How To "Sell"
"How do I sell my work?"
That's a question I have gotten a few times in my writing courses. I have found that it is usually asked when the researcher feels there must be some clever way of making a paper appear to be other than it is, either by using "sexy" language or by making large claims in the Introduction.
If we must think of how to sell with writing, let us turn to advice from people who regularly use writing to sell things: copywriters.
ADVICE FROM COPYWRITERS: PEOPLE WHO SELL with words
Here is what I learned from a copy writing course. Our instructor had worked for many years at a large, reputable agency in Boston, so I am assuming that what she told us was broadly in line with what most reputable agencies might tell their copywriters.
- Have a strategy. Before you begin drafting, you need a strategy to guide the process.
In a research context, this means thinking through some of the big-picture questions: What is the research question you are answering? Why is this a useful question to answer? Who would value the answer? What will people need to see in order to believe your answer? How will this question and answer enrich the literature that already exists?
- As part of your strategy, articulate the benefit to the consumer. When you are trying to sell something, you need to have a clear idea of how that thing will make life better for the person who buys it. In fact, you need to tell them exactly what the benefit to them will be.
In a research context, this might mean articulating how your paper could be useful for readers. What will be the benefit to them of reading your paper? What is it they need that your paper will offer them?
- Promise the consumer exactly what you can deliver and no more. It is tempting to draft a grand opening to hook the consumer. But if the consumer tries your product and feels they did not get what you promised (implicitly or explicitly), you have lost their trust. So what you say at the outset should be entirely supported by what they experience later.
In a research context, we have all come across Introductions that open with a grand first paragraph or two. They might describe a question that many researchers have been trying to answer for a long time or they might offer a staggeringly huge number that is relevant to everyone. The reader, hooked by the implied scale of the paper, then experiences a gradual let down: several paragraphs later, they discover that in fact the paper offers one small point on one aspect of a question in that grand scheme; or they discover that while the question may have been the grand one suggested at the beginning, the method used to answer it does not yield an answer they would trust. In such cases, the paper has promised more than it can deliver. It might be better to begin with a more modest opening that is more closely related to exactly what the paper offers.
- Write many versions of everything and use feedback to choose the right one. Only a very small percentage of all the words that copywriters write end up in a final draft. To get to good final draft, they write many versions of the same thing—even versions that aren't quite right—and reason through the choices with feedback from others. The process helps them to better understand both their own product and how customers view it.
In a research context, a paper can be pitched in many different ways. Unfortunately, there is often no shortcut to figuring out which way is best. So write up several versions of everything: from the research question to entire sections (like the Introduction). Use feedback wherever you can get it to help you see why something works and, just as importantly, why it doesn't work. You will walk out of the process having learned valuable things about your readers and your own work.
Post by Varanya Chaubey Image By Coca-Cola company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons