The Better Copy Lifesaver

Businessman drowning in paperwork reaching for assistance and support

It’s the same old story: you start writing your communications or marketing material, and before you know it, you’re drowning in words. I know you are, because almost every day I get an SOS from someone who wants me to chart their course in composition, or make sure that what they’ve written is shipshape, or pull them out of their wordy overwhelm.

Words are important, but you shouldn’t be drowning in words. You should be waving to clients.

Enter my Better Copy Lifesaver, which is designed to get you waving rather than drowning. Adopting any one of these will make your copy instantly better, and adopting all of them will make it brilliant – and smooth sailing.

– Begin by addressing the client’s need directly. This should be first off the bat, eg. “If you’re looking for a job and need to update your résumé, we can help!” A preamble is not necessary, so don’t waste time with “throat clearing” phrases beforehand, eg. “Times are difficult, and finding a job can be challenging, so a well-written résumé is important…” If you do this, not only will you lose the reader’s interest, you will also not address the client and his/her needs. This leads to the next two points.

– Clients and customers don’t care about what you offer. They only care about how you can solve their problems or fill their needs. You might think these things are one and the same, but they’re actually not. Whenever you write copy, you should address solving a problem or filling a need FIRST. The details come afterwards. (As you write, it helps to keep in mind the words, “So what? Who cares?” This will keep you focused on the client rather than on your product or service.)

– The most important word when writing copy is you. Some people bend over backwards to not use the word you because they think it sounds unprofessional, but it’s just about the worst thing you can do when writing copy. Not only does the writing fall flat and sound awkward, it also fails to engage the audience or market.

– Get rid of clichéd marketing and sales terms, and communicate instead. You may have heard of “hypnotic marketing words” and “hypnotic copy”. Guess what? Google hates the stuff, which will affect your ranking. Likewise, email filters also detect it and will relegate any email containing it to the spam folder. Concentrate on an engaging voice instead. Or go all out and tell a story. This leads to the next points.

– Use stories. Stories may not seem practical when you have limited space, but try to fit them in when you can. Stories engage, humanise, put information in a relatable context, make facts easier to read, and help people understand how our products and services might also be relevant for them. It is one of those contradictions that the more individual the story, the more universal it becomes; so in presenting your clients’/customers’ stories, you are actually appealing to the market as a whole. Along the same lines…

– Use client quotes. When people say something good or useful about a service or product you are providing, even if it’s off the cuff, write it down for later use. Unlike full-blown testimonials, you don’t need formal permission to use these, and they really make copy stand out – even when they are in callouts or sidebars to the main text.

– Use personas when writing your copy. Personas (or personae, if you’re that way inclined) are fictional representatives of our clients and customers, and they are one of your most important marketing tools. You should keep your persona/s in mind when writing, because it will directly impact how you write: you’re now writing for someone other than yourself. Because personas also help you predict how your market will act and react, they also have all kinds of other marketing and business applications. For a whitepaper on personas, send me an email.

– Use active rather than passive verbs. First, a quick grammar lesson. There are active and passive verbs:

Active verbs consist of [Person or thing] + [verb] + [person or thing receiving the action]. For example:

Ali wrote the résumé.

John reads the quiz.

Passive verbs consist of [Person or thing receiving action] + [some form of be] + [verb] + [by] + [person or thing doing action]. For example:

The résumé was written by Ali.

The quiz is being read by John.

Using passive verbs kills copy DEAD. Don’t do it. (You should consider getting rid of it in more formal documents, such as yearly reports, too.)

– Fall in love with white space and short sentences. White space is space on which no words are written. Break up your writing so that people don’t have to wade through huge chunks of text to find the information they need. Shorten sentences for impact – you want sentences to be 8-14 words long. Read your copy aloud: if you find yourself getting breathless while reading, break up your sentences. (Don’t have too many super-short sentences in a row, however: it can make your copy sound robotic.)

– Get rid of “weasel words”. Weasel words are words that make your copy – and you! – sound wishy-washy. These are words like may, maybe, hope, wish, try, but, could, perhaps and strive. Instead, use words like will and can to convey benefits to the client, and conviction in what you are offering.

Good luck writing your copy, and remember: if in doubt, SIMPLIFY!


This is a nice little resource for you. Would you like a nice little pdf of it to print out and keep nearby? Of course you would. Get it here


Image credits: © BrianAJackson via Depositphotos