As any professional copywriter knows, writing copy is often the easy part of a project. It’s the editing that’s hard.
After all, who wants to mess with copy once it’s written? It’s agonizing to rip into your own prose. But that’s exactly what it takes to turn good copy into great copy.
Here are 9 ways to polish and energize your copy when you give it that second go-around.
Write long and cut. It’s easier to overwrite and cut than to underwrite and add. Get everything down — no matter how sloppy or rough — then go back to trim and rearrange.
Be ruthless. Don’t fall in love with your own patter. Stay focused on your big idea and the action you want to create. Get rid of everything that doesn’t support response.
Avoid the windup. Often, a writer will spend some time warming up to a topic before getting to the point, especially in letters. When you’ve finished your first draft, see if there’s a better lead buried a few sentences or paragraphs in. If so, that’s where you should start.
Write lean. Small words, short sentences, and short paragraphs are easier to read and understand. With words, the fewer syllables the better. Your average sentence should be about 16 words and express a single thought. Once a sentence exceeds 32 words, it becomes harder to understand. Paragraphs should ideally be 7 lines or shorter.
Forget what you learned in school about sentence structure and paragraph development, advertising must communicate fast for people who are usually not engrossed in your subject.
Minimize the punctuation. Punctuation is meant to help organize copy and divide thoughts so they are easily understood. However, complex sentences with an abundance of commas slow readers down. Opt for simpler sentences with lighter punctuation. Avoid periods on headlines because they stop the reader for a split second. Use semicolons sparingly, since they are not understood as readily as other marks.
Write in the appropriate voice. In addition to knowing your reader, you must also know your writer. The writer of a sales letter, for example, is not you but the person signing it. So you should know how that person thinks and feels. And you should match your voice, tone, style, and mood to fit that writer.
The same holds for brochures, flyers, ads, and other items, though they are usually less personal and are written from the point of view of a company instead of a person. You may occasionally be lucky enough to have an interesting personality to use as the writer. However, in most cases, you will create these qualities as needed for each promotion. Always ask, “Who is talking or writing? Is this the most credible and interesting point of view?”
Justify the price. In any situation where you are asking for money, you must make the price appear to be a bargain, or at least reasonable. This requires you to speak in terms of “value” instead of mere price.
When selling a subscription to a website that provides artists with royalty-free photographs, for example, don’t talk about a $29.95 subscription. Instead, talk about having access to over $300,000.00 worth of photos for just $29.95. This juxtaposition of value and price transforms a transaction into a offer that can’t be refused.
Build credibility by showing a limitation. People expect exaggerated claims and are predisposed to doubt what you say. One way to diffuse this doubt is to admit a limitation along with your promise.
For example, if you’re selling an investment newsletter and are targeting what you consider to be smarter, more conservative investors, you might say, “The Conservative Investor Report can’t predict the future and can’t promise to make you rich overnight. However, it will help you put your hard-earned money in the right places, to keep it safe and make it grow.”
There is a strong promise here, but it is more believable because you have admitted a limitation and therefore sound more reasonable and honest.
Use active verbs. On a self-mailer for health supplements, I listed a series of benefits on the front panel and used active verbs for each:
Boost your energy! Relieve arthritis pain! Fight off cancer! Strengthen your heart! Lose weight fast! Sharpen your memory! Improve your vision!
Consider how much stronger this is than passive constructions, such as “You will boost your energy!” or “You can lose weight fast!” Direct marketing is all about action, so your copy must be active.