towards a brand, tell their friends what it does, take some other action like engage, or simply buy.

You are mostly using words in 2D, literally either on paper or on a screen and biased towards the visual field. Copywriting is an element of content design, and it is a tool you use as part of a larger project.

What’s the state of your writing toolbox?

Open up your toolbox and share some of your tools and processes in the comments!

Jane Hardjono calls herself “that embodiment writer” and is a nonfiction book coach based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Visit Jane’s website or follow her on LinkedIn.



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