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The copywriter and the swimming instructress

Sitting poolside after my swim one day, I fell into conversation with a swimming instructress, which led to an important insight about both our jobs…

“People have a blindspot about swimming,” said the swimming instructress.

“They learned to swim at school and don’t feel they need to take lessons as an adult to improve.”

I nodded.

“Think about other sports which adults do: golf, skiing,”

“Tennis,” we both said together.

“Adults take lessons in all these sports, but with swimming people feel they can just come to the pool, put on their trunks and get swimming,”

It’s the same about my job, I thought. Everyone learns to write at school. Capital letters. Full stops. And basic rules of grammar.

So is every business person suddenly a writer because they learned at school?

Well, not quite.

Organising information is a skill. I don’t just mean selecting what to include and exclude, but also determining relevance, the right level of detail and marshalling the information to a conclusion.

Writing clearly, concisely and consistently so that every piece of communication reinforces your brand and message — that’s a skill.

Using the right words for an expert, a layperson, a time-pressured business executive or non-native English speaker to keep them reading — that’s a skill, too.

It’s tricky because possessing a skill — or being competent at something — also helps you to recognise the skill in yourself and others. Conversely not possessing the skill may make you doubly burdened: you’re incompetent and unaware of it. Or as the swimming instructress put it, “people have a blindspot when it comes to swimming.”