Updated: Apr 20
One of the wonderful joys of being a voiceover artist is the collaboration and support of other members of the community. Many times I have asked other voiceover artists for advice, help, and, occasionally, a set of ears and lips to commiserate with.
I asked a few of my fellow voiceover artists to tell me one thing they wished copywriters knew when it comes to writing copy for voiceovers.
Here are their responses.
If I had to choose one thing it would be using Americanisms in the script and then asking for a British-English accent. I don’t mind calling the boot of the car the trunk if that's what you want. But saying "gotten" /"Howdie y'all" / "Monday through Friday" are a bit unnatural in RP. And remember that 'pants' said in a British accent refers to underpants, not trousers! - Michelle Wood
Michelle is highlighting an issue I have touched on in a few previous posts, but it is well worth reiterating.
As copywriters, we know that tone is a tangible factor when writing, but when our copy is translated for the voice, tone takes on more assets. Pitch, pace, gender, accent and dialects are just a few of these factors, and frequently accents get misused and abused.
Accents and dialects are tools used to send a specific message to your intended audience, but chosen without consideration can lead to miscommunications and can actually obscure your intended message.
No matter the voice, there is always an accent. There is no “neutral” accent, and it is dangerous to assume that your voiceover artist will be speaking with the same accent as you.
To keep from frustrating voiceover artists like Michelle, before you even begin to write, have the accent and dialect that will be used in mind. Let it be part of your creative process for a more holistic approach to your writing.
On a similar vein, here is one thing from bilingual French-English voiceover artist André Refig.
When translating a text from one language to another, please use a professional translator and not Google Translate! - André Refig
This is another topic I have touched on before. A small translation mistake can make a huge difference to how your customers understand the message, and poor translations can risk your brand’s reliability as a whole.
I previously worked as a translation copywriter for a podcast where I received the rough copy from the translator, and then it was my role to edit it into colloquial American English. This prevents any of those small (but critical) word choices that can turn a voiceover artist sour.
If you are unsure if your language fluency is par for a voiceover, take a look at the post “Do I Need a Translator for My Voiceover” or give me a shout - I am always happy to help.
Here’s another tip from my voiceover friends.
A misplaced comma or unnecessary question mark can lead to incorrect interpretation of the script… or indeed adding punctuation in at all. – Michelle Wood and Sophie Dean
Punctuation is a subject I have yet to discuss, because there is so much to unpack, but there are some key points to make. Firstly, don’t feel constrained to grammatical accuracy. We tend not to speak in perfect grammatical form, and we certainly add breaths (or verbal commas) more frequently than the written comma.
Secondly, use commas to separate thoughts within a sentence, especially if it is a particularly long one. But also be wary of using too many, because this creates a staccato pace, one with too many pauses. The next tip will help you regulate your comma use.
Try reading it aloud yourself. Some sentences are meant to be written, not said; those long ones with a billion clauses are a nightmare! - Katie Stallworthy
When adjusting from writing for text to writing for voice, sentence length is a major aspect to consider. What looks like a totally natural sentence on page can sound enormously overzealous when read orally. Reading your own work aloud prior to sending it to your voiceover artist can help keep your artists from gasping for air in the booth.
An easy way to check how your copy flows is by reading it out loud and taking tiny pauses where the commas sit. If the copy isn’t making sense, try moving some commas around.
The last voiceover copy faux pas comes from the wonderful Samantha Boffin, who’s voice is, in my opinion, more addicting than caffeine.
The biggest mistake I see copywriters making is overwriting. You go to record the script and come up against a wall of words, and there isn't any space for pauses - the script just zips on. Quite often it’s a case of three words where they could have used one, but these little changes can lead to three-minute explainers taking five minutes or seven-second ads taking twelve. - Samantha Boffin
Samantha brings up an excellent point, and one that can save you hours of back and forth with your voiceover artist.
In the English language, we tend to use less words when possible. We use contractions for simplicity and even sacrifice grammatical propriety for coherency. An easy word to watch for is “that.” Quite often, it indicates verbal overcomplication. For example, “We went to the store that has a red sign,” can easily be reworded for efficiency “We went to the store with a red sign.”
It’s a one word reduction, but in long pieces of copy, it can shave of minutes off recordings, and in short commercial pieces, the length plays a major factor in budgeting.
As I finish up today's post I’ll summarize the points once more:
be mindful of accents
don’t use Google translate
be meticulous with punctuation
read your work aloud
use words economically
Also, don’t forget to check out the voiceover artists referenced in this post. Have fun writing!