Five minutes of your time, a lifetime of better writing
Anyone can learn to write better copy.
Whether you’re writing a brochure for your company or an email to your boss, simple techniques improve your writing.
I’ve learned a lot in a decade as a freelance copywriter. But it’s the little things that have made the biggest difference.
My aha moments where a new technique makes perfect sense and I wonder why I never thought of it before.
Following are 10 small things you can do to improve your writing with very little effort.
1. Write only what you would say
Why, whenever we write something more formal than an email, do we start to introduce all these strange-sounding words?
I still find myself doing this.
The basic rule here is: if you wouldn't say it in a conversation with a normal person, don't write it.
Read your draft, then cross out anything you would not feel comfortable saying face to face. The result will be better copy.
2. Write to one person
This was another game changer for me.
As soon as I learnt that I should always target a single reader in my writing, I realised how much I was doing it wrong.
Don't address 'our readers' or 'our customers' in your writing if you can help it.
Talk about 'you'.
Copy is about connecting with the reader. You'll do this better when you write to the reader as though they were standing in the same room as you.
3. Tell a story
One of my great frustrations with living in a Spanish-speaking country is how much my anecdotes truly suck.
I can get my point across in Spanish. I can hold a normal conversation. But I can rarely make it memorable.
Whenever I return to England, I realise that anecdotes make up a large part of my verbal offerings.
It turns out that I tell a lot of stories.
That's how the best copywriting works as well. Stories are sticky. People remember them.
A little story here and there – as long as it relates to what you're promoting – works wonders.
Use stories where they come naturally. For now, try getting one into your website somewhere.
The About page is the perfect place to tell a story. That’s where I tell mine.
4. Use short sentences
Don't worry about counting the words in your sentences, but do keep them on the short side.
I can't think of any copywriting situations where long sentences are a good thing.
Shorter writing is punchy and easier to read. Long sentences are harder to focus on, and it's easier for the reader to lose their train of thought.
But variation is also good, so don't make every sentence short. Just be aware of when you are writing a longer sentence and ask yourself if it's necessary.
5. State rather than suggest
Don't ask your prospect whether they would like to do something. Tell them to do it.
Rather than 'If you'd like to order a bag', say 'Order your bag today’.
It might seem unnatural at first, even pushy. But you need to give your prospects a nudge to avoid uncertainty and get a response.
6. Use facts rather than opinions
Opinions can be interesting, and they can bring life to your writing. In a blog, opinions are fine. Essential, even.
But in copy, facts convince.
If you want to get someone to act on your words, give them something real. No one cares about how you feel or what you think.
Facts, especially facts using hard figures and stats, help to convince them.
7. Treat everything you write as a rough draft
When Ernest Hemingway said ‘The first draft of anything is shit', he was talking about novels. But the same rule applies to copy.
Don't be disheartened when you read back what you've written and it is, in fact, shit.
Good writing is mainly editing.
8. Read it back, correct the mistakes
When you think you've finished, when you're about to print or publish or send to the designer, stop.
You'll always find mistakes in your copy when you read it back. You'll find more mistakes when you get someone else to read it for you.
Everyone forgives the odd mistake. And yet, copy is always better without them.
Once a couple of minor spelling or grammar mistakes start slipping into your writing, it does have an effect on the reader.
There is something less trustworthy about writing that contains too many mistakes.
At least put it through Grammarly. It's free, and it will catch most errors.
9. Don't sell the drill, sell the hole
Anyone who's had anything to do with writing copy will know this already. When you are writing to sell something, you sell on the benefits.
The benefits are the things that make the prospect's life better. As opposed to the things that make your product better.
Don't ignore the features; they're important too. But with everything you write, think about how it will improve your prospect's life. Make that your focus.
10. Get rid of adverbs
Finally, my favourite.
Adverbs weaken writing, and they definitely weaken copy.
You don't need to go all crazy and cross out every single one. But be aware when you use one and ask yourself whether you need it.
Write better copy
Writing good copy takes a long time to get right. But everyone can improve their writing by getting the easy stuff right.
If you want to connect with an audience and get them to act on your words, do these ten things.
Improve your copy, engage your reader and get a response.