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Saturday, April 20, 2024
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When it comes to copy writing (for press and pitches) forget the fluff and start to BLUF

This article is part of the game-dev advice newsletter Levelling the Playing Field by Rami Ismail. If you want to know more about the art, craft and science of game development, subscribe here. The newsletter is free but you can support the existence of LTPF with a small subscription fee.

A pattern most of us learn in school holds us back from writing clearly. Not games writing mind you, but copy writing – for pitches, store pages, press releases, & everything else. One simple trick – to BLUF – could help out.

BLUF stands for ‘Bottom Line Up Front’ – the idea that the conclusion is the first thing your audience reads, that you both pose and answer the question in the first sentence.

In copywriting, you want to start with the most important thing, and work your way down from there. This is sometimes referred to ‘the inverted pyramid’ in journalistic writing or as ‘thesis line’ in academic writing – but the US military coined the abbreviation ‘BLUF’, which I think is much more simple, and simplicity can make it easier to apply in your day-to-day life.

When it comes to writing pitches, business documents, alignment documents, press releases, or any form of interdisciplinary writing – the common conclusion-at-the bottom is a terrible style. We’re currently on the third paragraph of the article, and while it’s not unpleasant to read (I hope!) it really makes a difference whether you know what this article wants to teach you.

Rami Ismail

Click away in seconds

Working in games is a communication minefield: multidisciplinary communications, both internal and external, with the purpose of alignment or selling ideas. If you’re writing to a publisher or the press, they need to know whether this is useful to them immediately. Or if you’re writing a store page or a video script, people click away in seconds. When you’re writing to your development team, your team has more important things to do than reading (or they think they do, right, producers?).

A “Bottom Line Up Front” is very much about brevity, conciseness, and moving decision-making and conclusions to the top – so people can figure out whether it’s relevant to them to invest the time to read – and they can get to making decisions faster.

So how do you write a good BLUF?

  • Write normally – then remove the first paragraph, and move the last paragraph to the top.

The way we get taught to write in schools generally makes the first paragraph superfluous and the final paragraph the most important one. For anything you write ‘normally’, try removing the first paragraph, and moving the last one (or the most important one) to the top. Then rewrite the remaining text if needed.

  • Cut hedging words, filler words, weasel words, and buzz words.

“This e-mail is to open a discussion – I think we would do well to consider our options before making a call on the various clothing styles and suggestions that recently arrived from the art department.” is much harder to read “We should review the clothing suggestions from the art department”.

Note: research suggests removing hedging words is tougher for people from marginalized backgrounds, as they tend to avoid trying to take up space or claiming authority. If they make you feel less anxious, obviously consider leaving a few – but if you can safely do so, try reducing them over time.

  • Whatever you’re doing, think of what the point of the communication is, and get to those as soon as possible. Try to focus on the five W’s, ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, and ‘Why’.

For example: “We [Who] are unconvinced that the recently suggested [When/Where] reduction in content scope [What] would meaningfully reduce the budget, as content is a minor part of our expenses [Why].”

  • If you’re asking a question, implied or not, ask the question first.

“Rami, we’ve ran into some issues with a potential funding agreement. The publisher has been changing the termination clauses you warned about in the contract, and recently they also started changing some definitions in the Statement of Work. Would you have some time over the next few days to take a look at what is happening, or would you have a recommendation for someone who could?” could also be “Rami, do you have some time to look at some worrisome contract changes, or do you know a lawyer for that?”

  • If you’re answering a question, repeat the question in the answer:

You can become too brief too – context matters, so if you’re responding to a question, include the question: “We think turn-based is probably best.” does not give them same context as “In playtests we found that a turn-based paradigm fits the prototype best, which answers questions raised about the prototype’s gameplay last week.”

A Tool, not a rule

As always, BLUF is a tool – not a rule. BLUF can absolutely seem overly unattached or unemotional if applied without filter, and it is best used for sales (pitching & press) and decision-making (business partners & colleagues).

The trick of BLUF is to be aware of your writing, and to be intentional about what style of writing you pick. I wanted to let you know that there are alternatives out there to the traditional “context-to-conclusion” style most of us get taught in school. With the additional tools, you can figure out for yourself which ones fit where.

Actionables

  • Writing is one of the more treacherous parts of game development – not the narrative writing, but copywriting and communications writing. Take a moment to assess your own writing style: open up a few e-mails that you have sent to publishers, colleagues, or folks working at studio partners – evaluate the e-mail on how long it takes before it becomes clear what you need.
  • For any e-mail relating to sales, pitching, or decision-making, try using the concepts of BLUF. Rewrite the e-mail in a text editor, and see if you can make the e-mail feel natural.
  • Try to be more aware and intentional about your writing style. If you’re not aware with the terms ‘hedging words’, ‘filler words’, ‘weasel words’, and ‘buzz words’ – take a moment to learn about them. For English texts, consider using the tools at textcompare.org to scan your texts if leaving these out isn’t natural to you – copy your text into the input field, then go to the ‘Frequency’ tab to see how often you’re using certain words. The goal is not to minimize these words, but to see how often you’re using them to support your thesis or question – and how often you’re using them as padding or softening.

This is a summary of a much longer and frankly more elegant piece. Read the original post here.

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