Throw away The Elements of Style by Strunk & White? It’s not useful for copywriting?
*gasp, clutch chest, thud*
All right, so they focus more on writing technique and less on how to convince people to buy your stuff. If you want to know how to psychologically tap into your customers, Strunk and White are not the people you need to turn to. (Fortunately, there are millions of sales books that will help you in that particular area.)
However, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Chartrand’s suggestion to toss this writer’s Bible aside. The Elements of Style is a required reference book for all writers because the fundamentals enshrined within are vital for all writers.
Without further ado, here are a few tips for copywriters from within the hallowed pages:
Write with nouns and verbs.
“The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”
Part of good writing is being descriptive enough that it comes alive and connects with your readers on an emotional level. Excessive adjectives and adverbs dilute your words and weigh down your sentences.
When you’re trying to persuade with your writing, you need a solid foundation. That comes from choosing good nouns and verbs on which to build your sentences.
Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
“A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing.”
Every written work — an article, a novel, a sales letter, a blog post — needs some kind of structure. A road map, to get it from point A to point B. You want to take your visitors through a story that shows them how you can solve their problems, weaving the tale so that they see no alternative but you at the end of it. But that’s very difficult to do if you haven’t even picked the direction that you want to go.
It doesn’t have to be a detailed structure on par with those research paper outlines you had to do in high school and college. It just has to be enough of a design to keep you on track.
Revise and rewrite.
“Few writers are so expert that they can produce what they are after on the first try.”
Never publish your first draft. When you write something, let it sit for a few hours (or a day, if you can) and then come back to it. Chances are, you’ll find a sentence that sounds awkward, or you’ll think of a better way to phrase your call to action. You may find that you have a better way to write that crucial first sentence. Always give your copy a good once-over before you take it public.
Also, don’t forget to proofread. It’s one thing to deliberately use sentence fragments to make a point. It’s quite another to misuse words because you forgot the difference between “complement” and “compliment.” If you’re not sure, then make Dictionary.com your best friend.
Avoid fancy words.
“Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”
When I was a kid, I loved learning new words. Once I knew what they meant, I’d try to use them in writing or in conversation as much as possible. “Ubiquitous” was one of those words. “Scintillating” was another. But when I went back and read some of that stuff two or three years later, I realized that I sounded like a pretentious twit.
Tailor your words to your audience. But when in doubt, always choose the “ten-center.” It will keep your writing clear, and you won’t sound like a pretentious twit. People buy from people they like, not from people who sound like they read a page out of the dictionary every morning.
“Since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue.”
In his book On Writing, Stephen King calls writing a form of telepathy. You write something down, and then minutes, days, weeks, or months later, somebody else reads it, and your ideas are transferred to their head.
If you aren’t clear with your writing, then those ideas could be misunderstood. When you’re trying to encourage people to take an action — whether it’s signing up for a newsletter or buying a pair of socks — make it absolutely clear what they need to do. Ensure that you always say exactly what you mean to say.
Your copy should leave no room for doubt and no room for questions.
The Elements of Style won’t teach you how to emotionally connect with your audience, and it won’t tell you the psychology behind getting people to buy. It will, however, give you the basic building blocks to being a good writer. And whether you’re typing up an ad for Google AdWords or rewriting the copy on your site, it’s a book you don’t want to be without.