Georgina Guedes

'Amazing' writing

2013-08-15 15:42

The internet and mobile technology have lowered the barriers to entry to many creative vocations like writing and photography. In the media industry in particular, many professionals in these fields are being marginalised by "citizen journalism" - essentially, anyone with a smartphone, a blog and an internet connection.

This is an evolving model, and it has its good points and its bad points. But as a professional writer who works for various corporate clients, I would like to point out that while anyone who writes is indeed a writer, that doesn’t necessarily make them a good writer.

I recently did a Johannesburg guide for a client of a client. I had been briefed to list various places of interest and restaurants in the city, with a short write-up highlighting the attractions of each. The client's client disagreed with some of my choices, and instead inserted her own locations and blurbs.

I can brook disagreement - if she thinks that Montecasino is the best that Johannesburg has to offer, who am I to argue? - but it was the wording of her finished copy that really got to me.

Nice and amazing

In five of her blurbs, she used the descriptor "amazing". In one of them, she used it twice. In another, she threw in a "nice" for variety. Now, while I get that she was going for a chatty and enthusiastic tone, what we ended up with was a failure to communicate.

"Amazing" is all well and good, but what's it telling us, really?

If my husband were to tell me that a new restaurant that opened in our suburb was "amazing", I'd be happy that he was ticking all my boxes of good food, vibe, décor and service. If someone who didn't know me or my tastes very well told me that a new restaurant was amazing, I would ask a few probing questions to get a sense of what they actually meant.

Heaven and Hell

There's that HSBC ad that depicts "heaven" and "hell" side by side. One image is the deck of a five-star luxury yacht; the other is a tent in a field under the starts. On the other side of the ad, the pictures are the same, but the "heaven" and "hell" labels are reversed.

Therein lies my point. People see the world differently. Overenthusiastic descriptors like "amazing" or why-bother adjectives like "nice", do very little to create an image in your readers' brains. They just let you know that someone completely different from you finds those things pleasant.

Descriptions like "minimalist décor with raw concrete floors and plain pine tables" will probably get your hipster readers in a lather, but let the Sandton glitz set know to stay away. Similarly, if you write, "The menu offers a wide variety of anything you could possibly want to eat - as long as it’s steak," you'd get a laugh, but you'd also have let your readers know exactly what kind of establishment they were heading to.

In both those instances, the décor and the food being described could be amazing to some, but certainly not to others. A good writer will seldom use meaningless or hyperbolic adjectives, and will instead fill their writing with descriptive terms that transport their readers, and get a message across clearly.

Better than the Average Joe

This is the reason that companies hire professional writers, and it’s the reason that professional writers can continue to charge more than the average Joe with a cell phone charges for what they produce. So if you want any old words on a piece of paper, leave it up to Joe. But if you want to communicate or transport your audience, hire a professional writer. And then don't mess with their work!

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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