Writing effective copy for your ad campaign, DVD promo, or even voicemail system takes a certain kind of expertise. Professional copywriters can do amazing things. I produce some content for many projects, and actually have training in technical writing, legal writing and radio scriptwriting as part of my Communications degree. But I don’t put myself out there as a copywriter. Still, there are mechanical limitations to how a script can be interpreted. With that in mind, I provide these few guidelines from a voice actor’s perspective:
- Be realistic about word count. If your message must be delivered in a specific duration, you can only fit so many words into the script. A :15 TV spot, for example, will accommodate only between 35 to 40 words. Deliveries that are supposed to sound rushed can definitely fit a few more words. But you can’t fit 100 word script into a :15 spot and expect effective brand building or ROI. Audiences can’t realistically understand let alone absorb a word-bloated :15 spot, if it can even be produced.
- Check your script before you send it to the voice actor. Nothing will delay a rush script faster than mistakes that could have been avoided, but are instead sent into production. Phone numbers and web sites are the usual suspects when it comes to script mistakes. Other culprits are bloated word counts for short commercial spots. To avoid delays and additional voiceover charges for script corrections, trim your script for the appropriate running time of your commercial, verify your contact information, and check any other detail before sending it for recording. Remember that voice actors are only responsible for their own mistakes, if such a thing can occur.
- Remember that numbers are words. A phone number is not a single word even if your word processor says so. A spoken ten-digit phone number is almost always ten separate words. Each digit should be included in your total word count to make sure it will fit in your :15 spot. (On projects that may be charged by the word, for voicemail systems for example, expect voiceover talents to appropriately count phone numbers and addresses as a separate word per digit.)
- Consider omitting superfluous information when script duration is an issue. For example, if your script has a web site address, remember that “www” is three words (or two if you use the more urban “trip dub”). The “www” is generally implied and you may want to consider dropping it from your script to save on precious real estate. Most web servers will in fact accept a web site address without “www.” Try your web site address and see whether it works without the trip dub.
- Don’t just write your script. Speak it. Conversation should flow, and often something that looks good in writing, sounds awkward when you say it out loud. Choose words that flow unless you’re trying to achieve a particular effect with the script.
- Create a script for your audience, not for your message. Describe your house first to an architect, then to a close friend, and finally to a child. Chances are good you would not choose the same words each time. Choose words that appeal to the people you’re trying to reach.
- Don’t translate more of the script than you should.
- If your script is to be translated into different language, Spanish for example, only provide a Spanish translation for a web site address if you’ve actually created the Spanish domain. Otherwise you’re sending people to a non-existent web site. That’s kind of a duh, but it happens.
- Similarly, only translate numbers in mailing addresses for English-speaking countries. Leave the “P.O. Box,” street names, citys and states in English (maybe with a slight Spanish pronunciation) to ensure that Spanish listeners correctly address mail the way an English-speaking postal worker will understand it.