Finding the Words
3 steps for quality copy that tells your studio’s story
In most industries and professional contexts that aren’t out-and-out journalism, effective writing is often relegated to an afterthought. When it is prioritised, this is mainly in the service of marketing a product or brand. In the world of game development, however, where online followings and external stakeholders can decide the fate of indie studios, your company’s image can sometimes be as important as your product— and this is one area where the language of marketing can’t stand in for an authentic voice.
As a Community Manager with a background in copywriting, in addition to working on our products and their communities I’m also the main point of contact for all of Mighty Bear’s inward- and outward-facing copy as a games studio. This can mean writing/editing external decks for investors or collaborators, company statements, social posts, even the articles for this Medium series.
In this article, I make the case that the right copy and a consistent tone of voice across all written materials has the potential to help form the backbone of a studio’s image, making its core values visible and readily accessible to all. I try and uphold this overall quality and cohesiveness by editing mine and my colleagues’ copy in 3 stages, which I’ll be breaking down for you below!
Make sure to go over any text a minimum of 3 times, editing with a different focus each pass. This staged approach helps me block out the distinct qualities I want the writing to have, as well as preventing me making too-significant edits before I have a full grasp of the material’s content or main point.
NB: Remember to read the text as a READER — not a writer, not an editor, but an ordinary reader. Try and get into as neutral a headspace as possible when considering the effect the writing has on you: this will help you pick up on what to change from the perspective that matters most.
1. Grammar and Spelling
First, proof purely for grammar and spelling. Correct any words and restructure any sentences that are objectively incorrect or ungrammatical as you read. Read dispassionately and without special any investment in the subject of the text itself: you’re simply scanning here. You’ll probably also naturally get a sense for the tone and style established throughout, but don’t concern yourself with those until later.
Second, proof for readability. Again, approach this pass with a strictly functional focus, but broaden your lens a bit. How does the copy sound in your head? Can you follow its thread without having to read some sentences twice? Go back over the text to make the writing cogent and direct wherever possible, even if it’s all strictly grammatically correct.
Make sure the points are made clearly and not clouded by, e.g., adjectives that don’t communicate anything relevant, or extra clauses that cause the reader to lose the thread of the sentence. Break up long passages with full stops. In short, make any changes that allow you, the reader, to better understand the points being made.
That said, it’s important to allow authors their poetic license. This isn’t just a courtesy: it’s a way of letting the diversity of individual voices at your company shine through. If a colleague goes out of their way to conjure an image or use humour to get their point across in a way unique to them, don’t just axe it for brevity’s sake: do your best to keep it in and make it as readable as possible.
This goes double for editing a colleague’s slideshow or deck: they’re going to be the one “selling” that copy when presenting aloud— whether internally or externally — and you want them to be able to deliver it with the confidence that comes from channeling their own perspective and personality. They’ll be a lot less comfortable if you’ve outright replaced their most personal touches with a bunch of your own material just to play it safe.
3. Style and Tone
This is where you zoom out and read with two big-picture considerations in mind:
- The text’s intended function. Who is this copy for, and what should be its aim? What effect does it need to have on this theoretical reader?
- The company’s tone of voice. Does the copy give you a wider sense of where the company is coming from? Does how the text is written align with the company’s wider philosophy as you understand it?
Mighty Bear’s values and tone-of-voice standards are outlined in detail and documented in the company Notion database. In other words, I’m spoiled for support on this one!
At this stage of the edit, I refer again and again to these principles and how they underpin all that goes on at Mighty Bear Games. One example of their relevance to my editing work is our Medium articles. One of Mighty Bear’s most fundamental pillars is being transparent about our practices and spreading industry knowledge with the aim of guiding and encouraging others. (What else is a Medium series for?!) Another one is the desire to strike a personal and conversational tone with our audience. Having these in mind helps me keep our Medium articles’ tone consistent. When I’m reading for tone and an article starts to sound more like documentation or an instruction manual, I might turn a passive-voice construction into one that directly addresses the reader — or even a simple “I will” to “I’ll”.
These seemingly small-time touches add up: together, they contribute to an overall tone that unites all your output under a set of shared sensibilities, one your readers will come to recognise and associate with your studio.
So — read through once more, in real depth this time, making sure the text maintains a consistent tone throughout, and that this tone in turn serves the function of the piece. This could mean rethinking the use of certain language and rhetorical devices, or even details as fine as punctuation.
As always, put yourself in the shoes of the reader, and you’ll be able to sense any lapses in tone or off-sounding passages during this third pass.
Bonus: Know Your Voice
If like Mighty Bear your studio has its Tone of Voice guidelines or company values set down in writing, make these your bible. Having a standard to steer by will help you frame your edit, so that your decisions when it comes to tone are never just guesswork.
If your company has no such documents, talk to a manager or someone versed in the company’s outlook (this might be someone in leadership or HR, or maybe just a colleague with many years of experience at the company). What do you value? What do you stand for? It pays to know this inside-out when approaching all copy: as the whole of your studio’s writing starts to paint a wider picture of these values, anyone who encounters your company’s messaging regularly will come to see them too.
Finally, read through one last time to catch any final typos. There’s always at least one.
I hope the stages of this editing process, and the ideas behind them, give a decent account of how much thought can go into all forms of copy — and the collective power of this writing to give your studio (or any company) an even stronger sense of identity.
No matter your take, I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic — leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Finding the Words was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.