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A Passion for Prolixity

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 by Alicia

Copywriters value clarity and concision. Short, pithy, unambiguous—that’s the way we like our verbiage. We count words and lop clauses.

On our own time, though, maybe curled up in our favorite cozy chair with a nice steamy cup of tea and the latest issue of Puffball Gazetteer, or maybe catching up on email (even though our eyes are already glazed from the day’s labors at our keyboards) with dear old friends we haven’t seen since that memorable dorm party back at the U, we’re just as likely to blather on with a lot of blah, blah, blah as anybody else on the more verbal end of the whole left brain-right brain/math types vs. word types spectrum. Without the bracing discipline exerted by the carrot (paycheck) and the stick (deadline), copywriters, like any writers, are all too prone to revert to type: wordy, wordy, wordy!

To prove the point, we asked the Content Bureau’s staff of persnickety wordsmiths, obsessive style-guide police and graphic-design control freaks to expound on their favorite works that are decidedly not short, pithy, or unambiguous.

On the Road, of course, is the apogee of free-form bloviation,” says designer Renee LaFlamme. “And it just reduces me to tears that Kerouac typed it on a big long scroll of taped-up paper that he dumped on his publisher’s desk. Oh man, to be that sloppy and get away with it!”

The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Song of Hiawatha—really, the longer the better,” says writer Alan Stacy, whose own poetry hews to austere haiku formalism. “I used to make my kids recite them by memory for guests in our parlor, but one of their teachers threatened to call Child Protective Services.”

“Twelve down, 35 to go,” says editor Christine Kent of her marathon slog through Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope’s prolific output (not counting nonfiction and short form). Kent likes to “toggle over to the 19th century Russians as a palate cleanser—Tolstoy, Gorky, Dostoevsky—and I sometimes treat myself to an H. Rider Haggard side trip.”

“Sure, Gregorian chants are redundant,” says writer Keven Smith, whose avocation as a choralist contrasts starkly with his brutal efficiency as an explicator of business functions. “Redundant is the whole idea. Instead of sitting alone at a desk and excising too many instances of words like “enable” and “leverage,” I get together with a bunch of other 21st century men and drone tiny variations on medieval sacred texts. If I could walk around all day in monk robes, I’d dig that too.”

As for me, writer Alicia Springer, I favor a cinematic genre I call LOOOONG films: the Lengthy Oeuvre Of Old, Old Noted Geniuses, such as Manoel de Oliveira (born 1908), Eric Rohmer (born 1920), Alain Resnais (born 1922), Mrinal Sen (born 1923), and Jacques Rivette (born 1928), all still directing films well, well, well beyond the usual age of retirement—and not the slightest bit concerned with being short, pithy, or unambiguous. (Well, Rohmer can be short and pithy—but never unambiguous.)

Now, back to work writers, editors, and designers. And keep it clear and concise.

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How to Write a Great Customer Quote

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 by Lauren

At their best, customer case studies provide compelling proof points that support your message. And at their worst, they read like messaging documents sprinkled with stilted quotes. Yawn. So how can you make sure your customer case studies compel—not repel—readers? With persuasive quotes from actual customers. I’ve been writing case studies with Content Bureau for […]

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Thursday, October 29th, 2009 by Stacy

Friends, It’s time for a little spooky fun. What do we love to read during Halloween week, but is too scary for the kidlets? The Legend of Sleepy Hollow If, like me, you’re on the West Coast but missing a NY fall, page 12 is a must-read. If you must jump straight to the chase, […]

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Is My Writing Too Passive?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by Lisa S.

Your Highness: This letter is being written because I’ve been told that there is a problem with my writing. Specifically, a problem with the passive voice. But understanding this is difficult. I mean, my job is in marketing. I’m supposed to be good with words. And language has always come easily to me—out-of-the-box thinking is […]

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Making Your Case: A Guide to Compelling Customer Case Studies

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Client

I recently took a stroll down memory lane—and tripped and fell. The occasion was a look at some of the first customer case studies I ever wrote, way back in 1992. Rereading those pieces, it turned out, was not exactly a pleasant excursion—more like visiting an embarrassing relative. I was relieved no one else would […]

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“After Deadline,” The New York Times

Thursday, October 8th, 2009 by Chris

If you want to learn how to write clean copy, fast and under the gun – for marketing or any other arena where clarity is valued – the best training is in a big-city newsroom. (Assuming there are any such jobs left in journalism, but that’s another story.) Those of us lucky enough to have […]

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Who Should Run the Company’s Social Media Efforts?

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Stacy

While consumers and small businesses tweet away, large businesses struggle to determine their corporate and product-level social media strategies. Should each product group have its own blog, Facebook fan page, and Twitter account? Who is responsible for ensuring that each product term has an accurate wiki? We recommend that corporate marketing departments develop high-level social […]

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Top Five Must-Have Marcom Assets for Fall ’09

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by Stacy

Friends, Certain asset types have been particularly popular this year. Through a skinny budgeting cycle, these projects have remained on the marketing manager’s to-do list—mostly because salespeople continue to clamor for them. Top Five Must-Have Marcom Assets for Fall ’09: Playbook. What’s not to love about an easy-to-read guide that helps field and channel partners […]

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Splendora

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 by Stacy

We are a serious technology marcom copywriting agency. That doesn’t prevent us from going gaga over great consumer-focused advertorials authored by the genius girlfriends at Splendora of San Francisco. CEO Gina Pell describes Splendora’s voice: “We’re Cat Deely meets Tim Gunn.” Plus a lot of Gina. Sassy first—to grab your attention. Then informative. You can’t […]

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How Do I Use the Subjunctive?

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by Lisa S.

Your Highness: As part of my job in a large corporation, I must communicate in writing with my colleagues and customers. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, holding as I do a degree from a fancy business school and all, but here goes: When it comes to grammar, I’ve been faking it for 34 […]

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