In this guest post, OgilvyOne creative director Rob Morrison (pictured below) offers his top ten tips to turn your written words – be they tweet, email or brief – into poetic magic.
Have you ever found yourself having to re-read something because you’re not quite sure what the point was? Maybe it’s an internal staff memo. Or a web page you’ve been using for research. Or, heaven forbid, a tweet from the leader of the free world.
Copy is everywhere. It’s just a shame so much of it is like wading through treacle.
So how do you write what readers want to read? As someone who’s strung sentences together for a living for over 20 years I’ve got my own list of tips and tricks. Here’s my favourite ten.
- Use ‘You’ not ‘We’
This immediately stops copy from sounding ‘chest-beaty’. One of my copywriting heroes, Hershell Gordon-Lewis, claims you never need to use the word ‘We’. I don’t go that far but whenever possible you should twist benefits back to be more about the reader.
- Get your reader nodding
Say something your reader could never disagree with. ‘Seems like you never have enough hours in your day.’ Or ‘Doing more with less is the new mantra for business.’ Or, if you’ve got an existing relationship with them, remind them of that. Get them reading in your first few sentences and you might just keep them reading until the end.
- Don’t be afraid to tell a story
As the infamous Howard Luck Gossage used to say ‘People read what interests them and sometimes it’s advertising’. If you can engage your reader in a story it’s very powerful. Case studies. Anecdotes. Examples. Even hypotheticals your reader can relate to can make something which was dry seem interesting.
- Don’t slow your reader down with ‘there is’, ‘there are’ or ‘that’
The word ‘that’ is almost never needed. When you delete it from a sentence you’ll seldom notice it’s gone. Don’t believe me? Watch this.
– ‘The CEO confirmed that he was told that the contract was under threat.’
– ‘The CEO confirmed he was told the contract was under threat.’
Magically the sentence is 15 per cent shorter. And shorter is always better.
- Link your sentences and paragraphs.
This is why professional copywriters use phrases like ‘Which is why’ ‘Importantly’ ‘Plus’ and ‘Best of all’. It means your copy will flow from top to bottom – making it like a wiggly line down the page. So when you’ve got someone reading they’re more likely to keep reading.
- When you make a claim, prove it.
If you say your product is the best, fastest, most successful then have some independent stats, some analysis figures, something to prove it. If you say your meeting will be ‘the best 30mins you’ll spend this year’ tell your reader why. Without proof it’s easy to assume you’re exaggerating. Which makes whatever you’ve written easy to dismiss.
- Mix up your paragraph lengths.
This is particularly if you have a lot to convey – in an email or on a webpage or in a white paper. Changing your paragraph length means if your reader gets distracted and looks away they can easily find their place again.
- Replace verbose words with simple words
What does that mean? Try using:
– ‘know’ instead of ‘understand’
– ‘swap’ instead of ‘exchange’
– ‘use’ instead of ‘utilise’
– ‘or’ instead of ‘alternatively’.
Simpler is always easier to read.
- Edit, edit, edit!
If you can make your copy shorter, without losing meaning or tone, do. (See how short that was).
- Finally, read it out loud.
To write in a conversational tone means it should sound good in conversation. And the best way to judge that is to read it like it’s in conversation. Just make sure you avoid the confused faces of workmates who think you’ve started talking to yourself.
Pretty simple right? But you’d be amazed at how often I read communication that misses these simple rules. Oh, and just for the record, I’m probably going to be thrown out of the copywriters union for having done this.
(Actually, who am I kidding? Do you think we’d have a union and still be working these hours? Sheesh.)