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8 copywriting clangers to avoid

May 2017
8 copywriting clangers to avoid
Mike Laskey
18th May 2017

Not the most confident writer? You’re not alone.

For every self-perceived Shakespeare, there are many more self-critical marketers convinced they can’t string a sentence together.

Yet the vast majority actually can write persuasive, concise copy when they clear their doubt and put their mind to it. 

The best advice is normally to stay calm, have faith and give it a go. After all, you can always edit or rewrite your work once you’ve filled that intimidating blank page with a few initial lines.

But just as helpful as advice on what to do are tips on what not to do – so we’ve compiled a list of eight pointers to help you steer clear of some common copywriting pitfalls.

1. Being afraid to write in the first place

Yep, you guessed it. The biggest and most frequent mistake people make is letting fear prevent them from putting pen to paper.

You may not have an A* in English or tons of writing experience, but you’ll never improve if you never challenge yourself. 

Get out of your comfort zone and remember that your first draft is exactly that – a first draft!

A copywriter working on a blank page

What’s more, not every piece of writing needs to be a work of art…

2. Trying to be too clever

While the most memorable ads may be witty puns or pithy putdowns, that’s not to say that all marketing copy should be ‘clever’. 

It’s all about having the desired impact – selling a product, influencing a behaviour change or raising awareness of a big issue – so being simple and direct can sometimes be more effective. 

As the legendary David Ogilvy once said: “What is a good advertisement? An advertisement which pleases you because of its style, or an advertisement which sells the most?”

David Ogilvy

You should also resist the temptation of overusing the thesaurus; the only thing worse than forced, unfunny wordplay in ads is grandiose verbosity where plain English will do.

3. Burying your key points

Although you wouldn’t expect a brand to forget to mention its biggest selling point until the bottom of the page, many press releases and websites only get to their main message two-thirds of the way through. 

With journalists’ skimming emails for immediate newsworthiness and audiences’ attention spans on the decline, that can mean the difference between media coverage or sales and getting no attention at all.

Always read back your first draft and check you’ve not accidentally hidden your strongest sell too late on. 

Likewise, try to avoid…

4. Including minor details early on

This is another trap that’s all too easy to fall into.

Imagine you’re describing a shiny new product that’s the first of its kind ever made. Sure, it may be sensible to refer to the manufacturer’s relevant previous creations to provide detail and context.

But ramble through a list in the first or second paragraph and you’re merely introducing padding that distracts the reader from the impressive, noteworthy main topic – the new product.

An example of a well-structured article or press release

Read the initial sections of your copy and delete or relegate anything that makes you say ‘meh’. Be brutal!

5. Sticking to ‘the rules’

“Sentences must never end with a preposition.”

“And they should never start with conjunctions like ‘and’, either.”

You may have been taught rules like this at school, but they are totally old hat. It also doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out they can lead to some clunky phrasing, so just use your common sense to avoid blindly making your copy hard to follow. 

Outdated grammar rules on a blackboard

Of course, don’t ignore all grammatical convention – no-one will take you or your work seriously if it’s full of glaring errors…

6. Not proofing your work

Whether you’ve been in the writing game for minutes or months, you will make mistakes.

Typos, empty spaces, repeated words… they can all be easy to miss in the age of automatic spellchecks and tighter-than-ever deadlines. 

It’s always crucial to give your copy a thorough check before it gets sent to print or put live. 

A typo on a TV advert for video game Battlefield 1

Ask an outsider to read it over, too – there’s a good chance they’ll spot something you’ve overlooked after hours of staring at the page.

7. Big blocks of text

Research shows that we skim online content, our eyes drawn to specific areas of the screen while our brains search for what we need to know in as little time as possible. 

Long, chunky paragraphs spread over several lines can make the reader switch off halfway through.

Extra-short ones, on the other hand, can help a point stand out. 

Like this.

Remember to consider the layout of your copy and how best to present text on the platform you’re writing for. 

8. Using meaningless words

Words are wonderful, and English has more of them than any other major language. 

That said, there’s a time and a place for certain entries in the dictionary.

Take press releases as an example. Plenty suffer from stock phrases like ‘going forward’, cliches like ‘to the next level’ or unclear verbs like ‘utilise’ that add either ambiguity or nothing of value.

If a word isn’t working hard enough in a sentence, get rid of it or switch it for another that will actually make an impact. You’ll find your word count decreases, giving you more room to introduce new points.

So there you have it – our eight copywriting clangers to avoid. 

Next time you’re drafting something, bear these points in mind and let us know if they help by tweeting @divacreative.

By Mike Laskey

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