However, whether or not you choose to employ a specialist or persevere with writing your own copy, there are a few basic rules that you need to be aware of and which, in fact, apply to every type of communication, written or spoken:

  1. Be succinct. Short is invariably better than long. Don’t take a paragraph to say what you could encapsulate in a sentence and make sure you don’t repeat yourself – unless the repetition is for deliberate effect.

  2. Keep it simple. You know what you’re trying to say or explain, but your reader may be coming to it completely fresh and with no knowledge whatsoever. So use simple words, put together in a logical sequence. The Plain English Campaign can be a useful resource for helping you identify where you may be going wrong.

  3. Aim for clarity. Will your reader know immediately what your message is, what the benefits are to them and what they are supposed to do next? Test your copy on others before you finalise it, and if the feedback isn’t great, then re-write until it is absolutely crystal clear.

  4. Adopt a different perspective. Think about who your reader is. Decide what you would want to know and why, if you were in their shoes.

  5. Write about the benefits, not the features. You may find the parts or process of your product or service absolutely fascinating, but your prospect may not be interested. What they do want to know is what that product or service can do for them – the problems it will solve and any other benefits they will receive from it.

  6. Be accurate and honest. Identify and stress your strengths but remember that it is always better to under-promise and over-deliver, so avoid hype and sensationalism. Unless you are sure you really are the best, cheapest, or truly unique, then don’t use those words. They are tired and meaningless without supporting evidence.

  7. Don’t use jargon. Selling isn’t about impressing them with technical terms. Whatever you write should be able to be read and understood by anyone – whether or not they have any knowledge of your particular market, product or service. Don’t patronise, but do use accompanying footnotes, diagrams or even a web link for those who may need further background information.

  8. Ensure your copy is appropriate for the communication channel and the audience. For example, there’s a vast difference between what is needed for a short, punchy advertisement and that which you would put in an annual report; or between the sort of words you may use internally with your own employees and those that are for external consumption.

  9. Be consistent. Whatever you write should be viewed in the context of your broader communications programme. Is what you are saying in one place consistent with what you are saying elsewhere; is the tone the same, do you use the same terminology and stress the same benefits? This doesn’t mean you can’t make changes but it’s surprising how many businesses have huge inconsistencies between, for example, their website and printed promotional materials.

  10. Be logical. Particularly with longer copy, for example websites, manuals, sales brochures, it’s easy for logic to fly out the window in your enthusiasm to make sure you’ve included everything. Your reader may end up struggling to find information, unclear about what to read first, unsure about what is essential information and what can be disregarded. Once again, get an objective view from others before you go live and be prepared to make significant changes.

  11. Make it memorable and intriguing. A slogan, promise, guarantee, explanation or similar which is different, engaging and meaningful will hopefully stick in your reader’s mind and make them want to find out more. But you must be sure that it really works; ‘intriguing’ can easily cross the line into ‘confusing’.

  12. Use humour with care. It’s rare that humour works well and achieves a consistently positive result in business communications, so generally it’s best to give it a wide berth. At worst you may offend, at best your copy may just seem pathetic and amateurish.

Dianne Bown-Wilson

The M3 Consultancy


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