Most paid copywriting work is based on the psychological concepts of persuasive writing, but persuasion is based on the core principles of effective writing.
Effective writing is copy that communicates clearly, ensuring the reader gets the intended message.
Virtually all writers want to create effective copy, but often think that effectiveness is a question of style and tone. Effective copy is not a matter of style; it’s actually a matter of specific choices throughout the writing process.
Here is a guide to writing effective copy for any project.
Writing Effective Copy: Research Phase
Before you start to write, you need a foundation of information. In order to write clear copy, you need clarity in your own thoughts and intentions.
In many cases, this will be a formal research phase, where you gather a wide range of information pertaining to your topic. In some cases, you simply need to organize your own thoughts and plan the piece.
Whatever your research phase looks like, here’s what you need to know:
Know Your Audience
You can’t write effective copy without knowing the audience. Who are you talking to? What is their level of experience with the topic? What are their goals and expectations? It often helps to write for some specific reader, even if they are imaginary.
Understand the Form
Readers expect something different from a blog post than a white paper, from a Facebook post than a magazine article. Every format and platform has a certain style, and the form determines what a reader expects, and how much time or attention they will give your copy.
If you are unfamiliar with the form, read some highly-rated examples to familiarize yourself with it.
Clarify Your Message
Effective copy always begins with a message and a goal. Write down your message as concisely as possible, and keep it in mind as you structure your copy.
While you may have your own goal for the piece, it’s essential to understand the goals and needs of your reader. What do they want from the piece? What do they find engaging? Why should they care about your message?
Always connect your message to something that the reader cares about and creates value for them.
Research Keywords and Search Terms
Even if you aren’t specifically writing for an online platform, it’s always a good idea to clarify your keywords or relevant search terms. If someone is looking for your content, what are the words that would help them find it?
Writing Effective Copy: Putting Words on the Page
With that fundamental information in mind, you can start writing. To write the most effective copy, use these techniques:
- Use the active voice. Always use the active voice rather than the passive voice. In the active voice, the subject of a sentence performs the verb. In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon.
Instead of “the boxes were moved”, choose “employees moved the boxes”. Using the active voice adds clarity, since it is explicit with who is performing the action, and also enables a writer to choose stronger verbs (more on verbs below)
- Be specific. Effective copy is clear and specific. Avoid vague terms like “some people think”, or weak words that suggest rather than state outright
- Use metaphors. Metaphors are incredibly powerful tools for effective copy. Metaphors simplify complex concepts, add clarity to your message, and create emotion in your copy.
Choose metaphors that are most meaningful to your audience, using concepts that are familiar and evocative for them
- Add emotion. Metaphors are a great way to add emotion to your copy, but they aren’t the only way. Use emotional words to create copy that is more engaging and more memorable. Try to choose emotions that your reader will relate to, describing their challenges as “frustrating” or their opportunities as “inspiring”
Writing Effective Copy: Review Your Copy
After you’ve written the first draft, review your copy and evaluate your word choices to see where you can make it more effective. Some of the key things to review include:
Choose Powerful Verbs
Verbs are arguably the most powerful way to make your copy more evocative and effective. They create passion and emotion, and make your sentences shorter and more powerful. Review your copy and replace adverbs with stronger verbs.
For example, instead of “he walked slowly”, try “he dallied”, “he strolled”, “he ambled”, etc. Instead of “do you want a faster way?”, choose better verbs like “seeking a faster way?” or even stronger verbs like “searching for a faster way?” or “struggling to find a faster way?”
Leverage Your Headlines
Studies show that five times more people read headlines than read the text beneath. Headlines need to be short and powerful, motivating the audience to actually read the text. Pose meaningful questions, promise added value, or inspire curiosity.
Short sentences are more effective. Strong word choices allow you to write shorter sentences. Long sentences that obfuscate your meaning, distract the reader, or dilute your message, should be reduced or eliminated.
For best practice on editing, it’s always best to refer to the master, William Strunk, who says that every word in a sentence should be meaningful:
“When a sentence is made stronger, it is usually made shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.”
Note to writers who are paid by the word: the need to edit for clarity and power can often severely reduce your word count. If you have a required word count or are getting paid by the word, it can be a challenge to rigorously edit for effectiveness, while still meeting your requirements.
If you want to add word count while keeping your copy tight and effective, consider adding more sections and subtopics that will add value and relevance for the reader, without weakening your overall message.
Writing effective copy means envisioning your reader, and then sharing your message in a way that communicates clearly and powerfully.
It connects with their emotion and motivations, without boring or distracting them. It is memorable, and sticks with them after they have read it. And it’s not difficult to do, provided you pay attention and follow these principles.