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The 3 Laws of Copywriting

[Psst–this post is by Terra, the sharp-as-a-tack English Maven intern! Don’t you wish your intern was smart like mine? OK, enough bragging. Read on. — Lianna] 

Fabulous graphic goes here.

When it comes to writing for any genre, there’s a clear list of minimum required skills. You need to know how to read and write, how sentences and paragraphs work, and how to build on them to create meaning. And while anyone can apply that baseline, lowest-common-denominator skillset to just about anything written, not all wordsmiths can write copy.

Let me break that down just in case you, like me, are math-challenged: you need to know how to do much more than write to be a good copywriter. It’s not enough to be able to write a nice metaphor—great copywriters turn phrases that turn into dollars. And you can, too.

In order to harness this power, you must first understand it. The art of copywriting distinctly differs from other forms of writing. Once you learn the rules of copywriting, you can follow them, apply them, customize them, and use them to transform into the copywriter you were meant to be.

Are you ready? Let’s begin.

1. Copy sells something.

Copy is writing that businesses use to advertise a product’s market value. To effectively sell a product, copy must inform, entice, and inspire the audience to become customers. Good copy appeals to its audience, and allows readers to realize the product’s value, connect its benefits to their specific needs, and compel them to buy it by outlining how said product could improve or enhance their lives. If your writing doesn’t sell, the product won’t either. That’s it.

2. Copy targets a specific audience.

Everyone is different, but not that different. Understanding what unifies your target audience is crucial to determining its wants and needs: information you can use to better appeal to them.

Knowing your audience will also shed light on other make-or-break factors, like which publishing platform will drive the most traffic, which advertising channel will return the best results, and which tone and style resonates the most with your audience. Focusing on the customer is a huge part of that equation—by tailoring your copy to a key customer demographic or demand, you can capture their attention more fully and direct business where it matters most.

3. Copy compels its audience to take action.

If your copy doesn’t impact your bottom line, it’s your bottom on the line. Copy’s ultimate goal is to turn readers into customers; if your copy isn’t compelling, the audience won’t respond to it, period. Inciting copy allows readers to visualize the product’s benefits to their lives, which makes becoming a customer more attractive to them.

In order to spur its audience to action, your copy needs to explain why the reader should care, what to do about it, and then exactly how to do that thing. To that end, clients often work with copywriters to determine how the copy should come across to maximize results– inclusive of tone, language style, customer preferences, length, structure, content, and technicalities. Such client specifications are important for producing effective copy, but the process is by no means a one-way street: copywriting is very much a collaborative activity, one in which the customer’s needs and writer’s voice must be heard (and read) to achieve the best possible end result.

There you have it: the three tenets of copywriting that will help you drive profitable business, better communicate with potential customers, and transform your love of language into a tool more powerful than you could ever imagine. By crafting masterful copy, a writer can convey meaning and create opportunity.

But do be wary of your new powers…with great copy comes great response-ability. 

How Copy Editing Makes the World Better

Terror-Eyes
Terror-Eyes seek out and destroys your typos!

Sometimes I feel like Atlas, using both hands to keep the world from getting stupider.

Just kidding, y’all. I have long been a natural copy editor–constantly pointing out typos, missing words, and incorrect punctuation wherever I see it (and I see it everywhere).

To a lot of people, copy editing seems like nitpicking. LET ME TELL YOU WHY IT’S NOT.

Copy editing pays (my) bills.

Aaaand on to the next one.

Copy editing improves reading comprehension.

People understanding what they read is pretty much super-pivotal. How many times have you tried to read the impossible “English” on product packaging and been completely enraged by its obscurity?

Or have you ordered breakfast from a badly written menu, and received something other than what you were expecting?

Oxford orange
Haaaaaaa, get it?

Copy editing makes text as perfect as it can be.

For anyone who appreciates the sheer beauty of words, this is a crucial consideration. There’s nothing like getting into the flow of a piece of writing, and having a typo or missing word straight-up donkey-kick you out of your Reading Rainbow reverie.

Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. [Click to tweet]Tweet: Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. - @theenglishmaven http://ctt.ec/M47X7+

Copy editing preserves the English language.

Ding ding ding! Ladies and gentlemen, in all of its truthiness, here is the crux of the issue. English is a living language, yes. But like all living things, it can only take so many unceremonious gut-punches before it shudders and dies.

Please stop misspelling “night” as “nite”. Please stop thinking “you’re” and “your” are synonymous. Please stop eliminating commas, one by one, from every sentence (though if it’s a stylistic choice, I’m down for that. But you have to be doing it on purpose; most people are not).

And please understand that these things matter, for the reasons listed above.

I’m not casting myself as the last, valiant defender of a dying art–but I am saying that if you speak to me in “abbrevs” one more time, I will break your laptop.

The “shameless plug” section

Did I mention I’m a copy editor, and that I offer Editor On Retainer packages so you never have to worry about provoking the anal-retentive rage of people like me? Get at me here.