07 January 2013

It’s only words...

What is it about writing, especially factual (technical) writing, that has so many people believing they can do a better job than – or at least, as good a job as – someone with training and experience? Is it because everyone (at least, all of you reading this) can read and, by extension, write? In the sense of putting one word after another on a piece of paper or a screen, that’s true: everyone can write...but can they write well.

There’s something about the written word that seems to encourage people to do something they would never do with other professions. Or maybe they would. A recent experience reminded me of the attempt by an amateur to restore a Spanish fresco.

I had been commissioned to write about a technical process in an engaging way to highlight the innovative practices a company were following. The first draft was duly submitted and reviewed by my client, quickly followed by an updated version incorporating requested changes – so far, so good. After some time chasing for feedback, I was told that my client’s customer (about whom the piece was written) had made a large number of changes.

I was astonished, amused and annoyed in turn: astonished that someone should take it upon themselves to make changes instead of simply asking for them to be made (especially when someone else was paying the bill); amused (and dismayed) at the stilted and disjointed result and annoyed that my client was subsequently told a ‘favour’ was owed because of the amount of ‘necessary’ work incurred.

I have no problem with people wanting changes to things I have written – this is normal in my world, and part of what I am (and was) paid to do. However, it would have taken seconds for my client’s customer to say, “It’s factually accurate, but I would prefer a more formal style” instead of the hours that apparently were spent ‘improving’ the vocabulary and sentence structure. The changes would have taken me much less time than they reportedly took my client’s customer – and they would have been seamless.

No accounting for taste!


1 comment:

  1. Brilliant blog entry!

    It's a constant source of frustration for most copywriters. It gets on my bloody nerves! I don't tell people how to design or project manage; but I'm always being told how to write! And by people with a worse grasp of English grammar, than a foreigner.


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