It’s amazing how a little bit of understanding can calm the nerves and make sense of something that at first appears unfamiliar. On a recent flight back to the UK, we were aboard an Airbus A320. If you know anything about the A320 you’ll know all about the so-called ‘barking dog’ that sometimes makes itself heard during push back from the gate, especially if you’re sitting somewhere around the centre of the aircraft – as this Cheltenham copywriter and his other half were last weekend.
So it was last Saturday. As the aircraft was pushed out onto the taxiway and the engines spooled up, the distinctive sound of ‘barking’ filled the cabin. As I immersed myself in Influence by Robert Cialdini, I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation in a nearby seat. With some concern, another passenger asked one of the cabin crew what the noise was and what was going on – and whether the plane was okay.
As I’ve heard many times, the flight attendant smiled and explained that it was the jet’s hydraulics – not a stray mongrel in the freight hold – and completely normal. The passenger looked relieved and settled back with his newspaper. All was right in the world and a few minutes later we were climbing out over the Med and heading north.
An interest in aircraft and several years working as a technical copywriter around Airbus has taught me that the mystery ‘barking dog’ is actually the power transfer unit between the aircraft’s green and yellow hydraulic circuits. It’s particularly noticeable during push back when one engine is running and the PTU drives the hydraulic circuits on the other, as yet unpowered, side of the aircraft. If you sit down at the back, you’ll barely notice it – try it next time you’re on an A320. (Even better, learn the answer and impress friends, family and fellow-travellers with your knowledge…)
There’s a parallel with certain aspects of copywriting. I’ve lost count of the times a client of my freelance copywriting business asked me about the questions starting a website page, a conversational writing style or the use of ‘and’ or ‘but’ at the start of a sentence. To some people, perhaps those brought up on a certain (misguided) understanding of English, such techniques sit as uncomfortably with business writing as the idea of a collie-cross running loose in the hold does with the idea of international flight. Usually, all it takes to set the client’s mind at rest is a clear explanation: questions are a way of engaging the reader’s attention; a conversational style is important for similar reasons; while conjunctions and sentence fragments add pace to website copy that should replicate spoken communication as much as possible.
Just as there must surely be travellers who will remain convinced that their plane is malfunctioning, occasional stick-in-the-muds won’t be told. But generally, people get what I’m doing with words and appreciate the benefit for engaging communication with their audience. That’s when they sit back with their metaphorical cheese toastie and Starbucks Italian Roast and enjoy the flight (read writing project) – while their Gloucestershire copywriter does what he does best from the ‘flight deck’…
Trust your copywriter. By all means ask questions, but be ready to be surprised because business writing is often rather different to the writing we were taught back at school…
And like the ‘barking dog’ on the A320, it’s nothing to be afraid of at all and merely shows that everything is happening just as it should.