Everyone can write, right? Wrong. Well, not wrong. Most people can write - it’s one of the first and most important things you learn at school - but not everyone can Write. That capital letter is very important; it’s why Copywriting is a profession and, say, Breathing (another activity that everyone does) isn’t. Copywriting requires skill – a skill that needs to be learned, honed and perfected. So while, yes indeed, you can probably write, you may not be able to Write.
You can learn though, and in this post we look at the process that should be followed to create great copy.
Great writing begins by not writing a single word. Before you put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys), you need to research and plan. This is a critical stage and one not to be skipped (no matter how tempting it may be to do so). It’s where you define your point, structure your argument, and take your first steps to an amazing piece of copy.
Identify your objective
It all begins with a purpose. You need to understand immediately what the point of your writing is because if it doesn’t have a point then, well, honestly… what’s the point? Some content is designed to provide information, some is designed to persuade. Some is designed to entertain, some to educate. Some is designed to gain traffic, some to drive traffic to another part of the website. By working this out, you understand more than just your goal: you’re getting to grips with tone of voice, style, structure, word length… everything really, because your objective dictates all of those things.
Understand your audience
Once you know what you want to say you need to know who to say it to. The most well-crafted piece of Shakespearean iambic pentameter is redundant if it’s delivered to a room-full of toddlers more familiar with Barney the Dinosaur than the Bard. So know who you’re writing for and tailor your approach accordingly. A specialist outlet such as a car magazine offers more leeway for complex, in-depth, niche writing than the auto pull-out of a national newspaper. In the latter you’re writing for a knowledgeable audience, in the former a more generic, less informed audience. Don’t patronise the enthusiasts, don’t confuse the layman. Know your audience and adapt.
Do your research
“True wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Smart fella, Socrates, but he didn’t know everything and neither do you. The world changes every day, and with it our understanding of how it works. So even if you’ve studied a subject for years, read every paper and article you can think of on it, and discussed it with the brightest of intellects, there’s still more to know. Read, learn, and let your readers know what you’ve learned. Writing is about putting your ego aside: you’re not the main event, the knowledge you’re imparting is. So make sure your knowledge keeps the pace.
Now’s the fun part: the writing. Having done all that work in the Research stage, it’s tempting to ram it all into your post to show just how much you know. But that doesn’t work for your audience, and rather undermines your role as a copywriter. You exist to curate the information and make it understandable. If you don’t do that, you’re not doing your job as a copywriter.
Make your point
Content needs to persuade. If you’re writing a blog, you need to persuade the reader that your point is right. If you’re writing a news story, you need to persuade the reader it’s worth their time. If you’re writing a press release, you need to persuade the outlet you’re contacting that they should feature it. Grab the reader quickly, and draw them in. Good copy is like good storytelling – it captures the attention from the start and doesn’t let go until the end. Write like you’re telling a story to a friend at the pub.
Be clear in what you're saying
Clarity is key. It’s easy to ramble when writing online because you have unlimited space. But rambling is best done in hills, so get to the point. Set yourself a word limit. Cut away anything that doesn’t support your point. Don’t use multiple words where fewer will do. And don’t use words because they sound smart. Your job is to make the complex understandable and digestible for your audience. Simplify!
Variety is the spice of life (and writing)
Writing guru Gary Provost once compelled writers to “write music.” By this, he meant that writing should never be dull: it should change tempo, rhythm and key. It should have flourishes. It should have long-held notes. It should build to a crescendo so great and glorious, so bold and beautiful in its utter magnificence, that it’d bring tears to the eyes of God himself. And probably Jesus too. How do you do this? It’s all in the sentence length. “I vary the sentence length, and I create music,” he wrote. “Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony.” So don’t be dull. Add character, add life, and write music.
Nothing’s ever perfect first time; things need to be revisited, reviewed and edited. By doing this, you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of your writing and aim to make the strengths even stronger and remove the weaknesses. Brutality and honesty with yourself are key skills at this stage.
Kill Your Darlings
A beautifully structured sentence or poetically worded turn of phrase is the kind of thing a copywriter lives for, but just because you’re dazzled by your stroke of genius doesn’t mean the reader will be. In fact, sometimes the most poetic of phrases can take the reader out of a piece, distracting them from what they came to read, and damaging the overall quality. It’s hard, but sometimes you’ve got to do away with your best writing for the good of the overall piece. So hit delete and kill your darlings.
Don’t be very good
Very good is very good, but you know what’s better? Excellent. Amazing. Magnificent. Super fantastic with a cherry on top! Ok, maybe not that last one. The point is, the English language is vast and beautiful. So use it. Don’t call something very good, or very important, or very sad. That’s boring. Call it excellent, imperative, or tragic. If you’re using the same words repeatedly it’s boring. No, sorry, it’s dull. It’s tedious. It’s bland. Don’t be those things. Language is like colour: use different words like you’d use yellows and greens and reds and purples.
What are your top tips for great copywriting? Tweet us at @FastWebmedia