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Whether you are building your career at an employer or developing your own business, you will from time to time find that you need to produce some writing. This might be the results of research you have carried out or the content of your company’s website. It could be a product brochure, a blog to help your business engage with people, or any of a wide range of tasks.
A hurdle for most people is that they have not written much more than emails or Facebook posts on a regular basis since they finished school or university. For more specialist types of writing such as advertising copy you may never have even tried to do it before. This is often a challenge faced by small business owners, whose instinct might be to hire a writer but whose budget says they must do it themselves.
The problem many people face at this point is not knowing where to start, combined with a lack of confidence in their ability to. In most cases, although it might take some time to get good at it, you will be able to pick up the skills required.
Here are three questions and three points to keep in mind:
What are you writing?
Is this advertising copy, a user’s guide, a blog post for your website or the results of your research? Each of these will require a different style. Does it need to be precise or does it need to have to the point clarity for instructions? Is it attention grabbing enticement for ads or a more conversational style for blog posts? Does it need a more technical, academic style for research findings? Read other people’s writing of the same type, notice what styles and tones get the reaction from you that you want to get from your readers.
Why are you writing?
Are you looking to gain new customers? Building the relationship with existing clients? Spreading information about your product or the problem your business solves? To join the conversation among peers in your field? Answering this question tells you what to write about, as well as how to write it.
Who are you writing for?
What is their expertise, their age, their level of education? What do they already know about your topic? The answer to this question will decide your tone, your choice of words and the level of detail you go in to. Picture explaining how a car works to a 10 year old, a 25 year old and the engineering department of a Formula 1 team. You can easily see how the same topic will require vastly different approaches.
Your school English Teacher was right.
Maybe not about everything, but they did show you how to plan an essay, and the same applies to copywriting. Plan, research, outline, draft, redraft (see below), final copy. Start with a plan, if you’re writing for yourself or your own business this is your time to set out your needs, if you are copywriting for a client they will need to provide this, either way it should consist of the answers to the three questions above. Research your topic, even if you are writing about your own product check that you have your facts correct. Then, before you start your first draft, outline what you will write. Again, your teacher gave you the basics, introduction, main body, conclusion. For each of these note down bullet points for what you want to say. With that in place you are ready to start writing.
Keep it simple.
Write to communicate, not to sound clever. Even if you’re writing for other experts, where you will use more jargon words, needlessly using complex technical terms or strictly correct but archaic grammatical styles can make it harder for readers to see your point. Beware of metaphors, a good one can make an idea come alive, but many are cliché’s so tired your readers will be rolling their eyes. Many writers will point you to George Orwell’s six questions and six rules for writers, which place a lot of emphasis on this point.
Draft, read, redraft, reread, redraft … as many times as you need to.
The first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. Be prepared to edit ruthlessly, sometimes your favourite phrasings or flourishes just don’t fit with the rest of the piece. Some paragraphs may be perfect, but are distractions and will be better as the basis of another piece. Before you start writing, lay out your brief (the answers to the questions above) and refer to it, for each sentence ask yourself “does this meet my goals?”
Don’t expect your very first attempt to be perfect, after all that’s what the drafting process is about. You may even end up discarding whole projects at first, until you find the right style. These questions and points should help you to keep organised and focused, and make the whole process a little easier. If you have already made the journey into copywriting, we’d love to hear your own hints and tips in the comments.