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11 Rules for Effective Copywriting

By: Joel Klebanoff

Joel Klebanoff, is a copywriter and marketing communications consultant specializing in the information technology industry. He is president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc.

It is difficult for copywriters to explain how to write effectively. With experience, the discipline becomes intuitive. While the following rules are, therefore, likely incomplete, we hope you find them useful.

Rule 1: Keep Your Eye on The Goal

When writing marketing copy, the goal is not a Pulitzer Prize. The goal is to achieve your marketing objectives. Avoid any deviation from that path, even if it means breaking some of the following rules.

Rule 2: Know Where You Want to Go Before Trying to Get There

Plan Your WritingWriting should flow smoothly with each sentence and paragraph leading naturally to the next. Grafting new ideas onto a well-crafted piece disrupts the flow, often forcing a major rewrite. It is important, therefore, to begin with a clear idea of what you need to communicate to whom.

Before you start to write, precisely define your:
  • Objective
  • Audience
  • Primary message(s)
  • Supporting arguments
Rule 3: Do Not Try to Do Too Much

It is difficult enough to get your audience to read, understand, and accept one message. Cramming too many messages into a single vehicle confuses and loses the reader.

Rule 4: Be Honest

If readers suspect even a minor deception, they will doubt everything you say.

Rule 5: Do Not Underestimate Your Readers’ Intelligence

Talking down to readers puts them off.

Rule 6: Do Not Overestimate Your Readers’ Knowledge
Readers cannot accept and act on messages they do not understand.

Rule 7: Spelling and Grammar Count … But

Grammar Readers judge your marketing communications on form as well as content. Incorrect spelling and grammar irritate them.

However, rule 1 always takes precedence. If you can better communicate your message by ignoring the occasional minor grammar rule, then do so.

Remember Winston Churchill. He reputedly wrote sarcastically in the margin of a report that used an awkward construct to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition: "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put."

In addition, advertising copy writers sometimes ignore rules of grammar for effect. For example, because a period creates a long pause, a writer might use incomplete sentences, such as, "Stop. Think.", to force readers to absorb what they just read.

Rule 8: Be Brief

Rule 9: Make Sure Readers Understand and Remember Your Message

Clear writing helps readers to understand your message.

However, what is clear to one reader might be confusing to another. Rule 8 notwithstanding, depending on the medium, some repetition of the most important points may be worthwhile. By saying the same thing in a different way, you might eliminate any confusion and more firmly implant the thought in the reader’s mind.

Rule 10: Write for Your Readers

You are not the target of your writing, your readers are. Write in their language and address their concerns. Adhering to this rule may require some formal or informal market research.

Rule 11: Read Your Copy Aloud

When reading your writing silently, you typically see what you know should be on the page or screen, not necessarily what is there. When you hear the words aloud, mistakes become obvious.

For effect, Rule 8, "be brief," intentionally omitted an explanation. However, it is typically the most difficult rule to respect. Writing a stream of consciousness on a familiar topic is easy. Capturing attention and selling an idea, using the fewest possible words, takes considerable time and effort. In the words of the seventeenth century mathematician, Blaise Pascal, "I have made this letter longer than usual only because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

© Copyright 1999, Joel Klebanoff, Klebanoff Associates, Inc.

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