A Short Guide to Writing Good Copy

A Short Guide to Writing Good Copy

Reader Comments (48)

  1. Great post. It was much better than the infographic, which is visually weird to me. I guess people like text infographics, like the Holstee manifesto, but I’m just not a fan.

    • Thank you Ed. Mr. Albrighton probably had a look at the Holstee Manifesto. He’s done some other cool copywriting infographics at abccopywriting.com.

    • To be honest Clara, I almost threw in K.I.S.S. as a reminder to myself.

      “Let the story do the work” could be its own bullet. Thanks for adding it.

  2. “I’ve found that printing something out on paper helps lessen distractions of a computer screen. ”

    I like to read things out loud to myself. It forces me to slow down so I don’t read what I think is there as opposed to what is actually there. You catch a lot of mistakes that way.

    • “… so I don’t read what I think is there…” That is such an important truth, Nick. I’ll be using your suggestion to overcome a truly irritating habit. I thought it was just my own problem… Thanks!

    • @Nick Stamoulis

      Good point Nick, I always read things loud to myself whenever I can. It’s the best way to polish my copy and to identify a whole bunch of mistakes that initially seemed right. My colleagues aren’t very happy when I do it though 😉 cheers

  3. I think most copywriters coming from an academic background quickly learn the lesson of simplifying. The language that’s right for philosophical texts and analyzing great literature (in papers meant to be read by professors) isn’t what’s best for writing a business blog or informative article for an online audience.

    Nonetheless, it’s a crucial skill that can help make you a better communicator all around. Someone who drops words others don’t know in conversation is less likely to impress friends than frustrate and confuse them – sounding good matters less than communicating effectively.

  4. Copywriting is not literature, that’s for sure. But a satisfying word that suits the curious hunger of a reader is what makes both literature and copywriting work. The right word creates an explosion (a big one or a little one) inside the reader, and that’s what causes them to act. Sometimes we need a match, sometimes a torch. Knowing the difference is always a challenge.

  5. To add from our friend Mr. Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

  6. This is ever the challenge for writers who are both selling soap and selling themselves. Ten years of selling products on live TV taught me a lot about the power of words. But every product requires a slightly different language. When I shared an aspirational jewelry line, my choice of words differed from when I sold novelties and toys. I think a sense of humor is key. Make people feel like you’re entertaining them and never selling them. Your job is to connect with your audience and more than that, to inspire them. Love this blog, so glad I found it!

  7. Very useful and practical rules that anyone writing copy for the Internet should follow. I’m a big fan of writing an outline and the KISS principle “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

    I will often write a piece then (if I have the luxury) I won’t go back to it for two or three days before I edit it as I find my subconscious has been working on a rewrite during that time which makes the editing process go a whole lot easier.

    • I’m a huge fan of using a gestation period before writing or rewriting. You’re right, it makes things much easier because your brain is actually working on the problem while you do other things. Like just taking a walk, for instance.

    • Me too! I always plan to have the draft finished at least the day before I send it in, so I can do my editing and proofreading with some distance from the writing. It’s also a good way to keep from missing deadlines, even when something unexpected comes up.

  8. Ironically given the emphasis on using fewer words, I think this piece would have been stronger had everything before the numbered list been dropped. It seemed to take a long time to get to the point!

  9. Hmm. I like most of your tips, but do not like you’re opening two paragraphs. I vote for style, not over substance, but as the thing that says “You deserve my time today. Read me.” I read your piece Kelton, and you sir, have style.

    • Try testing it. We’ve often found that a more “reasonable” promise gets a better response than a big hypey one. And the specificity of *strong* nouns and verbs can go a long way to making your copy more persuasive. Adjectives tell, nouns & verbs show.

      But play around with it in your own sales copy and see … rules of thumb are just starting points.

      • The post has made me wonder if I tend to overuse adjectives in my copy. I’ll have to make a special note to keep that in mind in writing and editing my next few pieces, hopefully it’ll become habit soon thereafter.

  10. Really informative. The quote “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.” really struck a chord with me. I sit somewhere in the middle on this one. I love subtlety but I also love creativity which sometimes attracts a lot of attention and then does sell the product so not sure whether I agree or disagree. But then I am a Libra so I find it hard to make decisions anyway!!

    Beth 🙂

  11. “The Elements of Style is still one of my favourites. I picked up a copy my first year in undergrad, and I go back and read it back to front every now and then. Another good one I recently discovered is “The Subversive Copy Editor” by Carol Fisher Saller. It’s great for copy editors and copywriters alike.

  12. Back to basics in a world on change steroids! One of the hardest things for me to figure out on my blog is the VOICE. Who am I? Who am I writing to? Originally I was trying to be some authority that I’m not. (I am the authority on my subject, but I’m not an authoritarian kind of guy!) Less is more, honest is persuasive.

  13. Thanks for a great article Kelton. I struggle with not using adjectives. Because I write for my business in nature tourism it sometimes feels like adjectives are the essential element that’s going to transform a name into a magical place that my audience must visit. I do get sick of sticking adjectives in front of place names though! I will try testing whether my words stand up without them.

  14. This is full of great reminders on keeping copy crisp and clean. I edit, write and translate from French and Spanish into English, so have an additional barrier to overcome when getting messages across. For me the key is to understand what I’m writing in order to cut through the surplus or unclear copy, so I repeatedly have to go back to the original premise and figure out just what the message is. It’s great for mental gymnastics! And results in a real feeling of satisfaction when the final copy jumps of the page.

  15. You make a lot of great points. I definitely agree that writers should not try too hard to impress and write in a unique, conversational style so they can actually connect with their readers. I don’t want to be reading a research paper, I want to understand the writer’s content easily.

  16. Awesome post! Writing really is becoming a lost art. I really have to work on writing shorter sentences and removing words that are unnecessary.

    One good way to do this is by allowing only so many words within your article. When you’ve gone over the limit, you have to rewrite and get your point across with fewer words.

    Love your website btw!

  17. This brings to mind my favourite Hemmingway quote which is very close to Ogilvy’s thinking, “Most writers slough of the most important part of their trade – editing their stuff, honing and honing it until it gets an edge like a bullfighter’s killing sword”.

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you.


  18. Writing good copy is definitely an art, as I have found out the hard way! I read the books, and tried writing the stuff myself, but it took awhile to figure out what really is effective. I’m still not that great at it, but doing ok. Your tips are right on the mark, especially the Einstein quote!

  19. Clear, concise and catchy work quite nicely with your own writing style. If everything we read was EXACTLY the same the world of the written word would be a pretty boring place AND nothing would manage to make a reader perk up and take notice.

  20. Great post! Learnt a (fair – adjective??) few things there which I will (definitely – adverb) implement in my (own – unnecessary) writing.

    Thanks for the help (:-))


  21. Excellent post Kelton. I agree in the most lines you describe, but I think that in the mixture, we have to add a touch of personal style, balance it against you excellent indeed, guidelines for clear writing. Personal style, not mannerism, that can prove to be a little boring, after a while, can function, if properly injected in the mixture, the glue that would integrate a straight cut post to a brilliant value added resource. So, I think that a balance should be achieved, between clear communication and personal style. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  22. “In other words, every writer can memorize rules, but how you get people’s attention requires some creativity.” Yes. Good (and effective) writers tend to naturally live the rules, but that’s not why they are good writers. And … less-than-good writers can memorize every rule in the book, and still be less-than-good writers.

  23. It’s interesting that you shouldn’t use flowery words because in English writing teachers tell you to use flowery words to make your story more interesting. I like simple and to the point much better.

This article's comments are closed.