Should you cp from copywriters?

Spend any time on the Internet looking at software information and you will find bad writing. Many software developers fail to write well. Or interestingly. Or persuasively. What should we do as a software community? Simple. Learn from those who write for a living.

My family gave quite a few puzzled looks when I got my copy of the The Copywriter’s Handbook for Christmas. This was not one of my typical “nerd books” so it was easy to understand the curious expressions. The book has none of the usual characteristics of my reading fare except for being non-fiction. They had no idea how this appeared on my Amazon wish list.

The handbook, written by Bob Bly, made it to my list after a posting by a prolific Perl blogger, chromatic. chromatic highlighted an area where software developers are poor communicators, and he suggested that we could all learn a thing or two from Bob about writing. I absolutely agree.

I read the handbook with few expectations since it was totally out of my field of expertise. After completing it, I have a couple of specific comments for software people.

  • You don’t need to understand all of copywriting. If you read the book, don’t bother with the “How to Get a Job as a Copywriter” (unless, of course, you’re planning on a career change).
  • The first five chapters on how to write and communicate with text are more useful to developers than the chapters on specific topics (e.g., writing brochures).

The Copywriter’s Handbook is a great reference tool. Read the chapters that are on topics that interest you. Scan or skip the rest.