Why copywriting isn’t about good grammar

 
Rin Hamburgh - Founding Director Rin Hamburgh & Co Copywriting Agency based in Bristol

Can I make a confession? My spelling isn’t especially good. I often have to stop and think before I use the words ‘affect’ and ‘effect’. And Liz is constantly berating me for overusing commas.

A lot of people are surprised by this. After all, I’ve been a professional writer for 15 years. Surely being a stickler for spelling, punctuation and grammar are part and parcel of being in this industry?

Actually, I’d disagree. Yes of course it’s important that these things are correct. That’s why I make sure Liz proofreads everything I write before it goes out. But the point is that there is far more to good copywriting - indeed to any kind of good writing - than these English language basics.

Tone of voice

Understanding a client’s tone of voice is an essential part of being a copywriter. Tone of voice is created in all sorts of ways, from choice of vocabulary to levels of formality and even subtle things like sentence length.

Take a look at these three sentences:

  • I look forward to receiving a response at your convenience.

  • Get back to me when you can.

  • I will await your impending answer with breathless anticipation.

Which one would represent your brand best? A good copywriter needs to be an exceptional mimic, understanding and using your company’s brand voice (and possibly even creating it if you don’t have brand voice guidelines) so that your customers and clients don’t feel they’re being addressed by a third party.

Copy structure

Did you know that the eye perceives familiar words as images? Or that only 20% of people read beyond a headline? Or that by using the same word at the beginning of each sentence in a bullet pointed list you dramatically reduce the chance of someone actually reading the list?

Here’s another interesting fact: on a website, people will scan your copy in one of several different ways. For example, there’s the layer cake scan, where they scroll down and read only the headlines (H1) and subheads (H2) that catch their eye.

A good copywriter knows this, which is why they will deliberately structure your copy in a way that maximises the likelihood of your reader actually engaging with it.

The right words

Our company slogan is “You don’t need many words, just the right ones”. Writing a few hundred words isn’t too tricky if you have a relatively good command of the English language. But it takes real talent to write a pithy strapline like Every Little Helps.

Or to sell an entire concept in a sentence that takes less than a second to read on a billboard.

Or to grab someone’s attention in the moment between them glancing at a flyer and throwing it in the recycling.

The words ‘staff’, ‘employees’ and ‘team members’ all mean roughly the same thing but a good copywriter will spend time working out which one is right not only for the brand (see earlier point about tone of voice) but also to engage the reader and get the right results (see point below about driving action).

Driving action

Being able to create engaging copy is all very well but what do you want your reader to do once they’ve finished reading it? Even if it’s something as simple as sharing the blog post they just enjoyed with their contacts, you need to tell them.

And if your goal is to get them to sign up to something, fill out an enquiry form, book a call or even buy a product or service then and there, it’s even more important that you do so in a way that is effective.

For example, a good copywriter will put a lot of thought into whether an online retailer’s call to action (CTA) button should read “buy now” or “add to bag”. Because one creates a sense of urgency while the other allows the browser to feel like they can act without making a final decision.

Neither is better or worse than the other, it’s just important to choose the right one for the brand, the audience and even the page that the CTA appears on (the further into a site the visitor is / the longer they’ve spent on it, the more likely they are to respond to the urgent one).

Good spelling, grammar and punctuation are essential (especially if you’re a proofreader or subeditor). But the mark of a good copywriter goes beyond these nuts and bolts of the English language. Because copywriting is not just about creating nice words, sentences and paragraphs. It’s about capturing attention, stirring emotions, and creating a persuasive arguments that drive results.

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Want to read more? Try this - What should I look for in a copywriter?

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