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Can Bad Writing Suck The Joy Out of Voice Over Work?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

December 31, 2008

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When customers present you with copy that has grammatical errors, missing words or abbreviations, do you edit the text to be more comprehensible?

Is massaging copy a common practice by voice over talent?

Read one voice actor's account and add your voice to the conversation.

Your Story Ideas at Work

In December of last year, Paul Plack contacted me with a story idea for the VOX Daily blog about copy and whether or not voice over talent are responsible for reworking copy.

After you've read Paul's story, I invite you to comment with your thoughts. We are both excited to hear your thoughts and think it would be interesting to document what goes on industry wide. All perspectives are welcome.

Massaging Copy : To Do or Not To Do?

Submitted by Paul Plack

I did lots of small voice projects in the 1990s, but have focused on a few big, steady accounts the past few years. Now that I'm actively pursuing smaller projects again, I'm reminded of an issue which can take the joy out of our work - bad writing.

Not surprisingly, I notice this most in the lowest budget tier. I'm not referring here to the radio and TV commercials with copy which doesn't match the specified length, lacks imagination, contains tongue-twisters or just sells the product poorly. I can cheerfully crank those out like anyone else. I'm talking about grammar or other defects which make it tough to understand the copy, and tougher still to convey meaning to listeners.

In some cases, writers who normally work in print are tasked with turning out copy for spoken-word, and it winds up filled with parentheses, abbreviations, or sentence structure which preclude sounding natural. By the nature of their creative process, talking books often pose this problem. Sometimes, we're given copy lifted directly from a print ad, and it's clear nobody has even tried reading the script aloud before sending it out. The worst cases make the reader sound foolish and unprofessional.

I was once given a photocopy of a client's ad from the yellow pages of the phone book as copy. I saw one request for bids which provided no copy at all, and expected the voice talent to create his own!

I can think of various approaches to this issue. If you're busy enough to be choosy, you can simply decline to bid. If you're feeling charitable, you could offer to touch up the copy, at the risk of offending the client.

I recently worked with an international client who doesn't use English day-to-day. The copy was generally very well done, but used a few figures of speech which sounded a little stiff or forced. I suggested a few changes, and apparently did so with enough tact that the client welcomed the input. But, I ran at least some risk of losing the job, especially since I made the suggestions at the audition stage.

How do we handle this?

Do you feel taking the time to massage copy is an unproductive use of your time? Would you rather risk offending the client, or put out work which doesn't meet your standards? If you offer such suggestions to clients often, how many clients were alienated, and how many were appreciative?

I'd be interested in the groups thoughts.


Paul Plack

Related Topics: industry, radio, TV


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