5 editor’s secrets to writing effective copy
Let’s clear things up
We all know that nailing your copy is key to converting lukewarm, thinking-about-it clients to “Where’s the ‘Buy now’ button? I’m sold!” customers… Not everyone has the budget to hire their own copywriter and, besides, nobody knows your ideal client more intimately than you, so who better to write your marketing content, right? Right! Except turning your ideas into something that is relatable AND readable can be easier said than done.
Confusion-free copywriting is essential because potential customers can’t connect with a message that isn’t clear and authentic. As a professional editor, with clients in both the book and business worlds, this is my forte! I’ve worked with authors, entrepreneurs, copywriters, and communications agencies to help bring clarity to their content and craft marketing messages that read beautifully. So here are 5 of my very best tricks of the trade for bringing precision to your copy, so you can self-edit your way to copywriting success.
1. Eat, sleep, (don’t) repeat
If you’re repeating something to make a point or reinforce an important piece of information, then that’s fine. However, saying the same thing twice using different terms, for no reason, is a waste of words. Cutting out redundant repetitions helps keep your copy nice and concise for maximum impact!
In the editing world, we call these repetitions tautologies. Here are some common ones to watch out for:
(global) pandemic (cameo) appearance
(small) minority the early hours (of the morning)
(very) beginning (honest) truth
(past) experiences PIN (number)
11 p.m. (at night) (unexpected) surprise
(very) unique (advance) warning
2. Let your verbs breathe
For this point, I need to explain smothered verbs, so I’m going to have to get a bit technical on you. It’s a great tip though, so stay with me!
A smothered verb is when a verb becomes a noun, so another verb is added in to create a sentence that makes sense.
Confused? Ok, let me give you an example, using the verb ‘to explain’:
‘I’ll provide you with an explanation of your results.’
Here, ‘Explain’ has turned into a noun (explanation) and been smothered by the word ‘provide’.
We can set the smothered verb free by changing the noun back to a verb and getting rid of the extra verb:
‘I’ll explain your results to you.’
Now, how much smoother does that sound?
Avoiding smothered verbs leads to clearer, more concise sentences that flow much more easily. Keep it short and simple and your readers will love you for it!
3. Positive vibes only
Positivity sells so much better than negativity − not only in your actual content but also the way you phrase your marketing messages.
Using words like don’t, you can’t, and avoid can subconsciously trigger feelings of negativity in your reader. Switching the sentence around not only feels more positive, it can also make your sentence more concise – win–win!
‘Don’t eat unhealthy food’ versus… ‘Eat healthy food.’
‘You can’t fail’ versus… ‘You can win!’
4. Banish the buzzwords
Buzz words − we’ve all heard them and probably used them too. Terms like ‘lean in’ and ‘pivot’ spring to mind, and who could escape the ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘new normal’ of 2020! However, when it comes to writing effective copy, these are not your best options. Not only are they often overused and unoriginal, but they also have potential to confuse readers who may be unfamiliar with your industry’s jargon. The goal is to make life as easy as possible for your intended reader – the clearer the better!
Idioms like ‘bread and butter’ and ‘kettle of fish’ may seem obvious to you and me but could cause problems for readers whose first language isn’t English. So, if you’re targeting an international audience, it’s even more important to keep your message direct.
Buzz words and idioms are an easy option (your brain doesn’t have to think very hard to come up with them), but they may not do you any favours when it comes to audience engagement. Readers are much more likely to resonate with a message that sounds authentically you rather than one full of overused clichés.
5. Learn to love the full stop. Period.
Long and convoluted sentences can be too much like hard work for your reader. Don’t give them a reason to give up and move on to something else. Remember, your aim is to make it as easy as possible for your audience to get the information they need. So, keep your sentences short and simple.
Here are some simple tips to shorten your sentences for maximum impact and minimum fluff…
- Remove unnecessary filler words that will dilute your message. Ask yourself: does this word bring value to the sentence or am I just trying to sound clever? If it’s the latter, delete and move on.
- Use the active voice as this will naturally shorten your sentence. For example: ‘Jane ate the cake’ rather than ‘The cake was eaten by Jane.’
- Create a list. Breaking your sentences down into bullet points not only creates a great easy-to read visual, but separating out your points makes it much easier for your reader to process the information.
- Split your sentences down and use linking words instead. Short, snappy sentences are much more likely to pack a punch with your readers. Limit your use of colons and semicolons and, where you can, start a new sentence instead. Sometimes that might mean beginning with ‘And’ or ‘But’ − despite what your high school English teacher may have said, when it comes to your copy, this is absolutely ok!