Kristen K. Swanson and Judith C. Everett, authors of Writing for the Fashion Business, have shared two exclusive extracts with Writers & Artists. In this first part, we take a look at the writing process. Take a look below for advice on planning, purpose and audience.
Writing fashion messages involves structure and creativity. Kirszner and Mandell (2005) structure the writing process into six stages.
Good writing is designed with a specific purpose, audience, and tone in mind. Read the following passage by Sara James (2007, p. 150):
Perched halfway between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail, near North Carolina’s northern border with Tennessee, Micaville isn’t a town. There is a tiny post office with a narrow stream running by, a country store, a Presbyterian church, and the flagstone-faced Taylor Togs facility, which Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, the English collaborators behind the five-year-old American sportswear Rag & Bone, visit each season to direct production of their denim and twill clothing.
This is the first paragraph from an article written for Men’s Vogue about two British-born designers who are making made-in-America clothing and saving an Appalachian factory. Was your interest in American sportswear, or made-in-America clothing, or an Appalachian factory sparked as you read the copy? If so, then the writing fulfilled its purpose to get the reader’s attention and highlight a new sportswear brand.
On the other hand, you might have been turned off by the passage because you are not interested in the place or the product. The author may have used a tone that did not grab your attention. Writers walk a fine line in turning their audience on or off to the fashion message.
This article makes an appeal to persuade the audience to consider buying from Rag & Bone. The article is supplemented with photographs that show the designers, storefront, and denim and twill products. The article is introduced with the headline “Mountain Rescue” and a sub-headline. The copy, visual images, font, and other elements of this piece all work together to achieve the intended purpose and appeal to the target audience. Like this article, every piece of fashion writing should consider the purpose, audience, and tone.
The best way to begin any piece of writing is to choose a topic and research it to decide how you might write about it. Later in this chapter, we will discuss brainstorming a topic. As you read and learn about your topic, you need to think about what you want to say about it. You, the writer, need to have a clear understanding of the topic before you can communicate it to others.
As you think logically about the topic, you begin to identify the central idea or purpose statement. The purpose statement answers two questions: (1) Why I am writing this fashion message? And (2) What do I want to accomplish with this fashion message? The purpose statement should be condensed into one or two sentences that will direct the remainder of your writing. Kirszner and Mandell (2005) offer these as possible purposes for a written piece:
Writing a purpose statement causes you to specifically determine why you are writing and what response you want from your audience. The purpose statement can become the lead-in sentence to an outline, or simply the first few words of the document. A purpose statement can be direct, beginning with the purpose, or it can be more indirect, drawing the reader into the topic with an attention-getting statement ahead of the purpose statement.
Purpose Statement #1: The purpose of this magazine article is to report on the top ten must have looks for the fall season. (direct)
Purpose Statement #2: Fall takes us in new directions with fur collars, cigarette-legged pants, romantic blouses, and seven other must have looks for the fall season. (indirect)
All writing is done with a specific audience in mind. The particular group of readers or viewer that the piece is targeted to is the audience.
Eakins (2005) suggests that a writer should answer four questions when profiling an audience:
Who will read the message? Be specific about who your actual readers are. Picture them in your head as you sit down to compose. While you may not be able to put a specific name to your readers, you can develop a general profile about them. The profile may include some or all of the following characteristics; age, education, occupational background, culture, needs of the reader, rapport you have with the reader, and reader’s expectations. Messages should be tailored to meet the needs of the audience. For example, a magazine writer targeting the readers of Seventeen may write about the same vivid colours and vibrant prints that appear in Glamour. However, the tone and imagery presented in the Seventeen article would be age-appropriate for the teenage market.
What do readers know about the subject? In order to connect with your audience, you need to be aware of their knowledge of the subject matter. Audiences range from having very little knowledge about the topic to having a very high level of understanding. Your goal is to determine where your audience fits, and then to write to their level. If your audience is familiar with terms such as “ prestige brands” or “trademark infringement,” it is enough to present the term and continue. If your audience is less familiar with fashion-specific vocabulary, you may need to define the term and explain the concept to provide a link for understanding.
Example #1: China has developed awareness of prestige brands – exclusive brands for which high prices have created high demand.
Example #2: Increased trademark infringement suits have been reported as a result of increased online retail Web sites. Trademark infringement is the violation of use of a registered trademark, and it occurs when counterfeit goods are sold as the real item.
Fashion dictionaries such as Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion and Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles are useful tools to assist writers in explaining fashion vocabulary. Develop a sense of your audience so that you can explain if necessary, but not include more information than necessary.
What is the relationship between the readers and the writer? Different fashion messages illustrate diverse relationships between the writer and the audience. Hosts on television shows illustrate this quite clearly when they speak to the audience as if they are speaking to long-time friends. They take a conversational approach to addressing the audience. However, a letter informing stockholders of the annual meeting portrays a much different relationship. Although stockholders have a vested interest in the company, they are often strangers to the writer.
What is the reading style of the audience? Not every piece of writing is read in the same manner. When reading a piece of fiction, a reader may read slowly, absorbing every word and getting immersed in the plot line. However, that same reader may read the headlines of an online newspaper quickly, just catching the highlights.
If the article you are writing is one that you expect your reader will be scanning, skimming, or searching, state the purpose of the message very directly as a heading or as the first sentence in a paragraph. Be concise in your writing so the reader can search for and find the information efficiently and effectively.