Five Ways to Write Magnificent Copy

Five Ways to Write Magnificent Copy

Reader Comments (158)

  1. These are all great tips. One I would add is that people usually buy for emotional reasons but justify their buying decisions with logic. So it would be beneficial to appeal to the buying audience’s dominant emotion (s).

    • You mean all the magic sparkles that are impossible to explain but just pop out into your writing and make your readers fall in love with you? Well then sure, there is more to magnificent writing than just what’s in these 5 pointers.

      But be fair. The magic stuff is so hard to capture and explain in a way that will help someone write better. If your average writer followed these 5 pieces of advice, they would be heaps better than they are currently. Given that many people are too busy or lazy to do all 5, they’d produce content that was pretty striking and beautiful, especially when compared to their peers.

      • Of course, Copyblogger gives quality content on writing. What I mean is magnificent writing can’t be learned by rules, or by other writer’s advice. You have to figure it out on your own!

  2. After a year of blogging, I’m finding out a lot of these tips on my own.

    The “sleep on it” is great for bringing your post to that next level. Also reading it out loud is crucial for finding little spelling or grammar errors. I never heard of the “breath test” before, but I will definitely try it out.


    • Arrggg… why do I struggle a lot with the passive voice??? Any help please. Yeah, this is very true. This belongs to my most common mistakes.

      • I do a search on passive voice flags such as “was” “be” “are” and then go back and rewrite to make the sentence active.

  3. When I used to write articles for a magazine, I would read my work out loud- it really does help!

    I would also sleep on it, too- night after night….it never seemed perfect enough.

    You do have to put a limit on that! Eventually, you have to send it off

  4. Best copywriting tips I’ve seen in awhile. My favorite is the first for a slightly different reason. When you’re “drunk” (even metaphorically) you don’t let your inhibitions get in the way. I know my first version is going to be a piece of crap and not something I want to commit to. I don’t let that bother me. It’s not like I’d ever send that version, or even the second, to the client.

    • I couldn’t agree more! I’ve gotten into a terrible habit of trying to edit as I go instead of just letting it all hang out to edit later. I guess I’ll have to work on being a better “drunk”!

  5. Great article. I completely agree with writing drunk editing sober-by principle of course. Great writing finds its way on the page when we let go of our inhibitions.

  6. I love this post. One, because it validates a lot of my writing process already, and two because it gives me more to work on. I am a huge fan of the waiting 24 hours. In fact, I sometimes wait 48, giving what I write two edits. I also read everything out loud, a trick I’m pretty sure my 7th grade English teacher taught me. Thanks for the great tips. I’m going to go try the breath test immediately.

  7. I’m quite new to this world, and really enjoy reading the copyblogger posts, but today I want to file a complaint. I know rules are there to be broken, but… I’d just like to point out that there are a fair few wordy sentences in this article.

    Now I quote: “Once you hit 20 words in a sentence, every additional word can lose you up to 10% of your readers”. So by my calculations, if we were to apply this rule to this article, no one would ever actually reach the end of the post.

    Obviously this isn’t the case, as the article also happens to be well written, entertaining and packed with useful tips, but the phrase “practice what you preach” does spring to mind.

    Anyway, what does everyone else think? Is the 20 word limit a good guideline? Or can we be more flexible? And how long is too long? 30 words, 35 words?

    (However, the very fact that I noticed the wordiness of the incriminating sentences is perhaps proof enough?)

  8. Am I getting too much already? I am reading this blog and I keep on learning everyday. Surely, I want to write and become very effective.

    I am going to heed advice #2.

  9. Great post! After spending 10 years as a journalist, I can’t tell you the amount of people who drummed these tenants into our heads – and how often journalists ignored them. Regarding reading it out loud – I’ll often start reading out loud, only to later slip into reading it silently. I fixed this problem by reading it into my Iphone, when you’re trying to record what you wrote, you speak out more, or at least I do. And then you can listen to yourself read it, which also helps with flow.

    Two recommendations I’d add:
    1. Print it out. It’s amazing how much you find you can cut and edit, if you’re not looking at words on a screen.

    2. When rewriting, work to show (often with analogies), not tell. Example of telling: “His memory was fading in and out.”

    Example of showing: “His memories flitted in and out of his mind like flies through a hole in a screen door.”

      • Thanks Sonia, and while I’m at it, thanks for all you and the rest of the crew are teaching me in Third Tribe Marketing. I’m also lucky enough to be in Jon’s course as well. Having a blast!

        • There is so much to be said for printing it out. I find that when I try to edit by reading it on the computer, I miss so much more than when I print it out.

          It all comes to developing good habits, and from there the rest falls into place. If you can develop the good habits that are drummed into you, things go a lot better.

          Often times, we just cast it aside and think we don’t need it.

          Great post and great followup Patrick!

    • Excellent article and great additions Patrick. But the editor/pedant in me couldn’t let “tenants” slip on by! I think they might be tenets?

  10. I never was good a writing and reading, yet here I am trying to be a blogger. Trying to make money with this online business. I have committed myself to reading and writing everyday to get my skills up. These tips will help me quite a bit. Mostly the saving it over night. I think I am going to try to get a few days ahead or even a week because I need to ready it over and over again. A tool that I use on my mac, if you highlight text it will read it out loud for you. It helps me to focus on each word and not scan.

  11. All really good tips.

    Getting to know the right time to hit ‘publish’ is one of the most difficult things about writing online. For me it’s about resisting making it live when it is just ‘ok’. Just a little more work will ALWAYS make it better.

  12. Fantastic to the point advice. I always read my work out loud. It is an excellent method to use to catch curious turns and jumbled phrases, not to mention spelling mistakes.

  13. In the 1990s, I remember doing a grammar check on Word and it mentioned passive voice percentage. This helped me reduce the number (what gets measured improves). Excellent reminder. Write like you’re writing a resume, actions, and verbs.

  14. I absolutely love this post! Each one of the tips is so helpful. This post would make a great ‘Writing Tips’ laminated card to hang on the wall over my desk! Hope you don’t mind your words on my wall! 😉

  15. Great post!

    If people used one tip from your post to improve their writing tenfold it would be to read their work out loud. I adopted this technique when I went back to school and with all the writing I did it saved me time and time again.

    Now I’ve convinced my husband to send me important writing so I can read it out to him before he moves forward with it. Unfortunately we only started doing this after a big faux pas!

  16. It is important to get the first two techniques done in the right order. Writing drunk, publishing, sleeping on it, and then editing sober is not the best method.
    I suggesting sleeping first. That way you can stay up later while drunk and edit.

  17. Hi, You hit the nail on the head with the breath test. I am a Helium writer and must rate. I once read an entry with 146 words in the first sentence. It left me breathless!

    I recently started reading my work out loud and have caught countless mistakes, noticed rabbit trails, and generally improved my writing.

    Thank you for your article!

  18. Absolutely. My own rule: if you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it. And don’t make shit up.
    However, I consistently watch clients take conversational copy provided and ruin it by “providing valuable, professional content” or so they say. The blogs are blasé, the posts boring, and the email, insignificant. In short, the copy sucks . . . and their customers know it.

    And the sitting on it overnight??? Priceless. Has saved many a relationships, professional and personal!

  19. Really enjoyed this post! And I absolutely agree with getting someone else to read what you’ve written. It’s amazing how ingrained you get in your own copy. When you’ve been working hard on something and reread it a zillion times, it sounds perfect to you. To the point that you’ve actually memorized it in a way, and can no longer even notice spelling mistakes.


  20. I agree with tips one through three.

    1. Writing “drunk” enlivens your writing. I accomplish this by writing a zero draft — a free-flowing draft that I write as it comes out. After the zero draft, I come back to edit, leaving most of the life in the piece.

    2. Sleeping on your writing is huge. I always get excited about posting new things that I write, but every post gets better simply by sleeping on it and editing the next day or the next week. One way to do this is to write several posts and save them as drafts. By the time you edit and get around to publishing them, they will be much improved. So yes, make sure you sleep on your posts.

    3. Reading prose out loud is a great way to improve writing. I don’t have friends read it out loud, but I do read my posts out loud myself. If I’m ever writing something really important, I’ll follow this tip to have a friend read it out loud.

    As for tips four and five, I need more practice. I’ll try to put them into practice in my upcoming posts.

  21. Hi D, I am a newbie blogger and a newbie writer. Well, these are awesome tips for me. I know that I am not writing well, but still my articles capture the eyes of my readers. Hope I will get into a good writer once I start following all these tips. Thanks again.

  22. I constantly visualize the scene in the movie “A River Runs Through It” where the father has the home schooled son re-write his compositions several times. Each time telling him to make it more succinct.

  23. This is a great list. Can I add a couple more tips about paragraphs? Keep them short and select the best, move it to the top of your writing and then re-organize the others?

  24. Thank you, I can use this to convince our staff I should drink on the job!

    Breath test – Check
    Sleep on it – Always
    Read out loud – Yes, I need to start
    Passive voice – The passive sometime slips into my writing

    Seriously, write drunk/edit sober and sleep on it. Writing and editing use different parts of your brain and need time to switch. Let the writing sit before you edit, do not ask your brain to switch helter skelter back and forth from writing to editing, both will suffer. Spell check is the worst facilitator of edit while you write. Turn spell check off while you write and on when you edit.

  25. I don’t know why, but when I saw the title of this post, a mental image of Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven flashed into my head. I must need a drink. 😉

    But seriously, I often find it helps to start by writing something silly… especially if the topic is well, dry. Sort of like stretching before you go for a run, to get the muscles warmed up (not that I run).

  26. I’m guilty of number 4, but I’ve been working on it! I appreciate the knowledge of how long a sentence should be, and that too many words in a sentence make you lose readers.
    Thank you for the info!

  27. Once, when I worked for IBM, an associate and I wrote a proposal while testing a recipe for sangria by a pool. It was a magnificent document on first reading but then the next day we discovered lots of missing verbs.

    I do still subscribe to this step as it seems to free ones mind.

  28. Favorite part:

    “You can improve any piece of writing by letting it sit overnight.”

    So very very very VERY true! It’s amazing how letting one’s writing age can improve the overall thought process that put it all together.

    I often will ask my family to critique my postings as well; that’s why subtle changes often emerge as the days go by.

  29. I am very appreciative that most of your points emphasize how time is utterly significant to writing good copy. I think that some writers get the impression that bloggers are great at coming up with content on the fly, when really, most great bloggers are super-organized, and great with scheduling.

  30. These are great tips! I especially appreciate the tip about “sleeping” on your copy…great advice that I need to incorporate into my routine!

    But great copywriting involves so much more than these tips. For example, knowing your target market is key to writing copy that resonates with them. Appeal to their emotions to sell them, and appeal to their logic to reassure them they’ve made the right choice.

    Thanks for the great tips!


  31. Howdy everyone, and thanks for your kind remarks. Just to address @Stella Hodkin:

    Yes, the 20-word limit for sentences is a rule of thumb. Sometimes it’s impossible. Or sometimes a sentence just works better run on, with ellipses or semicolons breaking up the clauses…because that’s how people tend to speak.

    It really depends on the style you’re going for—and of course your subject matter and audience. I’ve seen extremely strong-pulling copy with mega-long sentences. But they were written highly conversationally…separated out by ellipses…and you’d have no trouble reading them aloud. Even if you had to breathe, you’d just do so naturally. So the breath test isn’t a hard-and-fast rule so much as an observation that a sentence ought to be easily spoken.

    Hope this helps!

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. I agree… the breath test is definitely the way forward!

  32. Where did you get this stat? “Once you hit 20 words in a sentence, every additional word can lose you up to 10% of your readers.”

  33. So far, reading aloud helped me to improve a few articles… it’s amazing how many mistakes I found by reading aloud. 🙂

    I’m really impressed with the advice No. 4 I will definitely try to implement this 20 words in a sentence tip… it’s a great idea to mention that “every additional word can lose you up to 10% of your readers.” such sentences can motivate people to to apply that tip…

    All tips are great, thanks for your help… 😉

  34. Hi Joe, I can’t say as I remember where I read it originally. Possibly it was when I studied journalism, actually. Sentence length isn’t a “hard” indicator of semantic difficulty (as I imply in my comment just above), but it does function as a kind of “unreliable proxy” for it. So, as a general rule, the longer a sentence the lower the average reading comprehension of it will be.

    For example, You can see here and here that Flesch-Kincaid uses sentence length as one of the primary measures for both their reading ease and grade level tests.

    And the book ‘Put It In Writing’ makes some similar sorts of comments on sentence length too.

  35. Brilliant article,

    Interesting pre-occupation with intoxication coming through … But it does get the points across!



  36. I love the “write drunk, edit late”, except I used to literally write drunk and later couldn’t read it! Now I type drunk!

  37. All I can say is that I agree with all the above comments these tips are really helpful and down to earth.
    I am always looking for ideas of how I can improve my writing and I have found it useful to sleep on it and review the material the following day.
    Thank you for a great post.

  38. I have used sleeping on it to help me when I am having trouble coming up with ideas on what to write on a topic as well. It not only helps to sleep on it before editing. I find that if I go to sleep thinking about a keyword or product that I need to write about I often wake up with more ideas for the article. This might not work for everyone, but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway.

  39. I like the idea of writing drunk! Even if you didn’t mean it that way, would you mind if I took it that way?

    I actually do sleep on a lot of my thoughts before I put it down and it helps me put it into writing better. Then setting it aside and editing it again later also helps.

  40. Reading out loud is the best thing any copywriter can do to check for quality. Good copy SOUNDS great.

    Like… Just do it


    1,000 songs in your pocket

    Good copy is an excerpt from a valuable conversation.

  41. Thanks – this was an encouraging and timely article for me! As a former journalist now blogging I thought I would never say this but…sometimes I need a sub-editor!!

    And as I have been chronically ill for some years now (including a certain amount of intermittent cognitive dysfunction) I have had difficulty rereading and finishing my blog posts. I often read them out loud, print them out, and shorten my sentences.

    But sometimes it is so frustrating to have not yet published what I want to, as quick as I want to (due to being at home with the family too) that I sometimes publish then reread the next day. If I’m only making minor sentence changes or noticing a spelling mistake then that’s ok to change after publishing on the blog!

    Thanks for your helpful reminders, just as I am writing this morning (UK time)!

  42. It’s really interesting to read about something that you do that others are also doing! I truly agree with your number two tip: “sleep on it.”

    I have literally lost sleep over a number of write-ups that I needed to write only to find out early in the morning that I should’ve just enjoyed the night because I had to rewrite everything anyway! And the funny thing about it is that: I finished the article in half the amount of time the following day!

    This is truly a great tip and a wonderful validation of what really works.

  43. I have spent a lot of time recently writing content and it can be quite draining, particularly trying to build worthwhile content for topics that can be a little dull! This article is very interesting, I personally always get one of my colleagues to read through what I have written and make changes….I don’t always go with them, but it’s great to get another angle. Sleeping on it is not something I have done, but may give it a try.

  44. hah really Loved that weird tip , shall i try to write sober?? does it work ?? oh common !!!! hah :))
    one more thing , you ‘re right , i tried this before , and if you have someone to read what you have done you will really get more advices and improve what you’re doing in a short period as we say : two opinions is better than just One !!! 🙂

  45. I find your article extremely helpful. I am a student in a writing program and one of our assignments is to find a writer’s blog that we find helpful. We are asked to comment on it.

    I am anxious to release my work for the world to see because I think what I just wrote is the most brilliant piece that I have written so far until I read it the next day. Then I realize that it is not bad, but it is not that great after all. In fact, I often wondered why in the world I put that sentence in

    You give sound advice in letting someone read my work out loud. I’ve read my work out loud and found it helpful in catching those run on sentences (can’t you tell?). But, I’m definitely going to test the tool to let someone read my work out loud to me. I may cringe the whole time but I think I can get through it.

    I must say that I am personal in my writing and I feel like I write with much enthusiasm. After all, I write inspirational pieces and enthusiasm is need to inspire others.

    Another weakness is my inability to keep my voice active. Lord knows, I try and I try! Sometimes I can’t even see the passive voice in my work. I can’t see my wordiness either until someone points it out to me. But, I’m learning and I’m practicing daily. And the most important lesson I’m learning is to don’t be shy about my challenges. This is the reason why the writing center is my best friend at the college!

  46. I once read that two of my favorite rebel scribes Lester Bangs and Hunter S. Thompson both used to write out the stories of their favorite authors word for word to capture the beat and style and then create their own. I’ve done that too and it does have a cool effect on your writing and it can trick your brain out of writers block or add on a interesting twist to your own style.

    Those two dudes were also fans of actually writing while drunk or high, which doesn’t appeal to me because I know that in the end drugs and alcohol can kill your writing and even you. But as a metaphor, I think that “drunk writing” works here.

    Writing when you first get up in morning is like writing drunk because your still in that dreamy state and your subconscious and inhibitions are lower. Write fast and furious during that time and edit later. Ray Bradbury did that.

    It’s also helpful to write really long comments on blogs about writing great copy. Doing so can help trick your brain in to thinking that it’s not really writing time. You can then copy and paste the comment in to your post and then edit if needed. 😉

  47. Fantastic advice, beautifully put. Aspiring writers should print this out, stick it to their bedhead and put a votive candle in front of it. Many thanks for a rare shot of 100-proof truth. Best regards, P. 🙂

  48. Thanks for the excellent tips. I also read an article that reminded writers not to fall In love with their own voice … You’ve got to be willing to edit and not obsess over lovely phraseology that adds nothing to the content and may even weigh it down … A night’s sleep, as you point out, can make you more effectively critical and ruthless, as needed, with the proverbial editing pencil (or “delete” key!)

  49. Wow, Ok I’m In The Movement Of Learning How To Write Copy. So, I Come Here Often! You Have No Idea How Much This Helps Me With My Writing!

    I Take The Time To Write Notes About Your Posts! SO, Good.

    This Is A Wonderful Post For A Excitable School Girl Like Myself. I Really Need To Take My Time When Writing! Slow Down My Thoughts And Read My Work Out Loud!

    Thanks A Million For These Great Tips!

    I’m In The Middle Of CoppyBlogger’s Ebook Aim For The Heart…I Have To Say, One Of My Favs!

    Great Show Sir!


  50. Learning to write and reading it aloud makes you learn to pitch.

    It makes selling easier because you practice saying things out loud that sound correct.

  51. Thank you for the great tips — really enjoyed this post. May I add something to your list? Check for typos. I personally feel that typos can take your credibility down a notch. Getting another set of eyes on it as you suggested in tip #3 can help significantly. Thanks again…love your blog!

  52. It took me a long time to learn not to send off copy the moment I placed the last period, and now I am trying to teach the writers I work with at my agency the same thing. In the heat of the moment, a thousand thoughts and talking points and critics swirling around your head, words are written that may not be the right fit, tone, or message. Only after you “sober up” and sleep on it can you read it like a stranger and see if it all makes sense and tells the reader what you truly want to say. Particularly in copywriting, a synonym is not necessarily a synonym, and once the basic verbiage is in place, you need some time and distance before you can cherry-pick which words are nuanced enough to express your true message.

  53. Some guidelines for strong copy: People always react more to fear of loss than hope of gain. I find most people are more intrigued by questions than answers, don’t you? Humans cannot stand uncertainty – creating some uncertainty in your message is a great response device. The news never says “It will rain tomorrow.” They say, “Are umbrellas in your future? Details at 11.”

  54. This was a great refresher of the basic copy-writing process. It is true, people lose track of the simple procedures that will make an average writer amazing.

  55. This is brilliant – I’ve been reading copy blogger articles for the last 6 months, and this would have to be one of the best to date. Very, very useful!

  56. Isn’t it just magical the way great copy turns into a pumpkin when you go back to read it the next day. Better yet, let it sit a week or a month . . .

    In fact, I’ve found that the worst time to turn a project in is the moment I think I just finished it.

  57. Good tips and to the point. I definitely fall into the “Kid on Christmas” trap and post a little quickly at times. I also really like the advice about having someone else read it out loud. I always read my writing aloud before posting anything, but never have someone else read it. What I like about that is you can ensure that the tone you are trying to get across is, indeed, coming across as intended.

    Thanks for sharing!

  58. Great post. This not only applies to copywriting, but also to all writing in general.
    I liked the “write drunk; edit sober”. Actually true haha. You can come up with a great idea while drunk, then make the idea sound proper once your sober.

  59. Dear dashing & debonair web copywriting ace – thanks for this post.

    I have to admit that writing while drinking a glass of wine has produced some of my best work – and the trick has been to sleep on it.

    When I’m in a hurry to get my post out because I’m excited I must admit I don’t read it out loud and I should, I should also sleep on it more.

    This then alludes to an even bigger point – which is blocking off times to write a few posts and come back to them so that you then have a wealth of info to draw from, rather than writing when necessary.


  60. I have been using the 20 word test on my writing and it has improved tremendously. I never noticed I wrote so many run-on sentences. The paragraphs read easier and you can actually understand what I said. Wow, good tip!

  61. Why is passive voice always considered bad? It always makes these lists. Used correctly passive voice can highlight the object being acted upon over the actor when the object being acted upon takes predominance over the actor.

    • It’s not always considered bad. Read more carefully. 🙂 But PV is easy to use without thinking about it, and too much of it makes for writing that’s flabby, listless, or downright weaselly. (No one ever does anything, it just gets done to them.) You’re right, there are times when it’s a good choice, it just has to be conscious.

  62. I loved your post! I am in journalism school right now doingstrategic communications and I have found some of the writing to be difficult for me because of having to pick apart every word that I use. I found your post to be very helpful!

  63. Really enjoyed this post and am going to send a link to it around. As any web developer will no doubt agree getting copy out of the client for their site is the bane of our existence. An otherwise perfect project can grind to a long and painful halt, at the mercy of the client’s writer’s block. I think this post will be a good read to help get the juices flowing.


  64. Love this post. Whitty and informative, which I can deeply appreciate. It’s sharp, poignant, and moves very quickly.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on a recent blog entry I’ve posted: “Keith Richards’ Secrets to becoming a Copywriting Rock Star!”

    Thanks for writing and sharing this post!

    All the best,

    -Chris H.

  65. Thanks for the tips…I never thought using Passive voice was a sign of poor grammar knowledge, on the contrarry. I’ll reconsider my writing techniques. Write drunk; edit sober – is great))))


  66. Thanks for the post, writing interesting and engaging copy for my website is always a struggle, I will definitely use your tips in the future.



  67. “Write drunk; edit sober.” Great advice! The way I describe it is that I have to turn off my thinking to get writing to come out.

  68. The passive exampel is wrong.

    Active should be “the copywriter is writing the magnificent copy.”

    Good article, all the same.

    I write sentences that are too “wordy”. It’s a sickness, I’m sure.

  69. @M Connaughton: The active voice does not dictate tense. Both “The copywriter is writing the magnificent copy” and “The copywriter wrote the magnificent copy” are examples of active verbs. So is “The copywriter will write the magnificent copy”. Notice that in all cases the subject acts directly upon the object. Whereas in the passive voice, the past participle is used, and the object becomes the subject: “The magnificent copy was/is being/will be written by the copywriter.”

  70. I love #1. I have a slight variation of it (taking it literally!): Write on one glass of wine or beer — no more, no less. One glass is just enough alcohol to loosen up my synapses but not enough to lose coherence… the perfect amount for creative lubrication.

    Recently I heard someone say, “If you’re not a little nervous before you hit the ‘publish’ button for a blog post, go back and write again.” It doesn’t have to take alcohol to get to that point, but we do need to push ourselves to be more real. I also find that doing 10 or 15 minutes of free writing can also help me get to that point.

  71. Love this. Thanks for sharing and I concur on the reading out loud. Every time I read something out loud I find where the kinks are in the sentences. It really is a great habit to develop. :))

  72. Interesting how some people think its easy to write,not knowing there is alot of brain racking and cracking to do,with a good dose of creativity to do,while writing.

  73. This is a great article. I needed this remember of not writing in the passive voice. I stumble all over this point. I see a lot of “be” , “are” and, “was” in my writing.

    And I need work on shorting my sentences. Somtimes, they go well over 20 words. I will utilized the “stick to one point per sentence” to fix the run on sentences.

  74. As an editor by trade and a writer by passion, I know how hard it can be to get your thoughts on paper. Your inner editor constantly detours your writing flow by criticizing your grammar, word choice, and punctuation. You can stop your inner editor by putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and letting the words flow―even if you consciously know you should be more specific or know you’ve added extra words―forgive yourself and move on. Nobody ever writes a perfect first draft.

  75. The passive voice gets a lot of flack, mostly because inexperienced writers do not know how to use it correctly. When used correctly and at the right time, it can actually be a very effective tool.

    I really like what the Little Red Schoolhouse Online wrote on the subject:

This article's comments are closed.