A to Z of copywriting

Action
A call to action is what defines any piece of copywriting. The action is what you want people to do as a result of reading your carefully crafted words. The call to action will vary, depending on the objective defined by the client. Typically, it’s pick up the phone, send an email, visit a link or similar.

Blank page
What every copywriter is faced with before they start. The secret of overcoming writer’s block is to scribble (on paper) or just start typing (on screen). You can go back and edit later. In fact, editing is the secret of success.

Copywriting
Any words that are printed or uploaded are called ‘copy’. Nothing to do with ‘copyright’ (trade marks); copywriting is writing to influence, writing to persuade, writing to change behaviour.

Delete
The secret of successful copywriting is not what you write, it’s what you leave out. Know your objective (it also determines the call to action), and delete anything that doesn’t fit it.

Editing
Not even professional writers get everything right first time. The secret is cutting, editing and tweaking until you get it right.

Filing
It’s wise to keep a ‘crib file’ for inspiration. Collect tear-sheets and links that work particularly well (or badly). Don’t merely copy them, as that would be plagiarism. Turn to them to generate ideas (and lessons about what to avoid).

Generalisations
Turn generalisations into specifics. Don’t write to the multitudes; write as though you are addressing one person at a time.

Hello
Start emails and sales letters with a personalised name, if possible, as more people are likely to read it then (even if they know it’s automated).

I
Avoid using ‘I’, ‘us’ and ‘we’; instead focus on ‘you’ and ‘your’. Putting yourself in your readers’ shoes is a way of getting them into your message.

JFDI
Copywriters work well to a deadline. Although Douglas Adams said he loved the whooshing sound that deadlines make when they go past, when you have a deadline to meet, just f***ing do it!

KISS
Keep It Short and Sweet. The tone of your copy should suit the audience. No-one gets insulted by simplicity because it respects their busy time, while you risk losing readers if you are too pompous in your verbiage.

Links
Web copy can be about generating inbound links. You need quality content if anyone is going to bother linking to you, and the more (relevant, highly ranked) links you get, the higher Google will rank you.

Message
Part of the copywriter’s art is to draw out the key messages from a client and communicate them clearly to their customers. (I do this using my ‘discovery’ questionnaire.)

Natural
A top copywriting tip is to ‘write as you speak’. For example, it’s OK to start a sentence with ‘and’ or but’. If any grammar sticker complains, just tell them I said so!

Open
It depends on the culture of the company, but these days, there is a trend for organisations to be open, honest and transparent in their business communications. The more unique personality you share, the better.

Punctuation
It might seem a dying art, but I believe professional communicators have a responsibility to use traditional grammar and punctuation (including the dreaded apostrophe) correctly. It’s OK to use txt spk for text messages and perhaps abbreviated tweets, but that’s all.

Questions
Questions are a great way of hooking in your reader. Do you agree?

Research
The first, possibly longest, and definitely most important part of any copywriting job.

Sentences
Mix up long ones and short ones to give your writing flow, pace and variety.

Tell ’em
Follow the old marketing adage: ‘Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, then tell ’em what you’ve just told ’em’.

USP
People may dispute whether or not there is such a thing, but if you can find a Unique Selling Point for your client, it’s a lot easier to make them stand out from their competition in a way their customers will respond to.

Very
A weak cliché of a word that I was taught at journalism school never to use.

WIIFM
What’s In It For Me. The thought that is in the mind of your reader, and therefore the question that you must answer upfront. Another acronym: WWWWWH. Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. These are the top six questions that should be answered in every headline.

X
The big kiss that your clients will give you when you get great results for them because you followed all my instructions, to the letter!

Yes
As every doorstep salesperson knows, if you can get the reader to agree with your first few statements, they are more likely to order.

Zzzz
Instead of getting stuck and struggling, sometimes you just have to ‘sleep on it’ until you get a good idea. Keep a notebook by your bed to capture those midnight inspirations (I promise you won’t remember them by morning, no matter what you think). Trust that if you’ve done your research and preparation, your sub-conscious will do the rest.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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