Monday, December 10, 2012

Rules and Guidelines for Copywriting

Everyone has their own rules for how to write good copy, or good headlines, or a novel, or anything really.  Type "rules for copywriting" into a search bar and you'll be swimming in tips, tricks, and how-tos.

Now, since this is the internet, some of those tips will be really good ideas, and some will make you wonder if the person writing them has ever written anything else since that book report in the third grade(the one where they got points off for copying the back of the book).

An easy way to tell if a rule is any good is to see how many people are repeating the same rule.  For example, most articles about writing ad copy will mention something about including a call to action.  If they don't, you might want to find a different source for advice.  It's one of those things that everyone tells you, and everyone tells you it because it's true.

One interesting rule I came across recently was, "assume your readers are at least as smart as you."  I think this is a good one to keep in mind.  I've seen more than a few ads and promotions where you can tell someone was trying to make their message idiot proof, and wound up just making it idiotic.

Talking down to your audience will only make them feel insulted.  On the other hand, you also don't want to get too technical if you're not talking to experts.  Try to keep in mind what your audience likely knows already, and what they are capable of learning.

That makes sense to me, but even better there are a lot of other people who have said the same thing, including somebody from Boston College(tip 3-c in the first section).

Another tip I've seen is to never use negatives.  Not double-negatives, mind you, any and all negative words.  As in, don't ever use the words "no" or "not."  I've even seen this advice applied to both headlines and writing in general.

This is one rule that I think is just silly.  Avoiding a generally negative tone in your writing is one thing, but you can accomplish that while still using the word "not."

Do you really want to avoid all negativity, though?  A little bit can create some tension and make things more enticing for the reader.  Which of these would you be more curious about:
     3 Tips for Better Writing
or
     Don't Make These 3 Mistakes In Your Writing

Ultimately, any rules that you come across when it comes to writing-or almost any other art form-are not really about "right" or "wrong" so much as "this" or "that."  Things like passive voice and sentence fragments create certain impressions in the reader's mind.  Sometimes you want to avoid those impressions, but sometimes they are exactly what you need depending on what the goal of your writing is.

Even the rule about assuming your audience is as smart as you is not so much about the "right" or "wrong" way of writing, but about not sounding patronizing.  But if you have a different goal, then you might want to break some rules.  Perhaps you want to create a patronizing tone for some reason.

Ultimately, it's up to the writer to determine what the purpose of their writing is and what rules they need to apply or break.