Writing tips for the non-writer

Writing tips for the non-writer

I’ve been teaching a copywriting class at the University of Southern Maine in Portland this month — final class tonight! I originally wrote this for the students, but thought I’d also share it with you. Because hey, you’re my peeps.

When writing copy for a small-business website:

  • Write for one person, not a crowd. Write as if you were chatting with a  friend across a kitchen table, not giving a speech to an auditorium full of people.
  • Be conversational. Be intimate, be real.
  • Write like you talk (only maybe a little better).
  • Strive to be clear. That alone will make your message stand out. Clarity is more important than being clever or creative.
  • Write first, edit later. Do only one at a time. See next point.
  • Don’t censor yourself while writing. Shut up that critical voice in your head. Just write, with passion and abandon. Later – preferably the next day – you can go back and edit with a critical eye.
  • Easy writing means hard reading. Rewriting is a crucial part of good writing. Your extra work pays off for your reader/customer.
  • Shorter is better (usually). Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs can still pack a powerful message. The Gettysburg Address is ten sentences long. The Lord’s Prayer is only 71 words.
  • Read what you’ve written out loud. It really makes the bad bits stand out.
    • Wherever you stumble, your reader will too. Rewrite that part.
    • Can’t finish a sentence without running out of breath? That means it’s too long. Shorten it, or break it into two sentences.
  • When writing headlines for any marketing material, throw away the first 10-20 you come up with. They’re the obvious ones, and have probably been used a million times before. You’ve got to keep digging to find gold.
  • Focus on what the buyer gets (benefits) not what you’re selling. In many cases, it’s better to make the product “invisible.”
  • Emphasize how you, your product or service are better than the competition. If not better, at least different. (That’s pretty much all a mini-biz needs to do about branding.)

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Did I miss any?

Add your favorite writing tips in the comments.

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