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How to handle too much information

As a copywriter, I usually ask a client to give me as much information as possible. If I have to write something for them about a product or service, I want to know everything.

Of course, that usually brings an information dump. It’s not just what they tell you. In this day and age, they don’t sift the information, they just email you every document they can find. PDFs, Word files, PowerPoint presentations, even spreadsheets. And they refer you to websites, with comments such as: “You’ll find more information here.”

Yes, but where, exactly?

You need to go through all this information and extract the pieces that you need. I find one of the best ways is simply to resort to cut and paste. Get everything that is conceivably useful and dump it into one text document.

For a recent job, I was writing a mailer for a business school. I ended up with over 30 pages of information in a Word document, when all I needed was a few hundred words or so – perhaps a thousand at most.

Keep cutting away at what you don’t need and you should be left with some clear, brief benefits which you can knock into shape.

So I whittled and whittled and whittled. Gradually, I pruned and cut away everything I didn’t need, rewriting and improving anything that looked useful. Until in the end, there was nothing of the original text left. All that remained was stuff I had written. It was focused, structured and brief, concentrating on the benefits, with a creative theme running through it that gives a strong visual lead to the designers.

It’s a reasonable piece of work. It won’t win any awards, but it’s probably better than the client’s competition have ever produced. And that can’t be bad, because I wasn’t feeling remotely inspired at any point during the whole process. But by getting down to some hard work and whittling away at that big block of information, I’ve got the job finished in a way that should work for the client and help them achieve their aims.

They say great novels aren’t written. They are mined like a diamond through constant rewriting.

I think the same principle can be applied to a lot of copywriting. Keep cutting away at what you don’t need and you should be left with some clear, brief benefits which you can knock into shape.