I’m not going to lie, I bought this book purely because of the beautifully designed, beautifully simple, perfectly composed cover. I’m a designer, judging books by their covers is what I get paid for.
But what’s great, is that the innards of this book are just as brilliant as the cover. It’s a practical, easy to understand guide to copywriting. It’s a handbook for anyone who feels like they can’t write to save themselves, (can I get an ‘Amen?!’) If you think you’ve got the wrong tone of voice, don’t understand the ins-and-outs of grammar or just don’t feel confident writing about yourself without sounding like an idiot, read this book. I repeat, read this book.
The best part, is that it’s a quick, sink-your-teeth-into-it-on-a-short-flight book that will have you tap, tap tapping out what I can only imagine to be heavenly prose in no time.
It’s hard to summarise what I learnt from this book in ten measly little dot points, but here’s my attempt –
STRONG STRATEGY + INTERESTING VOICE = GREAT COPY. Strategy is the set of choices you make when choosing what to write. It involves the goals and objectives you want to achieve and the facts and particulars you want your reader to absorb and act upon.Voice is the words you choose, the length of sentences you construct and the elements of speech you add or leave out. These are the qualities that give your writing a unique personality.
Great copywriting is a healthy balance of both strategy and voice. Something cleverly written but bearing no new information has a weak strategy. Something full of useful information but difficult to follow has a bland voice. When unique phrasing meets well-established objectives, you’ve stumbled on good, hard-working copy.
WHAT READERS WANT. Modern readers seek authenticity when interacting with organisations. Good grammar and clarity of message will do most of the work. The creative element is often just a glitzy sideshow, doing more for building a sense of personality and tone than for ‘converting prospects’ – a term you’ll hear from any sales or marketing guru espousing the must-know rules of copywriting.
DON’T FLUFF. The worst thing you can do is say something without saying anything at all. It’s an obvious sign that a writer has attempted to speak in a ‘tone of voice’ but has failed to give the reader any information. The rule is ‘Say it straight – say it great’. If you describe what you’re trying to say with clarity, tone will follow.Above all, it’s important to remember that if you write with clarity and honesty, and edit for grammar, you’ll find yourself writing in an engaging tone of voice.
WRITE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE. Only your reader can judge good writing and good communication. If your audience doesn’t understand what you’ve said, you haven’t understood your audience well enough. Good copywriting is about what’s heard as well as what’s said. It’s your job to be able to hear the words you write the way your audience will hear them.
GOOD GRAMMAR IS GOOD COPY. Most people seem to think of grammar as a large, mysterious collection of rules they never learned at school. The truth is that most writers are just as clueless about grammar – that’s why they have editors.When writing good copy, you don’t need to know all the rules, just the important ones. If your first language is English, most of this stuff will end up feeling so natural you’ll find it obvious.
FIRST, SECOND OR THIRD PERSON? Should businesses write in the first, second or third person? I get asked this question a lot. The answer is a little bit of everything. Try using ‘we’ instead of your company name and ‘you’ instead of the ‘the customer’ or ‘the reader’. Using ‘we’ (the first person) is a great way to put the reader in the picture. Most of your copy should probably use the we/you combination. It helps to bridge the gap between organisation and reader, as if you’re talking one-on-one. It also invokes the power of inclusive language, an incredibly useful tool for getting the reader to invest emotionally (or financially) in what you have to say.
WRITING FOR THE WEB. The internet has been both a blessing and curse for copywriting. While there have never been so many people reading the written word, they’re infinitely more impatient. Most scan for keywords and only read what’s relevant to them. Some don’t read at all – they usually want to complete a task as quickly as possible, forget they’ve spent $300 on something they shouldn’t have, and then get onto reading mind-numbing articles about celebrities.
JUST GET STARTED. The worst, most difficult, most frustrating part of writing is the beginning. You might start, stop, and start again, metaphorically scrunchy page after page and dumping the attempts in the trash icon. It’s like a writer and an editor are inside your mind fighting over small, dumb, inconsequential things, and neither seems to be winning.This is normal when you’re starting out. The way around it is to have a strategy – and when that doesn’t work, to try another one.
FREE WRITE. Don’t try to write perfectly from the start. Write a page full of thoughts, ideas, bad sentences and disconnected ramblings. Don’t censor yourself, don’t fix grammar, and don’t delete anything. Fill a page and see if something sticks. Some writing is better than no writing. Once you’ve got something to work with, you can begin piecing it together. It may have nothing to do with what you’re trying to say, but that doesn’t matter. Let it all out.
READ IT ALOUD. If a piece of writing has good rhythm, it’ll be easy to read out loud, and the flow between ideas will seems logical and natural. If something doesn’t feel right, write it again until it works when you read it to yourself in the privacy of your lounge room. It’s a great way to fix any issues you missed during editing.
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