With his sights set on the C-suite, my husband recently started an MBA with the Jack Welch Institute. As with any university course, there are a lot of assignments and essays to write so he asked me for some pointers.
I shared some of my top tips, such as:
- Always write your introduction and headline last.
- Think about the structure – state the ‘problem’, describe the ‘solution’, share the ‘evidence’, reach a conclusion.
- When researching, always Google “[search term] + survey”to get the rich, juicy results.
- Make sure you back your opinions with credible research.
- Ideally sleep on it before reviewing your work.
Considering day-to-day he’s a director, in charge of managing a team of about 20 people, he’s averaging a 4.0 grade point average (the equivalent of an A-grade, or about 95% mark).
And it got me thinking…
As a copywriter, I probably have loads of these tips and tricks up my sleeves – things I don’t even think about any because they’re all things I do naturally. A bit like when you learn to drive a car, after a while you stop thinking about finding the ‘bite’ because you just know where it is.
But rather than ramble on at you, I thought I would turn to some of the incredible copywriters I know and instead, ask for their top tips, tricks and techniques…
Just start: if you wait until you’re ‘ready’ to write, it may not happen. Just put pen to paper (or get behind the keyboard) and go for it. The first draft doesn’t need to be perfect.
Credit: Michelle Garrett
Put the reader first: start with the most interesting idea to draw readers in, and make it easy to read throughout.
Credit: Sean McManus
Write like you talk: and in a way that a 12-year old can understand.
Please the eyes first, then engage the mind: short paragraphs, subheadings, etc. Make writing easy to skim read.
Credit: That. Content. Shed.
Don’t try to write like you *think* writing should sound:write in your own voice, making your points as clearly as possible.
How to structure an argument:“People think X. Because of Y. And Z. But actually, A! Because B.”
Credit: Ed Callow
Think structure: mix up the length of sentences and keep an eye on structure – what information is the audience getting when?
Use eye-catching word or phrases: when used around the main idea of the text they anchor it in the reader’s mind.
Credit: Anthony Arnott
Pay attention to sentence length:
- No more than 20 words per sentence.
- Try to have a mix of short and long to help it flow.
- Stick to one idea per sentence.
Credit: Craig Wright
Adding a similar sentiment for paragraphs:
- Don’t let them creep over five or six lines.
- Use subheadings to help.
Think about passive/active voice: put the people in your writing by letting us know who’s doing what.
Show don’t tell: don’t just say ‘you’re a valued customer’, make your customers feel valued.
Credit: Leigh James
Tips for shortening sentences and improving precision:
- Be ruthless in cutting adverbs, even ‘very’. They can weaken rather than strengthen the point.
- Check for and purge ‘over-extended’ words – so, don’t use ‘documentation’ for ‘documents’, ‘methodology’ for ‘method’, ‘limitations’ for ‘limits’.
Use simply-constructed clauses: probably more important than sentence length.
Credit: Leonie Thomas
If you want to learn more about clauses, here’s a quick lesson…
Get a thesaurus: synonyms are your friend – but they need to be the right ones. Say you’re writing about “search rankings” repeating “search rankings” over and over starts to jar and distract. Throw in a few “search results; organic results; SERPs” etc. Keeps it interesting.
Credit:SEO-specialist Andrew Cock-Starkey
Always start sentences with ‘And’.
Credit: Alexandra Griffiths
It has such an impact on your writing, making the reader stop and take notice. I’d extend this to include starting sentences with ‘But’ and ‘However’ also.
Keep a consistent tone of voice throughout: don’t use ‘big’ words to try and sound more intelligent. Aim for clarity
Don’t be a thief: if you include anything from external sources, quote/cite them.
Credit: Robyn Santa Maria
When you’re editing your own work:
- Start at the last paragraph and work backwards, stops you being pulled into the flow of what you’ve written.
- Print and edit.
Read it out loud afterwards: make sure it IS like you’d talk.
Credit: Mary Whitehouse
Practical tip for editing: before checking over your own writing, change the font and font size.
Credit: Ed Callow
Edit. Edit. Edit: take out any word that adds nothing to the sentence. I go back and strip out each “very”, “really” and “so”.
Credit: Antonia Taylor
And there you have it…
27 tips from 16 copywriters. Apply them to your writing and see the difference it makes.
And don’t forget…
I’m an open book. So if you have any another question, or want to know what the copywriting community thinks about a particular topic, let me know.