7 tips for improving the quality of your copywriting
How to impress your readers
The distinction, if you need one, between copywriting and writing is that copywriters create marketing material, such as ads, brochures and business websites. Their writing is designed to push buttons with the reader (most commonly the 'buy now' button).
I've been writing since I could hold a pencil. Copywriting came more recently, about ten years ago, when I chose to build a freelance career around it.
Here are some of my tips for anyone aspiring to be a copywriter, or simply seeking improvement in their writing skills.
1. Just start
Blog post or brochure, getting started is often the hardest part of copywriting. While your head's full of ideas for approaching your subject, grasping the right opening words or sentence out of the melee seems nigh on impossible.
Don't wait for that perfect phrase to present itself; just begin writing. Once you've got a paragraph or two down on the page, you'll have a much better idea of where to really begin. Usually the first words I write don't remain as the opening lines. They may be cut altogether. They did their job by getting me started.
2. Ignore rules
Some writers wrestle with constraints imposed by grammatical rules enforced by pedants. Write what feels, and looks, right to you. If you like it, that's a good start.
I missed out on learning formal grammar at school. That hasn't held my copywriting career back. When your copy communicates, it's doing its job.
Of course, the true test of your writing is whether your audience responds positively. You'll only find that out by publishing what you create.
3. Be you
Every writer has their own style and I've learned to live with mine. I quietly admire the copy turned out by career copywriters, like Tom Albrighton, but I no longer aspire to emulate him.
Better to work on and improve your style than strive for a poor imitation of another's.
4. Avoid unnecessary words
It may feel satisfying to write a 1,000-word article, but if you could say it in just 500 words, then do that.
It's easy to write long articles. Being able to convey a strong message in very few words is much harder, and more valuable. Headline and slogan writing is a skill, because so much needs to be said in a few words.
A lesson I learned a long time ago is to write a sentence, then consider how I can say the same thing in fewer words. Are there unnecessary words in there, like 'really' or 'in the event of'?
Keep your copy short and sharp. Your readers will appreciate it.
5. Sleep on it
Whatever you write will always look different in the morning - there will be plenty of room for improvement. Whenever possible, I write one day and edit the next.
Editing can take longer than writing. Once words begin to flow, you'll fill the page relatively easily. Coming back to your work, you may find it doesn't flow as well as you thought, or that the opening and close aren't as strong as they could be.
What was acceptable yesterday can be made better today. Invest time in polishing your copy to make it shine.
6. Find a proofreader
For me, a proofreader is essential. They spot the words I miss out and highlights inconsistencies that escape me, despite my own multiple reviews of the text.
A good proofreader also offers a sense check. "What do you mean by this?" they ask, pointing to a paragraph that I thought was very clear but contains some ambiguity.
The best writing is simple, clear and avoids words that many people may not recognise, such as 'ambiguity'. It means to have more than one possible meaning.
Having someone else look over your copy, correcting errors and encouraging you to write more clearly, is invaluable.
7. Know when to stop
You'll never be entirely satisfied with what you write. At least, that's my experience. You may be pleased to have finished a first draft, but coming back to it the next day, you'll find ways to improve it.
The more you review it, the more changes you'll make. Even after your words are published, you'll probably wish you could change some of them.
Finishing is a common challenge for writers. Deadlines can make us feel forced to publish work that's not quite as good as we'd like. But deadlines can be a good thing. Otherwise some of us would never finish, because we're never entirely satisfied.
Learn to accept when it's time to stop and move on to the next project.