In my ten years as an advertiser, I’ve encountered plenty of folks with a flair for writing. They were born having some idea of where to put words within sentence, and sentences within paragraph. They usually know what words to use – when to say ‘bloom’ instead of ‘grow,’ or ‘confused’ instead of ‘befuddled.’
But having a flair doesn’t make them an expert in field.
I’m an expert ad copywriter. But I can’t write a journalistic piece to save my life. I have no experience in this area, and it’s just not my bag. So I happily leave this task to reporters. Likewise, a retailer, marketer or salesperson should leave writing to writer. Yet they seldom do.
A copywriter is forever trying to explain why he inserted a word where he did, or why he chose one expression over another. Frequently, a client or employer takes a writer’s carefully constructed piece and turns it into a wordgarbage wasteland. An atrocity... of verbosity!
If you’re such an offender, shame on you! Let your writer do job he or she was hired for: to make you look good. But if you insist on meddling with marketing, critiquing catalog and butchering brochure, you may as well learn how to do it right. Master secret to writing that packs a punch and makes people view you as a credible source. Learn tricks of trade that will get you taken seriously!
Use concrete examples to prove your point. Repeating an idea in different words leaves your writing flat and empty. "We’re great! We’re so awesome! You won’t believe how cool we are!" Why are you cool? Did you help a billion people save money last year? Did you rescue an endangered species from extinction? If you can’t back your claim with solid evidence, no one will believe what you say. Be specific! “I’m thinking of you” might win brownie points, but “I’m thinking of you in that little black dress you wore last weekend”—now that’ll actually get you somewhere!
Resist temptation to cheer for yourself. You’re good, and you know it. But if you must crow about it while doing your peacock strut, tell it to your mother because no one else cares. The world’s consumers aren’t interested in what you can do. They’re interested in what you can do for them.
Don’t pepper your writing with bad puns and kitschy wordplay. This is a weakness of mine. Puns come to me at strangest times... in shower, while I’m driving, as I’m trying to fall asleep. I want to paint world with my puns, but alas, this is not appropriate! No one wants to click on their financial advisor’s website and see him raving to everyone in free world that he’s “so money, baby!” Puns are fun, but true meaning of a well-turned phrase is one that’s used at right time and in right context.
Use active voice. I forgot about this for a long time, and my writing suffered for it. The active voice lends a certain dynamic quality to your writing. “The teacher wrote words on blackboard” employs active voice. “The words on blackboard were written by teacher” illustrates passive voice. Don’t be passive! Avoid any form of verb to be, such as ‘is’, ‘are’, ‘was’, ‘were’. Practice this by literally using your own voice. Read your writing aloud, doing your best “announcer” impression. If as you read, you find yourself lapsing into a sing-songy elementary-school kid reading his essay out loud, you probably failed assignment.
Get rid of “asides” in parentheses. They might look cute in an email to a girlfriend, but ‘”asides” that stray from main point of an informative paragraph make you look like a scatterbrain. Interrupting a thought with an unrelated remark is distracting to reader. It’s a comedic tactic that plays out well in informal writing, but just doesn’t fly in real world.
Avoid following: double negatives, redundancy, dangling participles.
The double negative: “It’s not impossible.” Why not just say, “It’s possible.” A negative plus a negative really does make a positive, even in writing!
Redundancy: “We’re also offering free gifts to our members too.” ‘Also’ and ‘too’ may be at opposite ends of sentence, but they’re serving same exact purpose and that means one has to go. Better: "We're also offering free gifts to our members."
Dangling participle: Beware dangler in this sentence! “Shivering with cold, Anne’s hat barely covered her ears.” Here, ‘Shivering with cold’ should modify Anne because she’s one who is shivering. The way this reads now, Anne’s hat is one with goosebumps. Acceptable: "Anne’s hat barely covered her ears, and she shivered with cold."
Employ parallelism. Parallelism helps reinforce a point with repeated sentence structure. Bulletpoints best illustrate parallelism. An example:
The product effectively:
- relieves headaches
- eases tension