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Whether you’re writing a sales pitch, an ad, a newsletter or a blog post, these simple habits will give you a powerful advantage over your competitors.
What would you guess is the single most important element in effective writing? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not grammar, spelling or even punctuation. Rather, it’s the writing itself—the “voice” of the writer. Voice is what gives a piece of writing personality and makes it come alive for the reader. And when it comes to writing, personality is king. In this brief guide, we’re going to explore seven of the most important elements of great writing and how you can use them to make your writing more effective.
These proven guidelines are based on a simple principle: Good writing is clear, accurate, concise, and effective.
Begin with the End in Mind
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice ever given to writers. If you can’t figure out what the end goal is, if you can’t articulate it, if you don’t know why it’s important, your writing will suffer. Know the end goal. What do you want the reader to do? What’s the desired result of your copy? What is the “payoff” for your reader? Once you know the payoff, it’ll be easier to know (and easier to convince your reader) that your copy is moving in the right direction.
The end goal is for them to say “Wow! That was a great ad! I want to buy more of those products.” Or maybe “I want to go to that restaurant next time I am in town. The food is great there.” Whatever. The end goal is to get your reader to act. Don’t worry so much about being clever. Worry about being clear. If you are not clear, no one will ever be able to follow your instructions. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone who does. Once you know the answer, put it in your own words.
Set a Focal Point
This is the part of the ad or blog post where you get into the details of your offer. The focal point is where you say something that grabs attention and makes your reader want to continue reading. It can be a benefit, a feature, a short story about a customer, a statistic, a question, etc. Whatever it is, make sure it ties in with the rest of the ad or blog post in some way that makes sense. And don’t just throw in any old thing… pick something that is relevant and makes sense in the context of the copy you are creating.
Don’t worry if it seems obvious to you… it probably isn’t to most of your readers. You know, there are certain things I do on every ad or blog post I write that always seem obvious to me… but often, they aren’t obvious at all to my readers. So be sure to test. If you do enough testing (and don’t get too attached to your first draft), you will find the perfect focal point for your ad or blog post. Trust me, it will come.
So, how do you test?
Well, one simple way is simply to leave out what you think is the focal point of your ad or blog post and see what happens.
Find the “Big Idea”
When you are trying to write an ad or a sales letter or any other kind of writing, the first thing you should do is to find the “big idea.” What is the main benefit you are offering your prospect? What is the one big idea you want to communicate to your prospect? Once you know what that big idea is, the next step is to develop and refine that idea. Every word, every sentence, and every paragraph should support that big idea. If it doesn’t, if it doesn’t advance the big idea in some way, if it doesn’t make the piece more persuasive… the piece is not good writing. It’s bad writing.
Good writing makes it easy for your reader. It makes it easy for her to understand your message. Writing that is easy-to-read makes your job of selling much easier. The reader should be able to scan a piece of writing and get the main point without having to stop and think. Good writing zeroes in on the most important elements of the message so that the least amount of information needed to be processed by the reader.
The easiest way to write “easy-to-read” is simply to avoid cluttering up your copy with unnecessary words and phrases. The less stuff in the way of your prospect’s path to enlightenment, the faster he will be able to understand your message.
Craft Clear, Concise, Direct Statements
Writing that is clear, concise, and direct is much more likely to be read and understood. Readers will not linger over your writing if it is unclear, difficult to read, or overly wordy. Cut out excess verbiage. Use short, simple sentences. Short paragraphs. A good rule of thumb is to aim for statements with less than 12 words. And try to use the active voice whenever possible. It will help your writing flow more naturally and make it more understandable to your readers.
If you want to sell something, your writing should be easy-to-read, easy-to-understand, and as short as possible. The more you write, the more you will learn about how to write clearly. Keep practicing! Good writing is a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets.
Use Active, Visual Language
If you think about it, most advertising is passive. We “consume” ads (and other marketing messages) by simply reading them. But great writing is anything but passive. Great writing grabs us by the throat, forces us to read every word, and makes us feel as if we are actually experiencing the message through the writer’s own personal lens. Good writers (at least good copywriters) understand this and use it to their advantage. They get inside their customers’ heads, understands what they want and then gives it to them in a way that is clear, compelling, and personal.
This kind of active, visual language is especially important when you are crafting bullets or other short, catchy statements. In those cases, your reader will be able to picture what you are describing in his mind’s eye and therefore be more likely to believe you.
“Show Don’t Tell”
Great writing does not need to rely on long, drawn-out descriptions. Instead, it relies on concrete, specific details to make its point. This is called “show don’t tell.” It is one of the most powerful writing techniques you can employ and yet, it is often neglected by beginners. Don’t let that happen to you. Make it a priority to understand this writing principle and use it every time you sit down to write a sales message.
What’s more, the “show don’t tell” technique is often the easiest way for you to make your writing more understandable. By using concrete details, you remove the need for your reader to do any mental “work.” He will be able to quickly and easily visualize what you are trying to communicate.
The “show don’t tell” technique is easy to understand but difficult to master. If you lack the discipline to practice this simple writing technique, your sales messages will never improve.
So, to begin with, I suggest you take notes on every sales message you read or every ad you run. You should not rely on your memory. Instead, you should write it all down. In this way, you will be able to review the material later at your leisure and extract the important details to use when you are actually writing your own sales messages.
Proofread, Rewrite, and Re-write Again
The most common mistake first-time writers make is to think their writing is good enough when in fact it isn’t. Always read your copy aloud, proofread it, then rewrite it. Don’t be too quick to judge the quality of your writing. Give it a second (and sometimes a third and a fourth) chance.
If you are writing a sales pitch (even if it’s just for yourself), proofread it for factual accuracy first. If there are errors, correct them immediately. Don’t wait until later to do this. When you do this at the beginning, it will be like cleaning up after the tornado hit. Later on, when it’s too late, you’ll be scrambling to put the pieces back together and your reader won’t give a shit about your minutia.
If you find factual errors, don’t worry about whether or not they are “substantial” errors. Make them “substantial” by making corrections right away.
Next, rewrite the copy in your head. Get every nuance and inflection of what you want to communicate. Don’t worry about grammatical correctness (well, don’t worry about it until you’ve proofread it). Instead, worry about making sure your writing is clear, concise, and flows well. If it doesn’t flow well, the reader will struggle to keep up.
Don’t hold back here either. Go for clarity and conciseness over “perfection.” Once you have the copy flowing easily in your head, proofread it again. But this time, do it for grammatical accuracy. Don’t worry if this step seems like an inconvenience. It’s not. Doing this will make your copy sing and drive orders.
In conclusion, good writing isn’t an “add-on” after the fact. Good writing is a vital ingredient in the creation of great marketing. Bad writing gets in the way of good results. Good writing is simple, clear, concise, and compelling. It makes the reader long for more of what you are offering. If you are in sales, your ability to write clearly and persuasively is even more important than your ability to talk or to simply describe your product.