Copywriting is a burgeoning field providing a lot of opportunities to talented and ambitious writers. That doesn’t mean it is an easy field to enter or find success in.
Many aspiring copywriters have a decent grasp on what it takes to make high-quality copy and assume they’ll be able to launch immediately into a successful career. They have good writing skills and creative juices flowing easily from their fingertips to the keyboard. This often results in a serious ego-check and single projects which don’t lead to recurring work.
I should know. I was one of those overly eager copywriters.
I, like many others, didn’t know the first thing about landing clients when I started out. It takes more than just great writing skills, it requires consistency and proven results too. I was trying to build a business without having the correct foundation to support it.
How do you create a solid foundation for your freelance writing business and produce quality copy consistently? Familiarize yourself with basic writing conventions and always push yourself to improve your writing’s quality and effectiveness.
The Importance of Clear Communication
Clear communication is key, both in relationships and copywriting. Your client wants you to inspire potential customers with your copy. This means you should always be clear about what action should be taken and effectively portray the benefits to the audience in your writing.
The biggest impediments to writing clear copy are often simple issues that can be solved with effective copywriting techniques and conventions.
Communicating Clearly With Basic Writing Conventions
Some of the most important communication tools you have as a copywriter are basic writing conventions.
- Grammar. Maintaining good grammar in your copy allows readers to easily and quickly understand your meaning. Even if you don’t have every rule memorized, you should always skim for mistakes and errors at least once during the drafting phase.
- Punctuation. Good punctuation can really make your copy pop! It also presents your writing as professional and intelligent. One misplaced comma or semi-colon can turn away potential buyers.
- Spelling. Similar to punctuation, correct spelling makes your copy look more professional and avoids sparking a dismissive reaction from the reader. Spellcheck can be a lifesaver, but it doesn’t catch everything. Make sure to look over your copy a few times for spelling errors.
- Capitalization. Capitalization may seem easy to use, but it’s still an important part of communicating with the reader. This is especially true when it comes to headline and subheading capitalization. 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 out of 10 will actually read the rest of your copy.
Avoid Common Traps With Copywriting Conventions
If there’s one true thing about people, it’s that they will always try to do the least amount of work possible. We might settle for the first draft, trust Grammarly to find every mistake, or only spend a few minutes researching. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point; whether we weren’t feeling well, were distracted, or just couldn’t wait to be finished and move on to something more fun.
Beginner copywriters are the ones most likely to fall into these traps, but pros who have been in the business for years can slip up just as easily. In both cases, this inevitably leads to subpar copy which fails to deliver results to a client, which means you’re less likely to be hired again by them for future projects.
There are some copywriting conventions that can help you avoid a lot of these common copywriting traps:
1. Remember to Proofread Your Work
Proofreading is a simple step and an easily forgettable one. This is doubly true with new software like Grammarly and Scribens which scan your writing quickly and display mistakes with recommended changes.
Relying on software to proofread your copy can definitely save you some time, but you should always do your own proofreading skim afterward to pick up anything it might have missed.
2. Avoid Using Jargon
In specific fields, jargon is meant to be a helpful tool to simplify communication. However, to anyone outside of that field, it just muddies the water.
When you’re researching a topic, you become exposed to its jargon and should have a good grasp of what it all means. Your readers on the other hand likely won’t understand it and could be turned away by it. If you’re working on a textbook or thesis, go ahead and stuff it full of jargon, but for copywriting it’s best to just cut it all out.
There’s also a lot of copywriting jargon that we take for granted. Most readers probably won’t know what “SEO”, “conversions”, and other common industry terms related to your work. Take some time to consider what your readers may know and explain any parts they might not.
3. Keep Your Copy Clear and Concise
People don’t like to read rambling content online. While it might be okay for an author to spend pages and pages describing a single dinner, copywriters always have to be looking for ways to simplify and clarify their copy.
Some ways to do that are:
- Use simple language. You may have an extensive lexicon, but readers don’t engage as well with fancy or elaborate words. Treat your words like tools to get the job done, not toys to play with or show off.
- Use precise language. Hemingway believed adverbs, adjectives, and vague descriptions got in the way of telling good stories. Approach your copy like Hemingway. Your words should cut to the point as quickly as possible.
- Avoid hyperbole and exaggerations. It’s tempting to oversell while writing to increase the appeal of your client’s product or service. Overemphasizing the benefits in your copy often has the opposite effect. It makes readers more skeptical of your claims and reduces conversion.
- Keep paragraphs short. Long paragraphs and huge blocks of text can intimidate readers. Try to keep your paragraphs between 2-3 sentences long.
4. Remember to Make It Easy for the Reader
Trying to keep readers around is difficult in the online era. Nowadays, the average human attention span is only 8 seconds. That’s not a lot of time to grab people’s attention.
You can increase your chances by making your copy as easy to engage with as possible. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make your writing more approachable.
One of the best ways is to use natural and familiar language. Writing as if you were having a casual conversation with the reader establishes an immediate connection and comfortability in copy.
Similarly, you should make the writing all about the reader. Copy focused on the company, client, or even copywriter can increase the likelihood a reader loses interest. The power of the word “you” can’t be overstated in this instance.
5. Make Sure Every Word Earns Its Place
Good diction is what separates a decent copywriter from a great one. Often the first word you choose can serve well enough, but also just as often there is another word that will have a greater impact.
Diction isn’t just choosing the best sounding words; it involves making conscious decisions about how you want to present your content to the reader. Do you want to sound relatable or authorial? A bold outsider or a trusted choice?
You should always come up with a general idea of the tone and voice your writing should carry before you begin. Use it as a guide during editing for which words are fulfilling their purpose and which can be ditched for better ones.
Edit and Revise Your Own Work
Today, copywriters have more editing/proofreading tools than ever. Just as most copywriting has moved to the digital/website format, using writing assistance software has become a staple in the industry.
While these tools are undoubtedly useful, they aren’t meant for improving your writing or making great copy. To ensure you’re putting out the highest quality copy you can, you have to become your own editor. Just as important is doing your own revising.
Editing and revision involve changing different parts of your copy. Editing is all about making your copy look better and uses writing conventions as a guide. Revising is concerned with making your copy sound better by rearranging and refining your topics, ideas, word choice, tone, etc.
It may not come easily, but with practice, your editing process will feel less like a chore and more like a challenge to improve your writing skills. Here are a few tips you can use to edit/revise your copy.
Know When to Break the Rules
Despite all of the conventions we’ve gone over in this post, they aren’t dogma. If you feel like you can create better copy by changing or breaking the rules, don’t be afraid to do just that.
This doesn’t mean you can ignore or avoid practicing the basics, though. There’s a big difference between breaking the rules to do something better and breaking the rules to break the rules. You should always work from an understanding of the common writing conventions even if you aren’t following them.
It’s also worth noting there are some differences when writing for the web, which is why we have a dedicated article on writing conventions for the web.
As copywriters, we should always be looking for ways to improve ourselves and our skills. That doesn’t mean we should forget or dismiss the basics, though.
Having a good understanding of basic writing conventions and effective copywriting techniques is essential to gaining and maintaining success in the industry. It will allow you to produce consistently good copy and keep you from getting complacent and falling into common copywriting traps.
What Skills Do You Need to be a Copywriter?
Good writing skills are important if you want to be a copywriter, but that’s probably obvious enough to go without saying. The same holds true for being able to write in English (or whatever language you’re writing in).
Outside of those obvious examples, there are some other skills important to finding success as a copywriter:
Research. You should know how to research online and compile information from a variety of different sources. Check out our Copywriting Research Checklist.
Creativity. Copywriters have to find new ways to present old ideas and interesting angles on boring topics.
Empathy. People are guided by their emotions and being able to connect with those emotions through your copy is important. Check out our article about Emotional Motivators.