I’m very blessed to have been a professional writer for my entire 30-plus year career. I knew early on that writing was my God-given natural talent, and I also really enjoyed it. So it’s pretty cool to make a living at something that I’m not only good at, but also like doing.
But what’s really cool is seeing that my daughter Natalie has apparently inherited my writing gene. I spotted this when she was in high school and I’d read her English papers. Now she’s studying Mass Communication at Georgia College and her writing is as good as or better than a lot of professional writers I work with.
In college, her writing load has ramped up considerably and I’ve been reading her papers and offering suggestions. I’m proud to say that she’s well on her way to becoming a professional writer herself if that’s what she wants to do.
The Basics of Good Copywriting
As I’ve been coaching Natalie, I’ve refocused myself on some of the basics of what constitutes high-quality copywriting. So I thought now would be a good time to share a few helpful copywriting tips.
Here are 8 copywriting tips that can help you become a better writer:
1. Use the active voice. Writing in the passive voice happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves as an editor. Passive writing severely weakens your copy so you should write in the active voice in almost all instances. There are some situations where the passive voice is called for when writing marketing copy, but this is the exception, not the rule.
2. Read your copy out loud while you’re writing. It’s amazing how much this helps me when I’m writing. I constantly find myself reading what I’m writing out loud (ask my wife!) in order to get the right rhythm and flow to my copy. Go ahead, give it a try!
3. Tighten, tighten and then tighten some more. Good copy — especially marketing copy — is tight and concise. Remember: Less is usually more when it comes to copywriting.
After you’ve written a draft, go back and start whittling away unnecessary words and phrases. You should be able to cut the length of a draft by at least 10 or 20 percent with some judicious tightening. If necessary, ask someone else to tighten your copy for you — sometimes it can be hard to tighten your own writing.
4. Critique your copy visually. Make your copy easy to read not only from a language standpoint, but also from a visual standpoint. Noted copywriting expert David Garfinkel says your copy needs to have “eye appeal.”
For example, shorten long paragraphs to make them look less intimidating. And use subheads and bullets to break up long copy blocks into snackable bites. This will also make it easier for readers to easily skim your copy to find what they’re looking for.
5. Don’t use jargon. Different industries tend to have their own jargon words. In the business-to-business writing world that I live in, I have my own list of jargon words and phrases that make me cringe. These include synergies, best practices, deep dive, baked in, solution oriented, action item, push the envelope, and alignment, to name just a few.
Arrgh, that was painful just typing those words!
6. Don’t be boring. This reminds me of what Natalie used to tell people when she was a kid if they asked her what her dad did for a living: “He writes boring business stuff.”
Hearing this has actually been helpful for me. Because while a 10 year old isn’t the target audience for anything I write, it reminds me that I always need to make whatever I write as interesting as possible — even if it’s about the difference between defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans (yawn).
7. Proofread your copy carefully. In my college journalism courses, if we had one single typo or misspelled word in a paper or assignment, it received an automatic F — period. No questions asked, no negotiation and no debate. And this was back when we wrote on a typewriter without automatic spellcheck!
If this rule applied in the professional world, I think a lot of writers would be out of work. I don’t claim to be 100% perfect all the time, but that’s definitely what I shoot for — and so should you.
8. Strive for simplicity and clarity. As a business-to-business writer specializing in financial services and IT, I write about some pretty technical stuff. But that isn’t an excuse for my copy to be unclear or overly complex.
In fact, my biggest challenge is usually writing about complex topics in a clear, easy-to-understand way. Ask someone else who isn’t in your industry how clear and simple your writing is. If they don’t easily understand what you’ve written, you’ve got some work to do.