9 Tips for Better Copywriting

We all learned how to write in school, but in advertising, there are some simple techniques that experienced writers use to convey messages with greater impact and brevity.  Without being too tutorial, you’ll find these 9 tips quite handy when writing your next sales letter, brochure or web page.

Avoid the wimpy verbs—is and be.

These “do-little” verbs only occupy space and state that something exists.  So don’t write “There is one simple omission that can transform a sentence from boring to brilliant.”  Do write “One simple omission can transform a sentence from boring to brilliant.” Similarly, avoid “We will be running the new program from our Dallas office.”  Instead, opt for “We will run the new program from our Dallas office.”

Place the longest item at the end of a series.

Start with the simple and work toward the complex.  It’s less confusing and makes a more memorable ending to the sentence.  If you have a series like “He was always later that Joan, loud and boring.”  Opt for “He was loud, boring and always later that Joan.”

Specifics are more convincing.

Unless you must for legal reasons, don’t use words like many, several, approximately, nearly and other such mushy weasel modifiers. Specifics tell your audience that you know what your product can do based on tests, research, results, etc.

Modify thy neighbor.

Neighboring clause, that is.  Make sure your modifiers apply directly to the pertinent clause in question. Do this and you’ll avoid such gaffes as “I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.  (The truck wasn’t coming the other way, it was stationary.)  Better to tell the judge “I was coming the other way and collided with a stationary truck.” (You’ll still pay the penalty for running into a truck, but at least you’ll come across as sober.)

Use single verbs to avoid doublespeak.

Single verbs can often do the work of two similar verbs.  Instead of “The computer was operating and running smoothly,” go for “The computer was running smoothly.”  Or, instead of “He was empty and ran out of gas,” go for the more direct “He ran out of gas.”

Vary sentence length.

A string of sentences all the same length can be boring.  Start with a short sentence or at least a medium-length one, then go long, short, medium or any combination thereof.  Imagine a person talking in sentences that are all the same length.  Robotic.

Are your sentences like the Energizer Bunny?

They go on and on. Just because you’re conveying legal or complex technical information, doesn’t mean you have to use serpentine sentences that never seem to end. Instead of saying “Laser beams, which have many properties that distinguish them from ordinary light, result from the emission of energy from atoms in the form of electromagnetic waves.” Break up and re-phrase to “Laser beams have many properties that distinguish them from ordinary light. They are produced when atoms emit energy in the form of electromagnetic waves.”

Go short and sweet.

Why use a 4- to 5-word phrase when a 1- to 2-word version will do nicely—with no loss in meaning?  Statements like “in view of the fact that” can be easily reduced to “since” or “because.” Word economy is particularly important, especially when you’re paying for premium ad space in a major publication.

Don’t overstate the obvious.

Redundancy is good for space travel, but not for clear writing.  Phrases like “anticipate in advance,” “totally finished,” or “vital essentials” will drive your readers crazy and communicate very little. The same goes for stringing two or more synonyms together like “thoughts and ideas” or “actions and behavior.”  It makes readers wonder if you really meant to say two different things or just wanted to reinforce one word with a needless synonym.

So the next time you’re struggling with that sales letter, mailer or web page, follow these simple rules. They’ll help you communicate your message more clearly and with greater selling power. Remember, there are 26 letters in the English alphabet.  Use them wisely.

Written by Glenn Cummins

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