How to improve your copywriting

Anyone can learn to be a better copywriter – with enough practice, patience… and proofing.

If your job involves any kind of copywriting then you’ll know the pressure that comes with trying to find the right words to get your message across.

It could be press releases or sales brochures, team updates or customer newsletters or even social media posts. Whatever you’re writing, and whatever you want your copy to achieve, follow these tips to polish your prose and tighten up your typing.


Know why you’re writing

First, ask yourself: ‘What do I want to say?’. Now, ‘what do I need to say?’ Do the two answers match? If not, then you could have a problem. It’s vital that you stay on track and avoid the temptation to go ‘down the rabbit hole’. Try creating a rough structure before you start – list the important points you want to make, in the order you want and need to make them.

Start with a structure and stay on track


Know your audience

Be sure you know who you’re writing for. Is it an internal audience of team members, or an external audience of  potential customers or the general public. What’s their existing relationship with your brand? Do they have any preconceptions that you need to overcome and will they be expecting you, or your organisation, to communicate in a particular way? What is the assumed knowledge of your audience – are they expert or lay person? Are they ‘friend or foe’? And is this the right time or place to be using abbreviations that you may use every day? This is where having a clear marketing strategy can really help.


Know your platform

Where will this copy end up? That will affect tone, style and length. Are there any special requirements, such as word count, for the platform you’ve chosen – be it an academic journal, a local newspaper column or a twitter post? Is it appropriate to use contractions – (we’re instead of we are). Here are just a few examples:

  • Press releases: You’re writing for the journalist first and also for their audience

  • Newsletters or website news: Usually more direct and informal

  • Social media: Each channel has its own ‘house style’


Be concise

This is often the hardest part. Use plain English, and keep it brief.


Be interesting

Would you be interested in reading what you’re writing? Make sure the answer is ‘yes’. A good test is the ‘pub chat’ technique – if you’re not writing it in the same way that you’d explain it to a friend in the pub, then you’re making it too complicated.

Every time I write something, I ask myself: ‘What’s the story here?’ It helps me to order my thoughts and focus on only the most important and interesting points for the copy.


Find your rhythm

Great copy has its own rhythm when you read it. It undulates and changes to keep the reader interested and entertained. Find yours by reading it out loud and listening to the pauses and lengths of sentences: if you’re out of breath by the end of a sentence, it’s too long. Don’t be afraid to rearrange your copy to make it simpler. Vary your sentence lengths and watch out for repeated words, especially at the start of sentences.


Grammar, spelling and punctuation

Don’t get caught out with simple grammatical mistakes. Just try to write the way you speak, because good writing should match spoken language.

Avoid these punctuation mistakes:

  • Too many colons, commas or hyphens

  • Capitalising too many words – stick to just the first word in a sentence or title/proper noun

  • Using an acronym without explaining it – write it out in full the first time and introduce the acronym in brackets if you’ll be using it again

  • Using the plural for a company – a company is singular (Purple Robot is…)

  • Failing to keep a style consistent throughout: try not to jump between informal or formal, first person (I am) and third person (he is).


Tool up (for free)

These are three of the best online copywriting tools I know of (if I’ve missed any, I’d love to hear about others):

  • Grammarly helps with grammar, spelling and style, and links to your email and social media platforms

  • Otterly is a transcription service that saves you hours typing up interviews. It works with Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom and while it’s not perfect, it does make life a lot easier

  • Hemmingway is also a nice browser-based programme that suggests ways to improve your copy as you write. Once again, use with caution, as these programmes aren’t perfect.


Proof (then proof again)

No one is safe from a missing word or typo – it happens to everyone. But if you don’t spot them before the copy goes out, it can be a major source of embarrassment. So, once you’ve finished your piece, proof it and then proof it again.

My trick is twofold: firstly, I always ask someone else to proof it for me.  Then, I print it out, take a break and then come back to it. At this point, I’m not reading it, I’m proofing by slowing down to focus on every word on the page. Without this step, it’s so easy for your brain to think it sees a missing word in the space where it should be.

Then, finally, proof it again.

This is a guest written blog by Rob Tomkinson at Carrington Communications, digital PR specialists for Lincolnshire SMEs and destinations. For more information, contact Rob on 01522 5817611 or follow this link to their website.