Copywriting: What the Heck is it (And How Do I Get Better at it?)
Copywriting can be a misunderstood profession. It certainly has nothing to do with copyrighting (that is, assigning copyrights to original work to prevent others from stealing it) and it shouldn’t involve a lot of copying. Instead it refers to the writing of copy, written material intended for print or publication. In the realm of web development, copywriting is synonymous with content creation – copywriters ghost-write blog posts, write descriptions and informational articles for website pages, and generally make sure your website’s content is interesting, engaging, and easy-to-read. Good copywriting fuses creative and technical writing to produce marketably, dynamic content on any topic. While anyone can write copy, it takes a certain knack to write truly great content. Here are my top tips for becoming a better copywriter.
Resist Impostor Syndrome!
The hardest part about writing is sometimes convincing yourself that you can do it. People in creative fields often experience what’s known as impostor syndrome, where you feel like you aren’t what you purport to be. It’s important to remember that the only criteria to be a writer is, well… writing. While writing well takes a bit of talent, it’s not some unlearnable skill. The only way to get better is to practice, so just force yourself to do it! Remember, (almost) any content is better than no content, so take a stab at it and publish some stuff. As you get more practice and improve your skills, go back and revise your earlier writing. You need to turn off that voice in your head that says ‘I can’t’, and push yourself to try.
Variety is Key.
Writing well requires expanding your ‘toolbox’ of words, phrases, and sentence structures. It’s easy to become complacent and write the same style of sentences using the same words and phrases over and over again. Writing without variation sounds stilted and boring, but I see stiff, static writing all over the internet. Variation is something that’s best added through editing; write your piece the best you can for a first draft, then go back through it and re-read each sentence. Watch for sentences where the same word is repeated. This sounds especially bad if it’s an adjective – don’t use ‘luxury’ to describe your product twice in the same sentence, for instance. Also, try to vary your sentence length. Short sentences act to break up paragraphs into digestible chunks, while longer sentences create a sense of flow and progress. Make sure each sentence covers a single idea or topic; if a sentence covers two closely related topics, it can be separated by a semicolon.
Read it Out Loud
Writing doesn’t necessarily need to be conversational, but it should always make sense when read aloud. If you’ve written something that makes no sense when spoken, you need to do some editing. Reading out loud also helps you identify where pauses should be inserted in your sentences. Typically (though not always) you want to break your sentences up so that when read aloud, each clause or phrase can be read with a single breath. I often see writing with comma splices, a grammatical error where a comma appears in the middle of a thought, not at the end. Reading your work out loud minimizes this type of grammar error, as you’ll usually end up saying each sentence with the proper pauses and halts.
Consider Your Tone
Depending on your audience, you may have to write in a different style. Remember your website is a selling tool, and your ordinary speaking tone may not be appropriate for your product. In fact, I’m of the belief that you should always write as a persona. Think of it this way: you speak to friends differently than to customers, and differently to customers than to your employers or clients. Each ‘voice’ you use is a separate facet of your overall personality. When I write under my own name, I write at one of a few levels of diction – for blog posts like this, I blend casual and formal or technical writing. For internal emails, texts, and casual correspondence, I write more like the way I speak to a friend or friendly acquaintance. For formal client work, like writing a business proposal, I write in an elevated, technical style. As you write more, you will become comfortable with your different ‘voices’ and get better at adapting your writing to suit your potential audience. As a quick side note, don’t elevate your vocabulary without purpose – that is, do not add ‘fancy’ words just because you think it sounds more official or authoritative. I sometimes see people use words incorrectly while trying to sound ‘official’, and it really has the opposite effect.
Research, But Don’t Rip Off
When blogging, you’ll often have to fact-check and research your article. It’s important not to plagiarize. Not only is plagiarism wrong – you’re effectively profiting off someone else’s hard work and writing talent – it’s also risky for SEO. While minor duplicate content does not impact SEO in any major way, tons of ripped off content can crater your SEO. When conducting research for articles, remember that you only want to grab the facts, not the writer’s slant or point of view. Instead of copying content, or even simply rewriting it, try to synthesize facts and ideas from several sources into a new idea, or give your own take on it. You could even take content from other sources and respond to it, either by trying to refute it or simply offering your own opinion on the topic. Whatever you do, be an original – nobody likes a knock-off.
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