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Tips for Writing Effective Copy

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Clear, concise, and credible writing is an essential element of any successful business communication, from ad copy to Web page content.

This kind of effective communication is what marketing professionals call high-impact writing. By following a few simple rules, just about any businessperson can produce better news releases, newsletters, e-mails, and employee handbooks. These tips will help you turn uninspiring, ineffective copy into high-impact writing:

Keep sentences short. Try not to exceed 17 words per sentence. Some sentences can be longer, but less is usually more. Strive for a good mixture of sentence lengths to heighten reader interest.

Vary sentence structure. Don't start every sentence with articles such as "the." You can begin with adverbs, adjectives, or nouns to keep the reader from getting bored.

Use active voice. For example, use "XYZ Corporation developed the product" instead of the passive "The product was developed by XYZ Corporation."

Choose action verbs. Select verbs that describe physical or mental activities instead of a state of being. Say your services "outshine" the competition, not that your services "are" the best.

Use modifiers sparingly. Choose nouns and verbs that are as specific as possible, and employ adverbs and adjectives sparingly.

Put your copy on a diet. Keep your writing tight by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases.

Beyond word choice and sentence-level tips, the following rules will help you improve the structure and organization of your copy:

Set the length. Determine how long your copy should be, and force your writing to fit that length. Setting a word count in advance helps determine how much information you need to gather.

Work from a written plan. Diagramming keywords will help organize your thoughts before you put your fingers to the keyboard. Think about how much information you need and how to present it.

Have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and tie them together effectively so that they tell one essential story. This general rule of copywriting applies to the shortest pieces as well as longest.

  • Beginnings. Write a lead sentence that captures the essence of the piece, and then jump right into the action. This prevents lengthy introductions from slowing down your writing.
  • Middles. Keep this section organized and tight. Don't digress. Keep similar items together. If you're comparing apples and oranges, describe the apples first, then the oranges.
  • Ends. The end of every piece should have what journalists call "closers" or "stingers." The final sentence should be as crisp as the first, and contain a quote or call to action.

Do it again. Be prepared to draft, redraft, and then redraft again. Your copy will get tighter with each version.

Try to incorporate as many of these suggestions into your writing as possible. Don't be surprised if you end up rewriting many of your sentences; many writers believe that "the writing is in the rewriting." The great novelist Ernest Hemingway rewrote the last paragraph of his first work, The Sun Also Rises, 28 times before he got it right.

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