Tips on the write stuff from our Head of Copy, Clive Weatherley
If you remember the ‘for Dummies’ series of oversized yellow and black paperbacks from the 90s, you’ll know that they covered just about every subject under the sun from MS-DOS to fishing. And 20 years ago they even published one on ‘writing copy’ which, incidentally, I never felt the need to read. I’m a linguist by education; virtually every aspect of my life involves words; and I’ve written all my working life, so I figured it wasn’t really aimed at me.
Its audience was people who claim they can’t, or don’t know how to, write. If that’s you, and you descend into a cold shivering sweat whenever you’re asked to write something, read on. If, on the other hand, you may be tempted by AI, read on too: AI has its place to support marketing, but it may be obvious to your audience that your copy is machine-generated – as it will use a completely new vocabulary, embrace a new approach to syntax and adopt American punctuation. So do rewrite that AI copy before you send it anywhere…
To save you time in reading a copywriting guide, here are my five tips for improving what comes off your keyboard. They won’t get you the Booker but they may just help you get your ideas across in a more memorable way.
Structure it Remember what you were told about writing an essay: say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you’ve said. In real terms, sketch out a rough plan with how you’ll introduce your piece; what the main body of the copy will contain; and how you’ll conclude. This will stop you rambling illogically – and also set you apart from AI…
Know your audience Keep your target audience at the front of your mind as soon as you start to write. This will keep your copy lively and stop you lapsing into formal business-speak – which no-one wants to read. Aim to engage, with a view to keeping your readers with you to the end, by using vocabulary and concepts they’ll be familiar with and passionate about. Using contractions (‘won’t’ for ‘will not’, etc.) will make your copy flow and give your readers a more personal connection to you.
Check your facts It never hurts to double-check online anything you write that even half-resembles a fact. It’s so easy to misremember things and convince yourself you’re right. This applies to dates and statistics too – and, of course, there’s no excuse for misspelling proper names.
Surprise ’em Add the odd spark to give your copy personality. It might be a surprising word or phrase; maybe an out-of-place colloquialism; or a half-sentence that’s not a sentence but draws attention to the point you’re making.
Read it and get a writer to read it Leave your copy for at least a day and read it afresh. I guarantee you’ll want to change elements even though you’d been happy with it the day before. And if you’re not confident about your own command of grammar or syntax, share it with a seasoned scribe who’s sure to have a number of improvements to suggest.
We can’t all be Dickens, but following these five pointers will bring clarity and help convince your readers that you know what you’re talking about and your copy’s worth reading. Even if you don’t and it’s not…