Copywriting can be a dangerous pursuit. Each time an inexperienced, harried, or careless writer begins to fill a blank page, he or she unwittingly opens the door to a dark possibility.
I’m speaking, of course, about copy possession.
Great copy is easy to spot: It’s coherent, free-flowing, and well reasoned. It speaks in an engaging voice and embraces the reader like an old friend.
Possessed copy repels at first sight. It growls, it barks, it speaks in strange tongues. It taunts readers and mocks their standards and expectations.
If your copy is written with all the clarity, fluidity, and appeal of a federal tax form, you’re fighting a losing battle for audiences’ attention and respect. The moment your possessed copy goes live, there isn’t a prayer in the world that can save your brand.
Content Is Forever. Exorcise the Demons Before You Publish!
Warding off evil spirits isn’t easy, but it’s a fight we marketing professionals can’t afford to lose. If all this seems a bit too unsettling, perhaps it’s time to consider hiring a qualified writer with experience in these matters—someone who can charge into battle without fear.
For content creators who decide to go it alone, the following tools and tricks offer some measure of protection. (The rest depends on your analytical process, your writing skills, and the creative risks you’re willing to take.)
Make an outline.
In the early part of my writing career, I almost never jotted down a framework before I wrote. I felt it hampered the creative process. Then I went to graduate school and wrote outlines just to make it through each day. That experience changed everything.
Organizing your thoughts on paper (and putting flesh on the bones as you go) ensures all the points you need to include flow logically and form a cohesive whole. Afterward, you can go back and fine-tune your copy so your final product is greater than the sum of its parts.
Focus on your audience.
Your work is meaningless if it’s misinterpreted or poorly received. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. They’ll wonder what your purpose is, what your point is, what it means for them, and why they should care. You should have concrete answers to these questions before you lay a finger on your keyboard.
Have a good grammar guide handy.
Run-on sentences, seemingly random punctuation, series that aren’t parallel, modifiers that dangle: These hideous manifestations of apathy and ignorance can inspire a range of audience reactions, none of which are good for your brand.
I recommend The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications by Amy Einsohn and A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers.
Consult a dictionary as often as necessary.
Misspelled words (e.g., seperate), confused homophones (insure vs. ensure) and nonexistent words (irregardless) are telltale signs of possession. Your readers will have a hard time forgiving such easily preventable mistakes. For the love of all that’s good and decent, look up words you’re not sure about. I’m a Merriam-Webster girl, myself.
Content volume is exploding. Attention spans are shortening. People are busy as hell.
Rambling sentences and paragraphs have no place in your content. Look for ways to break things up whenever possible—as long as you don’t swing wildly in the direction of short and choppy. (As in all things, balance is the key to happiness.)
It would also be helpful to review your sentence structure—are you varying it enough?—and to eliminate unnecessary words. You don’t need a damned adjective for every damned noun, and you don’t need a damned adverb for every damned adjective or damned verb. (Damn it.)
Copywriting Is a Test of Mettle. Excellence Is a Hard-Earned Victory.
Good copywriters make the process look easy, but I can assure you it’s not. It requires a big emotional and intellectual investment, serious self-discipline, and lots of stamina.
Outlining points of emphasis, reviewing picky grammar rules, eliminating redundancies, checking for consistency, retooling sentences and paragraphs—though not especially glamorous, these are mission-critical tasks for marketing writers. It’s how we vanquish the demons that threaten to consume our message. Great content just isn’t possible otherwise.
Before you tackle your next copywriting project, ask yourself this question: Am I prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the soul of my brand?
Since 2001, Becky Tumidolsky has written awareness-building content for B2B brands and their discerning audiences. Her work has appeared in leading publications such as Forbes, U.S.News & World Report, Bloomberg Markets, Newsweek, and Inc. as well as corporate blogs, websites, white papers, and other content assets.
Becky loves writing fluid, error-free prose. She’s even more passionate about building the foundation for her work—uncovering core brand distinctions, framing them thematically, and developing fresh, compelling narratives that advance corporate strategies.