Article by Guest Poster
This article was written by a guest contributor. The author's views below are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of WHSR.
In the age of the internet, copywriting is an essential business skill. Yet, it’s still something that many people shy away from, because they don’t feel they are ‘good enough’ writers. You can hire a professional copywriter to work on your website, but the impact of having copywriting skills stretches further than your sales page. Your writing skills influence your social media presence, and the emails you send to colleagues, current clients and prospective customers. Poor grammar or spelling can look unprofessional, so it’s in the best interests of your business to develop your writing skills and maintain your company’s reputation.
If you want to learn to write effectively, you can do so without taking a professional training course, or spending money on a tutor. Here are five habits that will help you improve your writing skills in your own time.
Practice is the best way to improve your copywriting skills, so make time to write something every day. This could be a blog post, a long email, half a chapter of a book, or a certain number of words – the target is your decision. What’s important is that you stick to this. Not only will it help you develop your skills but it will also make you more familiar and comfortable with your writing style, something that’s important if you’re going to be showing off your writing work in public. Michelle from Wicked Whimsy advises Problogger readers not just to write every day, but to write something for other people every day.
Writing every day is hard – not because we don’t have time (we always have time) – but because we might feel a lot of resistance to it, especially if it’s something we don’t enjoy, or if we don’t feel very confident in our abilities.
Reading something every day is another important way to improve your copywriting skills, second only to a daily writing practice. What you read doesn’t matter, as long as it’s the kind of quality that you want to emulate. As well as general reading material, try to read publications that are relevant to the type of writing you want to improve. For example, if you have to write advertising copy for your business, try to read one or more advertisements every day; if you’re writing blog posts, find and follow several blogs whose style you admire.
As well as reading works inside your head, it can also be useful to read them out loud too. Email marketer Ben Settle recommends reading passages aloud to process the vocabulary and sentence construction more thoroughly than you could if you were just reading the words in your head.
While you might not want to commit to taking a copywriting course, reading up on the subject is helpful for improving your grammar and style.
Many grammar books are better for curing insomnia than improving writing skills. It’s helpful, however, to take a deep breath and plunge into a few short books on writing that contain helpful tips for improving your prose. Notable books that discuss the art of non-fiction writing include Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and On Writing by Stephen King. All these books are brief, provide helpful tips and tricks for improving your writing skills, and are easy to reference if you need help in the future.
Editing is the second-most important skill to have after writing. Many people find that, no matter how much practice they get, the first draft of whatever they’re composing is always clumsy – it’s the self-editing process that makes the difference.
You should watch for several key points when self-editing. The first is the length of your sentences. As a general copywriting rule, try to say what you want to say with as few words as possible. If you have superfluous words in the sentence, take them out. The usual culprits involve modifiers (for example, “quite” or “very”), and describing words. Only use adverbs or adjectives when you have to, otherwise they lose their impact and your writing becomes verbose.
Avoid using passive sentences like “Amazing products are constructed by our staff” and replace them with active sentences: “Our staff construct amazing products”. You should also remove repeated ideas, and start identifying your own personal writing quirks. Everyone has words or phrases that they tend to overuse, so try to become more conscious of those and edit unnecessary elements from your writing.
If you struggle with self-editing, try changing the way you go about the process. Print off a hard copy of your work and edit on paper instead of using a screen. Beth Hill, a freelance fiction writer and author of “ The Editor’s Blog” suggests having a change of scene; for example, if you usually work at home, try working in a library or cafe. This can help you look at you work with fresh eyes and spot errors or alterations you might not otherwise have found. Ex-BBC journalist Phil Harding suggests reading your work aloud to help you edit the flow of the piece.
If you’re lacking confidence in your abilities as a wordsmith, showing your writing to others can feel incredibly exposing. Allowing other people to critique your work, however, is an important tool for improving your copywriting skills, and doing this on a regular basis will help you improve grammatical and stylistic errors that you might not spot yourself. If the idea of showing your work to others feels too excruciating right now, you can also try to critique your old work. Choose work from at least six months ago, so enough time has passed that you can take a new look at the work from a distance.
The Writing Center at College of the Sequoias suggests asking for specific feedback, rather than “What do you think?” This might include asking your test readers to pay attention to your grammar, your sentence structure, the flow of your writing, or the clarity of the content. When deciding what to ask for regarding feedback, start with the aspect of your writing that leaves you feeling least comfortable. You can also ask broader questions that require the reader to give an in-depth answer, for example “What do you think I’m writing about here?” This type of feedback will help you understand how your writing impacts others, and will