Writing is a powerful skill to have. Unfortunately, there’s a dirty little secret most copywriters know, but almost everyone else… well, doesn’t.
The writing you learned in school is practically useless.
Well, unless you’re working in academia, that is. For twelve, sixteen, and for some of us twenty years, we’re taught how to write long, complex, and information packed sentences, tailored to an academic setting and audience, where they will likely only be skimmed, rather than actually understood. Sentences like the one you just read. The problem with this is it only works for that purpose. These days, very few writing instructors teach the difference between writing for academics and writing for consumption. In my mind, there’s a difference between “writing” and “copywriting” for this reason.
For this reason, marketers, specifically those with a copywriting background, can be so useful to an organization. Crafting a message is a universally-required skill, no matter the department, vertical, or job-level. Learning the difference between writing and copywriting can make or break a career, in my opinion.
So, how do you get better at writing solid copy? Practice! Start by working in the following 5 copywriting tricks into your day-to-day. I guarantee you’ll see an immediate improvement in your ability to communicate an idea.
Tip #1: Write like you speak. Speak what you write.
Walk into a copywriter’s office and you’re likely to catch them mumbling to themselves under their breath. The most communicative copy is written just like we speak. Trim the fat, shoot for short sentences, and for god sake, don’t write something you wouldn’t actually say.
Tip #2: Say what you mean.
Unless you’re running for president, you have no reason to disguise what you’re attempting to say. You should write to be understood. This begins with being upfront and clear with your copy. Explain where needed, but don’t insult the intelligence of your reader by thinking you can disguise a topic well enough to subliminally message it. You can’t.
In addition to being incredibly clear with the information you’re attempting to convey, you should also be clear with what you expect the reader to do. There’s a reason we include clear calls-to-action in our campaigns. They work.
Tip #3: Break rules.
Grammar is incredibly powerful. It can also be incredibly limiting. The difference between a good copywriter and a great copywriter is their ability to break rules in a way that makes sense. Too often in school, for example, we are taught paragraphs should have five well constructed sentences.
One sentence paragraphs clearly communicating an idea are okay.
Five word ones are, too.
The goal for your writing is communicating an idea, not getting published. Follow the rules when you can, but don’t be afraid to break them when you can’t.
Tip #4: Start with an outline.
So, I’m talking a lot of smack about writing instructors and English professors, but the one thing they do get right is the need for an outline. If you don’t write professionally, don’t attempt to write a letter, whitepaper, or email without an outline. If you do write professionally, you’re definitely already doing this.
Outlining is they key to a comprehensive, yet consistent message, logically flowing for the reader. It’ll help you identify leaps in logic, reduce the time spent revising your drafts, and ensure you’re not missing an important piece of content, like a solid call to action.
Tip #5 (and also my secret weapon): Avoid using “that.”
Believe it or not, most people don’t actually use the word “that” very often when speaking. It’s a word we use to poorly link ideas when writing. If you’re using the word “that,” you’ve likely either constructed your sentence poorly or you’ve skipped a message-critical idea in your copy. Well written copy should almost never require the use of the word “that.” With that said, don’t be afraid to break this rule once you’ve mastered it.