Copywriting for Print vs. Digital

Copywriting is copywriting, any way you slice it.

Right?

For professional writers weighing the differences between writing for print and writing for digital, this distinction is important. And understanding it can mean the difference between a portfolio of satisfied clients, and a string of embarrassing rewrites.

So, what are these key differences to remember, and how can copywriters leverage them to their advantage?

Wordsmithie takes a look!

Consider the possibilities and limitations of the format

Like an artist’s canvas or a musician’s instrument, a good copywriter needs to understand the inherent limitations – and unique possibilities – of the format he or she is writing for.

Writing for graphics and visuals

As a professional copywriter, you’re just one member of a marketing orchestra that also includes graphic designers, editors, developers, and other stakeholders at many levels. You supply the words that play in perfect harmony with what others supply.

The design components are particularly important:Depending on what visual elements your copy will be sychronizing with,you’ll need to write with one eye firmly focused on the final product.

For example, if you are writing summaries for a report that will include graphs and charts, you’ll want to include referential language like “As you can see from this chart, ,” or “As shown in the graph here” that makes it easier for the reader to follow and understand the flow of the material. Just remember that, once it goes to layout, the placement for those elements may vary on the page, so avoid describing the exact location of the visual element.

Similarly, copywriters will want to confirm with the project’s editors and designers whether they will simply need to summarize certain information that also will be represented in a graph, or if they will need to deliver stand-alone, comprehensive copy that explains everything a graph would have – including the data, its scale, the number of subjects, and more. Also, ask about whether you need to supply a caption for the design element (this goes for photos as well).

In print media, editors will (almost always) provide this information to a writer at the beginning of a project, since print formatting tends to be fairly set in stone, and governed by several factors outside of the writer’s control.

In digital media, however, there is often more flexibility, since many webpages can simply expand to accommodate more text, and any visual elements are (relatively) simple to move around or will be optimized for display settings such as mobile vs. desktop. Asking to see an example of a similar page layout before you start writing can help you understand the general look and feel. And always ask for character count limits for all elements (especially if you’re dealing with something like emails or other heavily templated layouts).

Formatting for emphasis

Another area where a copywriter must consider design and formatting is when deciding how to create emphasis within the text.

In digital media, basic HTML makes it extraordinarily simple to bold, italicize, and change the size of text to create emphasis. For example, if a digital writer wants to call attention to a specific change, they can so using any of the following three (3) ways:

Please note: this has changed.
Please note: this has changed.

Please note: this has changed.

In print, however, this ability may be limited by font sets, brand style guides or other logistical considerations. Often, the only way to create textual emphasis is by simply…well…writing more emphatically. That’s where your skill as a copywriter comes in!

Print is permanent: proofreading and editing

One of the other biggest differences between print and digital is that print is absolutely, completely, utterly permanent. You get no do-overs, and you can’tt send your print editor a frantic email at 1 a.m.asking to stop the presses because you used the wrong spelling of “there” or misattributed a quote.

To that end, writers must be—perhaps—even more careful in their print proofreading and self-editing than in digital. Not that we should be ignoring digital mistakes and hitting “submit.” But copywriters should be extra careful when their words will be appearing in print, since they cannot be changed without substantial additional costs.

We recommend every print copywriter execute additional rounds of proofreading than they might otherwise for digital. Also, we highly recommend stepping away from your copy overnight, and coming back to it the next day with fresh eyes. Then, read your copy out loud; your tongue will catch more slip-ups and awkward language than your eyes. Not that you’re more likely find mistakes, necessarily, but any changes, tweaks, or improvements to the copy that you discover or decide you’d like to make…well, your only chance is now, before you deliver your final version.

All of that said, copywriters should approach every assignment—whether in print or digital—with the utmost care, skill, and respect for the client’s project.

Summing it up…

Digital copywriting and print copywriting require similar skills, but each includes unique considerations and challenges for professional copywriters.

By keeping these differences in mind, copywriters can deliver better copy to their clients, better meet their demands, and—in turn—build an ongoing portfolio of loyal, satisfied clients.

Jason Rogers

A graduate of the College of William & Mary and La Sorbonne, Jason has worked in content marketing all over the world, serving as Director of Digital Marketing for the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, China. Based in Washington, D.C., Jason covers the National Hockey League as a credentialed reporter and television analyst; he has wordsmithed for high-visibility institutions and companies from the United States Congress to Google. He loves hockey, hip-hop, and original hyperbole.
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