Tips for Writing Good Copy
Writing good copy is important. You could have the cure for cancer but almost no one would know about it if your copy isn’t clear and concise. For example, if you wrote: “After generations of humans suffering with the pain of cancer, which comes in many variants and forms, that plague is now over”. Or, you could simply say “WE HAVE CURED CANCER!” The first example has a bit of style and feels “written” but is not clear so who really cares what words you selected if it is not clear to the reader. So, towards that end… here are some tips for writing good copy.
It’s all about your headline.
With a headline like “WE HAVE CURED CANCER!” the reader immediately wants to know more. Now, it doesn’t really matter that in your piece you explain that you have cured cancer in frozen termites – the reader will discover this while reading your content because your well written and concise headline drew them in.
Avoid fancy words… unless that is the point.
If your copy uses too many words that are difficult for the reader you run the risk of the reader abandoning the content before they have finished it. The great thing about a well written novel is it sucks you in and you can’t wait to turn the page. However, if the reader has to stop and find a dictionary every few sentences they will just move on. Pick up a medical journal and try getting through an article without reaching for the Google machine. It’s like that. The exception to this is when your piece is about a fancy word. For example, you might be writing an article about the use of big or “fancy” words and in doing so you introduce the reader to the word Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobic, which is someone who has a fear of long words. As a side note, the word Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobic would make a great headline. I mean wouldn’t you want to find out what that word meant?
Flowery language and overwritten sentences become tedious for the reader looking for information. Remember you are writing to hold the reader’s attention. Be precise with your words and as David Ogilvy aka “The Father of Advertising” correctly wrote -- “No unnecessary words or sentences!”
And lastly… sometimes bad grammar is a good thing.
Sometimes there is the grammatically correct way to say something and then the way that the rest of the world might say something. Example: I am certain there are a number of English majors and copy editors that are very upset with me for starting this section with the word And at the beginning. The proper structure would be -- “Lastly… sometimes bad grammar is a good thing.” However, I made that choice because this piece was intended to feel more conversational. There is an excellent piece in the New Yorker called Steven Pinker’s Bad Grammar, which I highly suggest reading. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/steven-pinkers-bad-grammar
The only way to become a good copywriter is to write. There are several great resources available on copywriting to help you on your journey. Of course, Ogilvy On Advertising is a brilliant book that has stood the test of time and offers insight that is still very relevant. Also, The Copywriter’s Handbook and The Adweek Copywriting Handbook are excellent guides to help you sharpen your copywriting skills. However, in the end to create good copy you have to be willing to write, re-write, edit, and then write some more.