Time to hone in your copywriting skills

After eight years of working within internal communications, I thought it was about time for my #CPD that I gave some attention to my writing as in all that time I’d undertaken no form of formal writing training.

I’ve found I spend an increasing amount of time managing projects and when reviewing my #CPD plan for the year ahead, it suddenly struck me one area I’ve neglected, writing! How on earth I went all this time without giving it any thought seems criminal to the profession! I’ve always taken onboard feedback from peers who proof my copy but never thought about the art of copywriting and for those wondering, my degree is in geography so I spent most of my time at university looking at soil samples and writing up statistics.

Here are my thoughts, having recently attended the PRCA ‘Honing your copywriting skills’ course by the PRCA and the CIPR Copywriting webinar that might be useful if you’re thinking of developing this area of your CPD plan.

Copywriting courses

PRCA course overview

This one day course explores how to write engaging and effective copy across a variety of channels. I attended the Birmingham event, and it was great to be part of a more intimate group, six including me. The PRCA offers subsidised courses outside of London so look out for courses local to you as you can save on costs and travel.

One advantage of this course is that it’s suitable for any PR discipline. Even with the small group attendees were from social media agencies, internal communications (public & private sector), corporate communications and charity bid writing. This mix was beneficial for the practical exercises as everyone had a unique perspective yet the principles taught applied across all our work. 

CIPR Online webinar

A short, one hour webinar focused on three key practices to keep in mind about headlines, the opening and the layout of the copy. It contained some great tips on how to attract your audience using the right headline, engaging the reader in your opening paragraph through different creative approaches and then explaining how the layout of the copy is just as important as the words.

If you haven’t got the time or resources available to undertake a full course, I’d suggest having a look at smaller, online webinars that can be easier to digest and gives you two or three key points to focus on.

My top tips

The enjoyable thing about the day was the right balance of theory and practice through the use of discussions, exercises and feedback to help really focus in on making sure each word and sentence adds value to the reader.

Five key points to always remember

  • Are you writing to inform or persuade? It might sound obvious, but do you decide on the purpose for each piece of copy?
  • Plan, plan and plan. It might go without saying, but how many times do you get a request in and then go straight into writing without planning? This doesn’t need to be a lengthy plan. Even if you gave yourself five minutes after receiving an email to bullet down the purpose, audience, key messages and structure will make a difference to your writing.
  • Structure is king. There are several structures used in copywriting as standard that not only help you plan but make it easier for your audience to read and remember. Selecting the right structure is just as important as choosing the right channel, so make sure you give them both the time they deserve.
  • Plain English. Why write 100 words if you can say it in 20? You’re writing to make sure a message gets across to your audience so cut out unnecessary words, keep it short, to the point and remember you aren’t trying to impress the audience.
  • Time to be active. A personal weak spot of mine and I once had a manager who would always come back saying ‘Make it more active’ with no further explanation. Using active phases helps make your copy more engaging and a simple way you can check your sentences is by adding ‘by a zebra’ at the end. If it reads correctly, it’s an active line and if not, it’s passive. Thanks to Lorraine Forrest-Turner for that handy tip. 

Hitting the headlines

It can be much easier to come up with the headline after you have the content. Thinking back to the purpose of the copy, your headline needs to reflect this and help your audience make an informed decision on whether they need to read further. There are a variety of techniques you can use depending on what you need to achieve: inform, challenge or perhaps set out an action to the reader and your headline needs to match your copy.

Proof vs. edit

Your draft is exactly that, a draft. It’s not meant to be perfect and not meant for sending on to peers for review or proofing. Thinking of that initial draft as a knowledge transfer, getting your thoughts onto paper and I’ve found it to be a helpful approach and then come back to it after a break. Too many times in the past I’ve gone into writing, made some edits and published. Only, did I just proof it rather than edit?

Think of editing as a craft, developing over time to enhance your writing. It’s not just about sticking to the word count but questioning yourself on whether you can say it in less, does it make sense, will the reader be engaged and can it flow better? Only once you have completed this can you then move onto proofing, checking grammar, spelling, punctuation and presentation. 

No such thing as a boring subject, just bad writing!

We all know the feeling of finishing an enjoyable book and our copy as communicators should do just that. The best piece of advice I received very early in my career was ‘write with less and do it better. Excellent copy often comes from trying to solve a problem but remember, not everyone will face that same problem so don’t pitch your copy at everyone otherwise you’ll end up interesting no one. The following resources I highly recommend visiting for regular advice and copywriting tips.

Business Casual Copy – Blog by Joel Klettke based in Calgary
Contently – Content strategy service
Copy Hackers – Canadian marketing copywriting agency
Copyblogger – Digital marketing specialists
Lorraine Forrest-Turner – Professional writer and trainer

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