I always think the word “copy” makes things sound a bit aloof. A bit dry. It sounds like one of those old-school business terms that us liberal types should be rolling our eyes at. But it isn’t.
“Copy” is essentially every word you use in business. This could be in the form of blog posts, or sales pages; it could be your Twitter bio or your email autoresponder; it could be your podcast, your eBook, your Facebook status, client correspondence, the training materials you produce… seriously. All those words = copy.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a copywriter on staff (and if you’re here looking for tips I’m guessing that’s not you), then you’re no stranger to producing kind of off kilter copy. You have a spectacular idea, a clear set of values, a comprehensive business plan… but you’re not quite hitting the spot with your wordsmithery. And yes, that’s a word (because I said so).
I’m constantly getting asked for writing tips, so today I thought I’d share the six simple steps you can take to amp up your copy. Admittedly, you probably won’t wake up tomorrow as a shit-hot 21st century Dickens, but you might just have a little more confidence in your collateral.
Write through the crap
If ever you’re stuck, brain dump everything onto a page. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t even have to be full sentences. Once you get all that stuff out of your mind and onto paper, you have fragments to build upon. I’ve found 750words.com really useful for this – I can do a stream of consciousness writing splurge, and then come back later to pull out any nuggets of goodness.
That’s an important step, when you’ve just done a brain dump, walk away and take a break before you get started refining your text.
Expand your language arsenal
In our online world there is so. much. competition. You need to be writing different things to everyone else in your field, and the simplest way to do that is to use different words. Read books. Watch Countdown. Buy word of the day toilet paper. Play word games.
Immerse yourself in words, and if a turn of phrase catches your eye, keep it for later. Create a swipe file in Evernote, or go old school and write it down. It may just be the inspiration that helps you craft that killer sales page.
head back to school
For once, actually USE something you learnt in school. Do you remember learning about alliteration, and rhyming, and similes and metaphors, and hyperbole? These techniques can really help infuse your copy with personality, and show your unique twist on a much talked about topic. Here’s a little cheat sheet to refresh your memories:
- Alliteration is the repetition of sounds (not necessarily letters) in close proximity, for example “big blogging bible” Alliteration is great if you’re looking for a nice catchy title.
- Rhyme is the echo of the end of words , for example “the same game” (and my fave technique for creating interesting taglines)
- Similes are obvious comparison (and a real chance to get creative) eg “I’m as hungry as a green plastic hippo”
- When you use a metaphor you’re describing something in a non literal way eg “the moon is the iris of the sky”
- Hyperbole is an exaggeration, eg “if you want trillions of subscribers, buy my eBook”
Hideously long sentences seem to be a worldwide epidemic. Stop it. When you have a draft that you *think* is ready to go, take a moment to read it out loud. If you need to pause for a breath mid sentence, it’s crying out for a full stop or two to break it up. Short, snappy sentences will make your copy much more readable.
write as you speak
Your readers want to feel like they’re hearing from a real live human, not the Queen’s spokeperson. Our weird speaking habits and colloquialisms are what stop conversation being dry as an uncheesed cracker Click & Tweet! – this should be translated to the page too.
I’ve always had a bit of a knack for this (I’m as much as a gobshite in real life as I am on paper!), but to get started try interviewing yourself and say your answers out loud. Record your words on your phone, transcribe them, then BOOM you have some copy ready to go!
Don’t take this to mean that your copy should be sloppy. I’m not saying write exactly as you speak – I don’t want to start seeing pages and pages of filler words and stutters. You can write in spoken English and still have sharp, well put together sentences (with killer grammar and spelling to boot).
use scripts + templates
Sometimes you need a springboard. With some business writing, the biggest challenge can be getting started – it tends to be those emails or pages you really don’t want to be writing… whenever you feel like that, hit a search engine and find a helping hand. Actually, don’t bother with Google, my favourite online lady recently rounded up some powerful scripts – check this out instead.
So there you have it – a few little tweaks you can make to amp up that writing.
What about you? Do you have any tips for kicking your copy up a notch?