Copywriting – The Process for Watertight Copy
April 2021 / 5 minute read
Abraham Lincoln once famously said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. While maybe not the fastest axe sharpener, Lincoln was certainly sharp when it came to his process. Copywriting is a big part of what we do here at Coussins Associates; but if you don’t know where to start, it can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to introduce you to our process for watertight copy. Whether it’s a press release, report, newsletter article or blog post you’re composing, these tips will help you to stay calm and think clearly when putting pen to paper.
Often, the trouble with copywriting is that people struggle to begin transforming their thoughts into proper words and sentences – a condition commonly known as ‘writer’s block’. Yet with practice, many come to realise something about this common phenomenon: if you don’t know where to start, you aren’t ready to start.
So how to write good copy? Watertight Copywriting doesn’t mean waiting around for that elusive “eureka” moment, it means having a writing process that produces consistent copy, consistently! Attempting to produce a piece of writing on the future of manufacturing with no prior knowledge is a recipe for disaster, so start by going back to the drawing board and do your research.
But before you even go to type “the future of manufacturing” into your search engine of choice, consider this: two things will make your research far easier. Firstly, knowing your audience – are they manufacturers themselves or novices looking to find out more? And secondly, knowing your purpose – are you writing to persuade or inform, argue or advise?
And that so-called “eureka” moment we mentioned earlier? Well, the truth is that doesn’t really exist and your copy certainly doesn’t need to be perfectly formed in your head before it can be transferred onto paper. With the help of a little bit of planning plus sound knowledge of your subject matter, your purpose and your audience, you’ll be able to get some initial ideas and words onto the page before you know it – and that writer’s block will be totally vanquished!
In fact – we’ve often found that beginning by writing anything is often the best way to overcome that blockage. Unless you are a better writer than Shakespeare you will be revising your early draft many times. So STOP trying to write something perfect at the first attempt and just START! Writing anything will help you to write something that you can then perfect later.
Once you’ve got a first draft on the page, there are several things that you can do to give your copy a bit of extra style and polish. So here are the eight tips that make up our process for Watertight Copywriting:
- Think about your word choice. There’s nothing worse than hearing the same word used over and over again. Just because you’re writing about manufacturing, doesn’t mean you should mention manufacturing in every sentence about the manufacturing industry! Identify which words or phrases you are overusing and try and swap them out for some new ones. This is particularly important in relation to adjectives. Good adjectives that are good to work with doesn’t mean they are good to use over and over again for goodness sake. That really isn’t very good to read – is it?
- While we’re on the subject of word choice, remember this: the thesaurus is your friend – most of the time. Though a thesaurus can be a great way to inject some variety into your vocabulary, it will always suggest some words that just don’t fit your context. Be picky and consider your options…or else your copy might get a little “abstruse” – or perhaps we should say more simply – a little puzzling.
- Write for your audience. There’s really no point in using tonnes of complex jargon when writing for beginners. It may show off your knowledge, but it will also make your copy totally inaccessible. Equally, if your audience are experts on your subject matter then make sure you don’t talk down to them – patronising copy is just as alienating for readers as over-complicated copy. Remember your readers and make sure you are writing for them.
- And write for your purpose, too. If you’re creating a thought piece, make sure your point isn’t getting lost amongst statistics and quotes – your piece should be drawing towards your conclusion.
- Be clear about your point throughout – not just in your conclusion. It’s a bit baffling when a piece’s conclusion doesn’t reflect what it says elsewhere. Try and make sure that there is a logical progression through your piece to the conclusion that you are going to make.
- Be as concise as possible. Adding in extra words for the sake of it will make your copy hard to follow. Be ruthless when it comes to deleting words and sentences that aren’t necessary or relevant – even if it feels like you’re deleting lots of hard work, it will improve your copy in the end. After all, writing concisely takes much more skill than writing a long and wordy piece.
- Length can be tricky, but don’t be afraid of writing ‘too much’ or ‘too little’. If you’ve said what you need to say and made it clear and concise, as well as compelling and interesting, your piece will probably be the perfect length for its purpose – whether it ends up being 30, 300 or 3,000 words long.
- And the most important tip of all? Don’t hesitate to get a fresh set of eyes involved. You can quickly find yourself agonising over the same sentences without making much progress at all. Sometimes, the easiest way to get a fresh perspective is by looking for one that isn’t your own – you’ll be amazed at how helpful it can be to have a second opinion or even just to have someone around to test your ideas out.
Our copy has been translated into dozens of languages for emailers, websites, or for speeches spoken live to thousands of listeners, and has helped businesses in nearly every continent on the planet (sorry Antarctica, let us know if the whales ever get their fin-tech start-up together). Take a look at some of the work we’ve done previously and get in touch if you’d like to find out more.