Writing is often seen as an inexpensive pursuit. After all, most of us can write with little more than a pen and paper.
When it comes to professional copywriting though, we need more than a quill and parchment to get great copy out of the door and into the hands of our clients. And marketers who find themselves writing often might find life easier if they take a peek at the technology we use.
So this blog looks at the kinds of gear that help professional copywriters to do our very best work. It will also give you some advice on what to look out for when making your essential purchases, so you get quality equipment without going over budget.
Essentials: your computer
The computer is the centrepiece of any copywriter’s world. Thankfully, as email clients and word processors aren’t especially compute-intensive, it’s something you won’t need to spend the earth on.
Offering a complete rundown of different computer brands and hardware types is beyond the scope of this guide (you could probably write a whole book on it if you wanted), but I can offer some general things to keep in mind if you’re shopping for a new computer:
- Seriously consider getting a laptop – Desktops are great for many things, but flexibility isn’t one of them. With a portable machine, you can always respond quickly if you need to attend an event, meet a client, or work while travelling.
- Check for reliability – You won’t need oodles of RAM or an i7 CPU to run a word processor, but you definitely want something you can rely on. Do your research and make sure whatever you buy is built to last. When it comes to this essential kit, it’s worth paying a bit extra for peace of mind.
- SSDs are worth the money – While not essential, solid state drives are a good investment for any computer. They can be quite expensive still, but the price per GB is coming down every day—making these a very compelling upgrade option. Pop one in your computer (or better yet, get one pre-installed if you’re buying a new system), and you’ll quickly see a significant improvement to boot and application load times.
Essentials: word processing software
Assuming you’ll be writing a lot of documents, you’ll need some decent software to write them in.
While there are some great free options available (many of which we covered on one of our earlier podcasts), you’re going to have to ignore them in favour of Microsoft Word.
(I know; I’m sorry too.)
MS Word is a fine piece of software (in spite of its many eccentricities and flaws), but the main reason is that it’s what everyone uses. It’s the industry standard, so you can guarantee almost all your contacts will have MS Word available to them. With everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, you can rest assured your documents will always come through looking exactly as they should, without any garbled artefacts that are common when word processors have to interpret non-standard file types.
You can get away with mixing and matching word processor file conventions in some disciplines, but when you bring the tracked changes, extensive comments, and other features that are important to the writing process, you’ll really want everyone to be using the same program. So just bite the bullet and pay for MS Word.
Helpfully, you do at least have a choice of how you do that, with both up-front desktop licenses and monthly subscription alternatives with Office 365.
Essentials: a calendar/time management application
But it’s not all about writing great copy. A professional also delivers on time.
When you’re juggling lots of projects, you’ll want a reliable calendar or other time management app to keep yourself organised. Again, Microsoft Outlook is a standard app within the industry, but there are plenty of alternatives out there.
In your search for the best and brightest digital calendar, make sure you get one that can easily share calendars in standard .ics format. Even if you find you don’t often work in tandem with other writers, you will have to book calls with subject matter experts (or they’ll have to book them in with you), and it’s important that you can do that as quickly and easily as possible.
Essentials: shared file storage
Most of the time, you’ll find attaching a document to an email is a direct and easy way to send your copy to someone. But that only gets you so far.
Many clients and email programs will have strict limits on attachment file sizes, meaning you’ll need another way to send and receive files. Shared file storage helps here, and in the cases of cloud services like Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive, they can also give you an important backup in case your hard drive fails. If you just want to send files without worrying about shared storage, the likes of WeTransfer can also be a good alternative.
Even better, most of these cloud services are free unless you need lots of storage or to send really big files. And even then, the paid versions are very cost-effective for the amount of storage you get.
Essentials: an audio recorder
Covering events and transcribing calls as they happen is hard. Even if you’re the fastest typist in the world, it’s still all too easy to miss crucial quotes and messaging in the haze of spoken word. That’s why having a recorder capturing the call/conference audio is a lifesaver.
Yes, you can use an app on your phone to record, but I’d advise against this. Bringing your phone to a conference call is just asking for unnecessary distractions as the texts, tweets and calls roll in. Even if you’re disciplined enough to ignore the barrage of notifications you might receive, you run the risk of draining your phone’s battery and losing your recording midway through the call.
To get a truly bulletproof recording experience, I’d recommend a dedicated recording device. Considering that you can get handheld recorders that have a slim form factor, and a low price, there’s no reason not to get one if you think you’ll need to record lots of calls.
As with everything, it’s worth checking reviews to ensure your recorder of choice is dependable. Where possible, get one that can be powered by batteries. That way, you’ll always be ready to go, even if you have to join a briefing call last minute.
Nice-to-haves: a second monitor
Pretty much all copywriting work starts and ends with staring at a computer screen. So, it might as well be a nice one. Better yet, two nice ones.
If you opt for a laptop over a desktop computer, then you’ll probably be thankful for the extra real-estate a dedicated monitor will offer. You can also extend your display across both screens, allowing you to have a reference document or brief on one screen, while you write your copy on the other. This is much faster than having to constantly alt-tab between windows.
As you probably won’t be watching movies or fast-moving images on your monitor, you won’t need to spend the earth on it. Just get one of an appropriate size for your workspace, and you’re good to go.
If you plan to have multiple reference documents open simultaneously (and have budget to spare), you might consider investing in an ultra-wide screen or higher resolution monitor.
As the name suggests, ultra-widescreen monitors offer a wider screen than conventional 16:9 monitors—allowing you fit even more stuff on the display. Many come in the curved variety. While visually striking, these aren’t likely to fit well into a multi-monitor setup, so I’d recommend sticking with a flat screen.
4K may be considered the next bastion for movie-watchers, but it can be surprisingly useful for productivity as well. With a higher resolution, text is much more readable in smaller application windows. What this means is, while you might only fit two apps on a standard 1080p monitor before the text becomes too small to read, you could fit anywhere between four and eight applications on a 4K screen before the text gets too small. Perfect if you need to work from many different source documents.
Nice-to-haves: a decent keyboard
Yeah, that junky keyboard you got bundled with your PC is fine. Likewise, you might be happy with your laptop keyboard. In which case, great.
But much like you never see a pro chef using cheap knives, every pro copywriter owes it to themselves to consider a top-drawer keyboard. If you spend the majority of your professional time hammering keys, your fingers will thank you for allocating some budget to a good board.
If your budget will stretch, treat yourself to a nice mechanical keyboard. Unlike membrane keyboards that have a single switch spread across the entire surface of the board, a mechanical has a dedicated switch for each key. They’re the really satisfying clicky keyboards, but they offer more than just a pleasant sound, enabling you to type a bit faster, reduce the amount of pressure required to type (and the strain on your joints), and avoid miskeys.
Most of the popular mechanicals out there use Cherry MX switches. You’ll find Cherry switches come in four different flavours:
- Red switches have a smooth action and don’t require much force to press down. These are ideal for the lightning-fingered.
- Black switches also have a smooth action, but require a heavier press. A great option if you find yourself mistyping regularly.
- Brown switches are another light switch, but with a tactile ‘bump’ you can feel as you press down. This bump tells you exactly when the key registers, so you can apply the right amount of pressure without having to hit the bottom of the board. This helps you type faster, and spare some strain on your hands.
- Blue switches also have the tactile bump, but are much heavier and louder than brown switches. These give a premium typing experience, but can be a bit too loud if you work in an office environment.
There are several other types of switches on the market, but these four tend to cover the main types of mechanical keyboard.
For typing, go for a brown or blue switch keyboard. Choose brown if you work with other people around you and need to keep the noise down. If you work at home or don’t need to worry about noise, go all out and enjoy the lovely action of a blue switch board. You can thank me later.
Should you give similar thought to your choice of mouse? I’d say no. As a writer, you’ll spend more time hitting keys than you will clicking icons (doubly so if you follow my guide to helpful productivity hacks and keyboard shortcuts for writers).
Nice-to-haves: a conference phone
I say a conference phone, but really the key here is keeping your hands free, so you can type important notes while on the phone.
Yes, you can use the speaker phone on your mobile. No, I wouldn’t recommend it as your primary phone solution; even on premium phones, the speaker mode tends to offer low voice quality.
Likewise, a headset can be a good way to keep your hands free, but many of the more affordable headsets can be extremely uncomfortable to use for any length of time. If you have the budget to get a nice, premium headset, then it’s absolutely a viable option.
If you find yourself on conference calls regularly, you’ll find a dedicated conference phone will give you the perfect blend of call quality, comfort, and cost-effectiveness.
More than just a pen and paper
As you can see, a lot of different applications and equipment go into the writing game. And this list only covers some of the most common and useful equipment. Many writers will have their own ‘must-haves,’ ranging from quality coffee makers, all the way to obscure good luck charms and novelty mouse mats.
But don’t let this list scare you. If you can pick up everything on the essentials list, you’ll be well on your way to having everything you need to write comfortably and efficiently—and you’ll hopefully even have some budget to spare. And if you can get some of the nice-to-haves as well, then you’ll quickly be living a professional life of luxury.
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