Tips and Tools to Master Copywriting
Whether you’re a marketer or not, being able to clearly express your views, or your company's message, through writing is a skill worth developing. Every one of us is, in fact, a writer, so you better get used to it.
These days, thought leaders and industry professionals are expected to be active in posting blog articles, social media posts, or speaking at live and virtual events. It takes copywriting skills to create websites, develop a brand message, launch an advertising campaign, send emails… the list goes on. The point is, everybody writes, and it’s worth your while to hone your skills to make you and/or your brand stand out and connect with customers and prospects.
The team at Think Better is constantly writing for both our clients and for our own brand. Through testing and experience, we’ve developed a set of guidelines, a process, and a list of helpful tools, to guide us. We’d like to share our findings with you.
Think Better’s Writing Guidelines
Let’s face it, English is a complicated language, and some details can be left up to personal preference. To ensure consistency, we have an internal set of guidelines that we use. Sometimes our clients have different preferences, and we adapt. The important thing is to keep consistent.
Below is the Style Guidance shared from our own Think Better writing guidelines. Remember that these are our preferences. If you’d like to use MLA standards instead of the Chicago Manual or adopt a different voice, that’s totally up to you.
Think Better Style Guidance
Focus Your Message. There should be a single primary message or point that you’re trying to communicate and supporting information for that message or point.
Be Concise. Avoid unnecessary modifiers. Use short words and sentences. Watch for run-on sentences.
Write With Intention. Make sure that your sentences are clear, that they have the basics of a verb and a noun and articulate a clear thought.
Avoid Sales Language. Write how you would speak. Don’t use jargon and marketing-speak.
Use the Chicago Manual of Style. If you’re curious whether or not you should use a serial comma or not, or if something is capitalized, check the Chicago Manual of Style.
Grammar is super important. We find that improper grammar can damage trust and make brands seem less reliable. Set expectations for the type of grammar you want to see and keep it uniform. Some swear by the Oxford comma, others hate it. Either way is fine, but you need to set the standard and stick to it.
As an example of some of our grammar rules, see what standards we’ve set for commas, capitalization, and numbers below.
Grammar Rules from the Think Better Grammar Guide
Commas When writing a list, use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma).
Yes: David admires his parents, Oprah, and Justin Timberlake.
No: David admires his parents, Oprah and Justin Timberlake.
Capitalization Subject lines should use title case, but all else should use sentence case. The only words that should be capitalized in the middle of a sentence are proper nouns. Use the Chicago Manual of Style for title case rules.
Numbers Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. If the piece you’re writing is data-heavy, use numerals and the % sign. If not (in most cases) spell out all numbers up to ten and any numbers larger than ten, like 23, can be written as a numeral. “Percent” should be written, unless, as mentioned, the piece is data-heavy.
Ten new employees started on Monday, and 12 start next week.
I ate three donuts at Coffee Hour.
Meg won 1st place in last year’s Walktober contest.
We hosted a group of 8th graders who are learning to code.
Numbers over 3 digits get commas:
Write out big numbers in full. Abbreviate them if there are space restraints, as in a tweet or a chart: 1k, 150k.
Other grammar expectations that you should set include:
Abbreviations and acronyms: How do you present abbreviations or acronyms to ensure your audience isn’t lost on them?
Active voice usage: How important is it to you to use the active voice vs. the passive voice?
Dashes and hyphens: Do you use spaces between letters and hyphens or em dashes?
Ellipses: Is it okay to use them, and when?
While copywriting can be tricky, you don’t need to go it alone! There are a variety of tools out there that can help spiff up and quality check your writing. Plus, no one is born a copywriting genius. Like most things, it takes practice to become efficient AND effective with your writing.
Here is a list of tools we use to fine-tune our writing.
Grammarly We don’t know where we’d be without Grammarly. This virtual writing assistant checks spelling and grammar, lets you know when you’ve been using the passive voice excessively, and even suggests alternatives when you use the same word too much. We pass everything we publish (including this article) through Grammarly before we post it.
Capitalize My Title If you’re using title case and are not sure which words to capitalize and which words can stay lowercase, capitalizemytitle.com can help. Just paste in your title, select your style, and like magic your title is complete.
Thesaurus.com Using the same words over and over again makes your writing boring. We are always using a thesaurus to come up with new words that we can use to get the point across.
Grammar Girl When you see a grammar tip from Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, pay attention. She is excellent at explaining specific grammar rules and giving examples.
We’re book worms so naturally, we like to read about writing. We think that the following books should be mandatory for anyone who writes. (That includes you!)
Everybody Writes, Ann Handley: This is a go-to guide for attracting and retaining customers through written communication. Its short chapters are interesting, easy to read, and very informative.
The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl: Mignon Fogarty: We love Grammar Girl, and this book helped set straight grammar rules that have stumped us since elementary school in a quick and simple format.
Think Better Writing Process
Lastly, to make things stick, make a short checklist to follow before you make your writing public. Here is ours:
Proofread what you’ve written twice before you share it with anyone.
Use Grammarly to check your email, blog, article, etc. before sharing with anyone.
When in doubt, review our guidelines or Grammar Girl to find grammar rules.
Write with a single reader in mind. This makes it easier to focus your language and message.
Have at least one person proofread before posting after following the previous rules.
Do you have any tips or tools that we haven’t mentioned that you find valuable? We’d love to hear about them!