Seven steps to good copy

Learn to write concise and effective texts in seven steps.

We are continuously exposed to copy. Long or short, information or sales, boring, interesting or necessary. Many of the texts fly by us, others captivate us and some cause us to modify and change our behaviour in one way or another.

Whether you are writing a press release, text for your website or a contribution to the company blog, it is likely that you want to influence the reader. In the long run you want to sell a product, persuade the reader to choose your services or influence him or her into changing their views. Consider this:

1. Write for the reader

Don’t forget that you are writing for a reader. How do you make your message relevant and interesting for that reader? Streamline the content and weed out unnecessary information. Your internal organisation, how your routines run and what concepts you use when you work, are often of little or no interest to the recipient. At the same time you must ensure that there are no gaps in the message. When you are an expert in something it is very easy to assume that people understand and have more knowledge than they actually have.

2. What do you want?

No matter how your text will be used or where it will (is to) be published, you must ask the question: what happens when the recipient has read the text? It is incredibly easy to forget, but if you as the writer don’t know what effect the text is likely to have, it will be hard for the reader to (get the point of the article) interpret. From the outset you should know what end result you are aiming for, the point where you might refer to your shop or website, invite the reader to contact you or pose questions that cause the reader to think again.

3. Choosing a headline

We digest text in a completely different way today than we did a few years ago and headlines are increasingly important. On the web, in social media and in mail, it is often the headline that determines whether we continue reading or not. The headline should be short, captivating, informative and honest. It can be tempting just to captivate, but if the headline doesn’t represent the content of the text, the reader may feel duped which is not counterproductive.

4. Clear and concise

A structured and clear text attracts more readers. Your recipient is probably suffering from both a shortage of time and of information overload. Perhaps your text will be read on a pad or a phone on a moving bus? Work out what it is you want to say and choose an angle or a clear theme for your text. And follow the golden rule – one thought per paragraph, punctuating with sub-headings and spaces to help the reader through the text.

5. Get personal

A simple way to create relationships and get to know your readers is to speak directly to them. Also try to keep a consistent tone in your text. If you mix everyday language with ostentatious words it will be confusing for the reader. Instead choose words that are comforting not bewildering. Where possible use synonyms instead of repetitions, mix long and short sentences and avoid small words that have no direct function.

6. 'No' to adjectives and exclamations

It is tempting to resort to augmented words when you are selling a product or a service, but overuse of adjectives often has the opposite effect. Words such as fantastic, wonderful and unique can result in your text not being taken seriously. Exclamation marks can have the same effect. A full stop often gives more weight to a sentence than an exclamation mark. An otherwise well-written text can, because of exclamation marks, irritate instead of captivate.

7. Listen to yourself

You can easily be blind to the text you have written. Leave the text aside for a day and then read it out aloud to yourself. That way you see what works and what doesn’t. You may have to lose some of your favourites – often a text succeeds by getting rid of the very sections you like the most. The clever formulation that you love just might not work here? Also run the text through a spell-check programme but do not assume that it will find all spelling and typing errors. If you have the opportunity, let someone else give their views on the text.

Anna Kleinwichs Magnusson is a copywriter and runs the Stockholms Skrivbyrå, which helps companies and offices with staffing and recruiting of writers and communicators. Anna also holds courses and lectures within the subjects pertaining to writers, web and social media.