This is big.
This is a collection of wise words from many of the brightest copywriters in our community.
These are the responses we got to this appeal:
“If you could only give a friend one tip for writing their own copy, what would it be?”
Thanks to the copywriters below for contributing – and to all of the copywriters who have contributed to the millions of words we’ve published since 2013! We wouldn’t be here without you.
What’s their ‘why’?
When I am writing for a new client, I use a tip I was given when I trained as a screenwriter. I write the three words that sum up the voice of the client and stick them on my monitor. I keep them there to remind me of their ‘why’ until I can write in their voice by instinct.
Get your client talking
Extract the gold. Ask your clients or customers meaningful questions. Get them flowing and ranting. Then listen with your whole body. When they say that thing that gives you goosebumps – write it down and let your writerly self run with it.
Before you put metaphorical pen to paper, start by defining the goal: who is the copy for, why do they care, and what is it intended to do. A weak goal (“it’s for everyone because the subject is interesting”) will equal weak copy. A clear goal (“it’s for customer persona A to help them reduce costs and it should drive demo bookings”) makes it easier to write powerful, persuasive copy that’s valuable to the audience and valuable to the business.
Two quotes to share:
1 – “You’re only as good as you dare to be bad” (David Copperfield, world famous illusionist)
2 – “Write like an arsonist, edit like a Supreme Court judge” (Gary Bencivenga)
Fully embrace the shit first draft. My former creative director and amazing friend compared the shit first draft to a lump of clay. Sculptors can’t start without one, and writers can’t start without something on a page, no matter how bad it is. Accept that sometimes your first ideas are half-baked, silly in-jokes or something you’ve accidentally recreated from somewhere else. Get all the clay out of your head, walk away, then come back refreshed and start sculpting it into something magical.
Write it out
When stuck writing a headline. Write it out longhand – exactly whatever it is you want to say (a recapitulation of the brief). Now write that same message 50 different ways. Have a break. Sift, tweak, sift, tweak… bingo!
Mine’s an editing tip and it’s been a game changer. I use the Immersive Reader -> Read Aloud function on Word. It reads your copy out in a natural voice, complete with intonation. This helps you identify where your writing is clunky/awkward, where you’ve missed a word out, or repeated the same word too close together. When we read our own work our brains sometimes tell us what we want to hear. The Word robot lady reads the copy with brutal honesty. And I love her for it.
Web copy’s all about the user-experience (UX), so make it easy for them to take the next step.
-Ensure calls to action clearly say what will happen when you click them.
– Use clear, non-elitist, inclusive language
– Get the most important information for the user right up there at the top.
Words are like food…
Let words rest between sessions working on them. And always factor that time in when scheduling or quoting for your time. 8 hours writing & editing over 1 day will never produce results as good as 8 hours writing & editing over 2 or, even better, 3 days. The difference? The words have time to rest in between. Maybe I’m just obsessed with food but I tend to think of them as “marinating”. And it’s amazing how different they taste for it.
Copywriters and actors unite!
Having an acting background, when training new copywriters, I like to borrow from this world and encourage them to think like actors taking on a role. They need to understand the script (brief), represent the director’s vision (client requests), find the voice of the character (brand tone), and make their audience (customers) feel something. Anyone who has ever watched a film can understand the analogy! It helps to take ego out of the equation and shifts focus to what the brand and their target market needs. This is my go-to thought process if I ever feel a bit stuck!
Examples make your writing clearer. This could be framing your copy as a story, or simply including a bullet list. As with all your copy, make your examples inclusive, relevant and useful for your audience.
Read, read and read some more
Read: You don’t get words out if you don’t get words in.
Always trust your gut
Always trust your gut. If a project doesn’t feel right or you’re just not feeling it, don’t be afraid to wait for something that fuels your fire.
Walk a mile in their shoes
It’s not about you or your business. It’s about the person you’re talking to. Get in their shoes. Understand their niggles, frustrations, motivations and desires. Once you know them inside out it’s easier to write for them and develop a connection. Write like you’re talking to them directly. Write like you’re their friend and you’re helping them out. They’ll be much more inclined to listen if you do!
The 30/70 split
Copywriting is 30% writing, 70% editing. Remember that when you say “It won’t take me long.” Your first draft is rarely your best. So don’t agonise about it – just get it down on paper and start tweaking.
It’s all in the planning
No matter how busy you are, plan time into your schedule to think about what you are going to write before you start typing. This means not just booking out your time based on how long something’s going to take to write, but how long it’s going to take to get your head into the mindset of the reader, review previous content performance and research competitor activity and best practice.
Reach the right people in the right way
My guiding principle is to never take readers for fools. Every stage of devising copy should respect their instincts. And simply serve their interests. That’s why integrity works with copywriting and mischief fails. Any whiff of deceit only annoys readers and dies of ridicule. A copywriter should be able to defend his or her skills. Either that or it’s propaganda that takes up their days. And fools that make up their readers. Better to reach the right people in the right way. Every time.
Research rabbit holes
Beware the research rabbit hole. Don’t get me wrong, research is great. But that’s the problem, it’s easy to find it too great. And all too soon it acts as a security blanket, letting you put off the real writing. You may have gathered loads of scintillating facts. How many sprinkles on a donut? Where’s the largest wind farm? Do penguins have teeth? But does your article really need all these gems? The trick, of course, is to know when you’ve got enough. So keep your title, your word count and your CTA firmly in mind – and don’t go chasing any rabbits.
It’s a mistake to rush projects (though sometimes we have no choice). But the writing process is messy. There are usually bumps along the road. You need time to make the right connections, cover all the angles and fully develop your thinking. Crucially, most projects benefit from putting the task to one side and doing something different for a day or three before going for the final edit. Letting things ferment and bubble under in your subconscious. And then revisiting your writing with a fresh pair of eyes, getting your work to where you want it to be.
Permission to write wrong
My tip is taken from ‘Everybody Writes’ by Ann Handley, and it’s this: “Embrace The Ugly First Draft”. Because getting it all onto the page and not worrying about perfection is a super-important first step in many a creative process. You can redraft, edit and fine tune later (or ask somebody else to). Give yourself permission to write something imperfect, and then you’ve got something to work with.
Compel your audience to take the desired action
For every piece of content define the over-arching theme. Use it to guide your language. Align the headings to reinforce that message. Apply research to give your argument weight. Provide ‘evidence’ (such as case studies, use cases, testimonials, anecdotes) to make it real. And edit against it, to delete anything that doesn’t support the theme. …By the time the audience reaches the call-to-action (which of course directly relates to the theme!) they feel compelled to click.
Pause and review
Write things before your deadline wherever possible so you can leave a day or two before editing. It makes it more likely you’ll read what you’ve actually written, rather than what you *meant* to write. Once you are ready to edit – read your copy out loud. (Even better if you can get someone else to read it to you). It might feel silly but you’ll be able to hear any mistakes, or spot where sentences run too long.
Find a Brand’s Tone of Voice
If you’re struggling to write in a brand’s tone of voice, write out what they’ve already written – an ad, a web page, an email – you’ll feel like you already write for them so anything you then write fresh will come more easily.
Thanks again to all of the copywriters who contributed to this impressive collection! We’d also like to thank Dawn Kofie who has edited everything we’ve published in the past 5 years or so.
And of course we wouldn’t have reached this point without the earlier efforts of Joanna Tidball as editor, or Ben Locker and Tom Albrighton as founders.
Here’s to another 1,000 articles!