Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Hoping to make copywriting your company’s outbound marketing materials less gory, here our Copy Cat offers five tips for writing effectively.
Know your people
Your target audience should dictate the tone and voice of your piece. If it’s a blog post aimed at older adults who may be less familiar with technology, you might spell out acronyms and speak to what features do, not what they’re called. If you’re hoping to reach moms, your headline may include humor about child-raising woes. Knowing who you want to read your copy is the first, most critical step.
Know your purpose
So you’re writing a free guide. Or a brochure. Or a script for a viral video. What’s your desired outcome? If it’s leads, pepper in ways for readers to contact you throughout the piece, not just at the end. If it’s donations to fund a certain service, shape the entire piece around that service and save other notable news for your next communication. Sometimes knowing what to leave out is half the battle.
Stay in the present
History is fine in moderation, especially to lend credibility based on successes; but using active, present language and highlighting goals for the future gives positive look at your company or organization. Think of your copy as a roadmap to your next adventure versus a history textbook. This can translate to case studies, too; tout successes as building blocks for what’s to come.
Use precise words
Stephen King warns writers that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” That can ring true with copy for everything from novels to tweets. Keep your writing as straightforward as possible to maximize understandability. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use metaphors and clever quips to keep people reading, but limit your verbal jazz hands to headers, subheads, openings and closings—with only a few shakes in between.
Polish with fresh eyes
Nothing is finished after the first draft. It’s important to buffer in enough time for reviews. Read your piece yourself a day after you finish it. Then ask someone else to contribute to it—not to proof. Finally, ask someone who has never seen it before to copyedit your work and give it a final blessing. And it probably goes without saying to adhere to your company’s style rules, as well as any common stylebooks’ like AP.
A note on headlines
Tips, lists, humor and unexpected takes on trends capture people’s attention. Here are five headlines from the media that have caught our eyes lately:
- PowerPoint 2016 now helps people design slides that aren't terrible. (PC World)
- 15 books to give your friends going through a quarter-life crisis. (PopSugar)
- The most useful plant you've never heard of. (CNN)
- 3 strategies for hacking happiness. (Entrepreneur)
- A sizable challenge: mapping Alaska. (Wall Street Journal)
And finally, buzzwords to avoid
Some of the following sound too self-serving to include in marketing copy—unless as a customer quote. Some have been overused to death and hardly mean anything anymore. Some are just irritating. Here’s Copy Cat’s list of 20 words and phrases to avoid like clumpy milk.
- Address (aka “deal with”)
- Environment, not in the Mother Nature sense
- Inform (when used instead of influence)
- Paradigm shift
- Proven track record
- Think outside the box