How To Use Your Specialist Knowledge In The World Of Commercial Copywriting

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Time for a change?

If you’ve been working in an academic, scientific or medical field for the past ten years or more, you may well feel that it’s time for a change in direction. Whatever the reason, it can however feel like your trapped on your current career path, as it’s where your knowledge and experience are. For many academics and scientists though, a career in commercial copywriting can provide a way forwards along a new path, whilst leveraging the skills learned on the old one.

Copywriting opportunities for scientists and academics

There are many opportunities out there for academics and scientists who want to try their hand at copywriting. Some copywriting agencies specialise in providing highly accurate technical copy to scientific industries with commercial concerns, such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and you might be suited to a role at one of these. Many bigger firms meanwhile hire in-house copywriters with specific skills and experience relative to their industry, products and services. For example, if you have a medical background you might be suited to a copywriting job within a private healthcare firm.

A third option is to go freelance, selling your skills to all-comers and offering your technical expertise on an adhoc basis. This can potentially be the least secure option, particularly when starting out, but it can also offer the flexibility of working from home, or anywhere else you pitch up your laptop.

Transferring your knowledge and adapting your skills

If you’re coming from an academic background then you’ve probably done your fair share of writing over your career. But commercial copywriting is very different to academic writing, and in order to succeed you will need to understand these differences and master a new way of communicating. The differences can be broadly categorised as follows:

Audience: Unlike academic writing, in which you address peers with a similar knowledge base to your own, copywriting will often see you communicating directly with laypeople, whether they’re consumers, clients or investors. In order to effectively communicate with them you will need to put yourself in their shoes, and simplify complex topics without coming across as patronising.

Style/ tone: Academic writing also tends to be a dry and methodical exposition of facts, theories and findings. Copywriting demands a more compelling approach that will ensnare the attention of readers and keep them interested until the point that they’re ready to take action (buy a product, subscribe to a service etc).

Purpose: The purpose of copywriting is not to simply explore a subject or propose a hypothesis, as is often the case with academic writing. However if you’ve ever had to sell an idea to your academic peers then the purpose of commercial copywriting – to sell a product, service, investment opportunity etc - shouldn’t seem too alien.

These concepts can be further crystallised into a number of key points to bear in mind when writing copy:

  • Ditch the Jargon
  • Talk about benefits not features – tell the reader what’s in it for them
  • Use language which will engage your specific target audience
  • Simplify wherever possible
  • Keep it interesting

Writing for the web

We live in a digital age, and so many of the opportunities for getting into commercial copywriting are found online. Writing for online audiences requires further tweaking to ensure that your content communicates effectively with the reader.

One of the key things to bear in mind when writing for the web is that people tend to scan read, and will generally read less overall content than they would in print. With this in mind, you should break each piece of content into easily digestible chunks. This can be achieved by keeping your paragraphs relatively short, regularly introducing new topics with sub-headers, and including bullet points where appropriate.

In writing for the web, you might tackle a variety of different content types, including:

  • Webpage content
  • Blog posts
  • Online articles
  • Whitepapers
  • SEO landing pages

In the case of the latter you’ll also need to master the basics of writing for the search engines. At its simplest, this involves the integration of certain keywords or phrases within the natural flow of the copy.

Taking your writing commercial

If you’ve got a natural flair for writing, hands-on or academic experience in a specific field, and you’re willing to master a new set of skills, commercial copywriting can be a lucrative and rewarding career path that enables you to build on your previous experience.

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