Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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Writing Relay

Author: ; Published: Sep 29, 2010; Category: Business Writing, Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , , ; No Comments

relay race

I’m always writing things for my clients. That’s what I do. But in some cases I might be writing with my clients.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in the same room together brainstorming, writing things down, and tossing wads of crumpled paper on the floor. But we might meet over the phone or in person to talk about the document needed, its purpose, audience and the information to be included.

Sometimes I take the lead, starting a first draft. This lets me overcome that dread of the blank page that paralyzes some clients. Then the client might run the next lap, fleshing out the main concepts, with information that only they know.

Other times the client does the brain dump first and then I go in and do the cleanup on their rough draft, organizing all their information into something that has the right tone, length and if needed, with more of a marketing approach.

Any writing project can become more manageable when you have someone to help you with the parts you just don’t have time for or are just don’t like to do.  So if that’s writing the first draft, I can do that.  If that’s taking your rough and shaping it up, I can do that, too.

I can research the topic or you can simply tell me what you know. Or we can go into combo mode—give me the information you have and then I’ll go hunt down the rest.

Just because you’re the subject matter expert doesn’t mean you can’t get help shaping the knowledge you have into a well-organized article, web page, press release, or copy for various marketing materials.

So stop running the marathons on your own and sign up for the relay team. Let’s get your ideas down on paper and help you sell your stuff.

If content is king, why is it so often treated like a serf?

Author: ; Published: Feb 24, 2010; Category: Business Writing; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments

King John

A website is a communications piece.  The medium has its own requirements for organization, design, writing, and technical production. Like any marketing project, it’s always best if the writer is there from the get-go to help organize information and write copy. It just doesn’t seem to happen that way all the time.

There’s a famous saying that when it comes to websites, content is king*. So I wondered, if that’s so, then why is it so often treated like a second-rate citizen rather than the top dog?  I spoke with web developer Ray Gulick of Evolution Web Development to get his take.  Here are a few excerpts from our conversation.

*Although content can be defined to include both the text and images, today we’re going to talk about just the words.


“What happens is that when people decide they want a website, it doesn’t necessarily click that a website has to have content, or where content comes from,” Ray explains.  They think a website is a menu, a cool header, and footer and somehow all that stuff in between shows up.”

Ray says that of course he explains to people that website design is based on the content, and that a writer could help them present focused messages, but they often say they’ll do the content themselves, completely underestimating how much work it’s going to be. 

Sometimes they have an in-house writer or marketing director, but that person may be unfamiliar with how to write web content. Other times a smaller business owner will think they’ll do it themselves because who else understands what they do?  And anyway, why pay for a writer—they have Word so they can write.

When clients elect to do their own content, Ray sends them off to do their “homework.” By the time the next meeting rolls around, they quite often have come to realize that focusing their marketing messages and pulling together all the writing is going to be more work than they imagined. “Some folks need to have that experience trying it before they really understand what’s involved.” Sometimes at that point they are ready to bring in a writer.

“My best estimate is somewhere over 90% of my clients really could use the services of a copywriter,” says Ray. “There’s nothing worse than spending money on a website and finding that it doesn’t meet your goals because the communication is muddled. You could have spent a bit more and had something that actually works.”

Ray jokes that he wishes sometimes he had a computer application that would magically create content. He’d call it the Content Fairy and make a lot of money selling it to other web developers.  Until then, I guess he’s just going to have to bring in writers like me.


I guess I’m not the only one wondering why writers aren’t brought in sooner to web projects.

The Communication Arts Interactive Annual 2010 came out recently and Ingrid Bernstein, one of the judges of the international competition, was asked the question:

How can creative teams most efficiently produce the strongest solutions?

Bernstein, the digital strategy director at JWT New York, answered that the writer should be in on web projects sooner, and gave some of the benefits of that.

See and hear her complete answer in this short video clip.


What was your major?

Author: ; Published: Jan 21, 2010; Category: Business Writing, Message Simplicity; Tags: , , , , ; No Comments

Smith College 1902 basketball

Way back at the dawn of time, I went to college. I did not major in geology, biology or computer science. I majored in English. 

I was regularly told by my father and others how worthless this was.  Why bother majoring in English unless I wanted to be an English teacher? Wouldn’t it be better to major in something practical, like business?

Over the years, however, I’ve come to appreciate my Liberal Arts education. For one thing, it teaches you to think. Since I’ve ended up helping people with their marketing messages and materials, being able to think is a good thing.

Organizing thoughts in a way that others can understand is even better. In fact, it’s a very useful skill.  Here’s why.

Most people can tell me all about what they do. They do it well; they know their stuff and sound great.  Of course if you transcribed and analyzed what they told me, you’d see that their thoughts are scattered, and not always in a logical order.

That’s normal.Translating spoken information into written form generally takes a little work.

But here’s the beauty of interviewing someone and taking copious notes.  After the meeting I can organize the notes, grouping bits of information by topic and concept and voila, suddenly the person is not only brilliant to listen to, they also look brilliant in written form, whether it’s on the web or on paper.

Once, after a scientist told me all about his very technical product and I seemed to understand him, asking semi-intelligent questions, he asked me: What was your major? He just couldn’t believe that I was grasping this technical information without an advanced scientific degree. How could a mere English major do this?

But here’s the deal. This was our third meeting and I was going back and reading up in between each session. I was reviewing the notes and doing research. And I was grouping and organizing the information to make it easier to understand.

So the point is:  It’s not about my lack of a science degree, it’s about having the skills to organize information no matter the topic. It’s about listening and categorizing and coming up with ways to present what you do so your customers will understand it.