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Your writing can be interesting, even when the subject matter isn’t

 

This post was written by TCCS member, George Norris


 

A weathered billboard displays the message “Really Good Jerky, 75 Miles”

Hey there, copywriter. Whatcha writing about?

Australia’s most innovative verandah installers?
Suppliers of authentic cardboard boxes?
Perhaps a unique accountancy firm?

They all sound a bit silly, don’t they?

As copywriters, we often have to take pretty mundane stuff and make it sound exciting.

It’s what we do.

And sometimes there’s a tendency to go overboard with adjectives if the subject matter isn’t dripping with natural inspiration.

And that’s how we end up with misaligned descriptions like these.

But did you know you can make your writing interesting, even when the topic isn’t?

Put the thesaurus down, and try a few of these tips and techniques.

 

Bait your hook

Start strong. In the digital era, your prospects’ attention span is measured in milliseconds. So you have only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and slow their scroll, lest they scroll on by or hit the “archive” button on their emails.

You have to bait them into stopping.

Classic copywriting formulas like AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), or PAS (Problem, Agitate, Solve), dictate that you should include a trigger early on in your message. These writing formulas may be decades old, but the logic behind them is sounder than ever.

Bait your hook with a juicy attention-grabber, and cast it into the headline, subject line or first paragraph of your copy. A fisherman doesn’t wait until the end of the day to put his hook in front of his prospects, and neither should you.

 

Get a strong brief and refer to it often

Get a good brief, he says…but, isn’t that Copywriting 101? Well, it is. (Or at least it should be.)

But even so, every copywriter’s been there; fudging their way through a project where the client didn’t provide a strong brief, or they didn’t push hard enough to get one.

And we’ve all felt the pain a poor brief can cause down the track.

A half-cooked brief can send any copywriting project into a tailspin, most likely ending with a burnt-out copywriter and a frustrated client.

A woman bites down on a pencil in frustration as she looks at a laptop screen.

A good brief isn’t just the bedrock of a copywriting project. It’s also an essential reference to help you every step of the way.

Your brief should be your guide when you get stuck with how to phrase something, or find yourself pondering what it is your audience desires.

Emails with the client can often yield gold when revisited, too—though no promises there. A sentence you may have glossed over initially could hold the missing piece of information you need to break through when you’re in a rut.

 

Don’t build walls (of text)

This guy likes building walls. Don’t be like this guy.

An animated gif shows a caricature of Donald Trump laying bricks on a wall

Nobody reads walls of text. Why would they? There’s a whole world of well-crafted, punchy, and bite-size content out there to tuck into these days. So, don’t build text walls.

Break your writing up into easily digestible chunks by incorporating images and subheadings. Write short paragraphs that make a point, substantiate it, and introduce the next one.

 

Short sentences keep the tempo upbeat

Sentences. Keep them short. Mostly. Sometimes you need a long sentence to make your point, and that’s fine.

But why use 11 words when you could say the same thing with five?

Your readers aren’t looking for Shakespeare when they’re reading your blog post.

Short sentences are easy on the brain.

A long sentence that drifts on and on, meandering in no particular direction with repeated words and redundant points that are superfluous because you already made them earlier, with circular logic that goes round and round and round and runs into itself and ends up as an endless string of letters and repeated words, and punctuations with passive voice that means it was taking ages for the point to be made, and eventually the point is lost in the avalanche of words, and maybe some corporate buzzwords have crept in like a pivoting deep dive, and you wonder what the point even was other than to make you annoyed and want to slap the screen you’re looking at and oh my god what is he talking about and please make it stop!

Sorry. Got a bit carried away there. But I hope that mess illustrated my point.

Keep it simple, and keep it short.

 

Remember the 7 Ps

A metal ornament in the shape of the letter P

The 7 Ps is an old military adage that goes; Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

Like a marching band, it’s got a rhythm to it. But what does it mean for us writers?

Front-load your workload. Fill your brain up with as much information as you can at the start of the project.

That way, when it’s the eve of your deadline and you’re shaking your head at how the day got away on you, a much-needed nugget of inspiration might just come rattling out from the depths of your noggin.

You probably didn’t know there’s also a 7 Ps for copywriting. Here it is:

People Prefer Personality to Piffle, Platitudes, and Posturing Personas.

Okay, I just made that up. And maybe it’s a bit crap compared to the original. But feel free to try it out the next time a client wants you to talk about the revolutionary qualities of a box of staples.

Most people react positively to writing they can relate to rather than corporate-speak and buzzwords. It’s why copywriters exist. So don’t be afraid to inject a little personality into your writing.

Compare these two sentences:

“Our bakery sells traditional pies, sandwiches, and coffee that your family will love.”
vs.
“We don’t just make the best sandwiches and pies in town. We also have reasonably good coffee.”

The first sentence is cliched and forgettable.

The second makes the same point but is conversational with a touch of dry humour. More memorable.

 

Keep it active

The reader is bored by the sentence with a passive voice. Because the pace of the passive voice is dawdling and clumsy.

Most readers prefer the active voice. The active voice is crisp.

See what I did there?

  • Active voice: The subject does the verb to the object. e.g. The copywriter nailed the brief.
  • Passive voice: The verb happens to the subject. e.g. The nailing of the brief was done by the copywriter.

We see that the active voice gets your point across more efficiently and directly, even in a short example.

Hemingway is a great tool for spotting instances of passive voice.

Keep it active.

 

Chop chop

When you’re editing your own work, try to shift your mindset. Think like a third party, preferably a ruthless editor, alone in a half-lit room, surrounded by stacks of papers four feet high, dreaming up new ways to chop sentences down to size and make words disappear from the page.

You have to drop your emotional attachment to your handiwork and focus on keeping the audience front and centre.

A cartoon gif showing a character smoking a cigar while editing documents

Just as a butcher breaks down a carcass and sells only the good stuff to their customers, an editor breaks down a document.

Every paragraph, every sentence, and every word goes on the chopping block.

Only those that add substance or intrigue should be spared from tasting the cold steel of the cleaver.

If a sentence isn’t adding anything, or encouraging the reader to read the next one, give it the chop.

 

Be interested

Make it your business to be interested in what you’re writing about even when it’s not that interesting.

The person reading your copy about diesel engines might find them totally fascinating, even if you find them as interesting as day-old dishwater.

If you skimp on doing your homework because you’re not that interested, your writing is likely to reflect that.

It’ll be, as Bilbo Baggins says, “like butter scraped over too much bread”. It’s difficult to write in an interesting way when you’re unfamiliar with the topic.

Deep knowledge of your subject allows for confident and compelling writing that’s interesting to read, regardless of the subject.

 

Still stuck?

Take a break.

An animated gif shows a writer typing at a writer between sunrise and sunset

Sometimes it feels like no matter what techniques you try, writing’s just hard.

Try looking elsewhere for inspiration at times like this.

Loads of great writers post tips on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Follow some, and see if you can’t find some spark.

You’ll find plenty of them are members of this here copywriting school.

If that’s not working, try taking a step back from the screen.

Go for a walk, read a book, or listen to some music.

Often, the best thing you can do is take a break from the page and come back with fresh eyes.

It doesn’t need to be a long time, but doing something else will nearly always reset your mind and let you put a new twist on your writing.

 

Over to you

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About George

 

George Norris is the chief word merchant at George Norris Copywriter.

He writes marketing content and brand copy for businesses who want to tell a better story.

 

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