All business writing has one goal and that’s to persuade someone to do something. Whether you’re writing a blog post or sales copy, you want your audience to act. Persuasive writing can often be the most difficult type of writing, especially when the average person is barraged daily by a never-ending flow of information. Follow these tips to become a more successful business copywriter, one whose readers not only read your entire email but also follow-through with the requested action.
1. What do you want your reader to do?
Before you even start writing it’s important for you to know exactly what you want your reader to do. If you have a clear goal in mind, you will be better able to express this goal in written form. If you find that after you begin writing you become bogged down, it can be helpful to re-read while asking this question and weeding out those sentences that don’t help explain what you want your readers to do.
2. Know your audience
Before writing, think about your audience. Do your readers fit into a certain group? Do they know you? Are they familiar with your company? What types of information will catch their eye and keep them reading? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you select the most appropriate tone and avoid phrases that your audience may not be familiar with.
3. Catch your readers’ attention
Though all your content should be interesting enough to keep the reader moving along, the first sentence and paragraph are the most important because most readers decide within the first few lines whether to keep reading. This is why you should begin with a piece of information that is most compelling to readers. Make sure what you lead with is not too complicated or detailed; otherwise you may chase readers away.
4. Why should I care?
Your reader should understand within the first paragraph why he or she should care about what you are writing. Be specific about what your company is asking and how that person can and should want to help. Be careful not to bog them down in too many details, but don’t be afraid to be too clear. Ambiguity kills.
5. Action is your goal
Almost all business writing is persuasive, which means it has one common goal: to get your reader to do something. You must tell your readers what to do, and don’t forget to tell them how to do it.
6. Use the 5 W’s
“Who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why” aren’t just for journalists. In order to persuade your reader to do anything, they must understand the basics. The “how” can also be useful to include.
7. Be Concise
Drawing your readers in, answering the five W’s, giving them an action plan and telling them how to do it may seem like a lot of information to provide, and it certainly can be. But always keep in mind that most readers don’t want to be wasting their time. They don’t want to read an elaborate description of the inner workings of your company in order to understand what they should do. Conciseness is the key. After writing your original copy, always trim. You should be able to cut off about half from the original.
8. Concise yet complete
Though you want to be concise, you shouldn’t leave any questions unanswered. Editing plays an important role in your ability to successfully balance these two seemingly-contradictory terms. You will at some point be stumped as to whether or not to include a certain detail. You must exercise your own judgment in each specific case.
9. Write in active voice
A sentence written in active voice leads with the subject that is committing the action of the verb. With passive voice the object that receives the action of the verb leads. Here’s a simple example of active voice: “Tomorrow I will send you my report.” Now, the same sentence written passively: “Tomorrow you will receive my report from me.”
As you can see, writing in active voice is clearer, more concise and demonstrates action better than passive voice, which is important when trying to persuade someone to do something.
10. Avoid choices
Another way to be concise in your writing is to avoid giving your reader specific choices. Or, if you have to, give only two. For example, if you are setting up a meeting via e-mail instead of asking what times that person is available, give him a time and ask if he is available then. Or give her a specific time but tell her to pick one other time if she is not available when you suggested.
11. Break up your copy
If you feel that your audience may have a particularly short attention span, breaking up your text to highlight important information is a good idea. Well-organized bulleted lists and short subheads allow readers to find the most important information quickly.
12. Email templates are great
Creating templates for any document you will use again in the future is a great way to save time and avoid errors from other staff members. When creating a template, triple-check that everything is correct. There is nothing worse than sending an email with spelling and grammatical errors to all of your possible clients.
13. Personalize your email templates
Once you are sure your template is correct, you should still make small changes to personalize it for each person. This means changing something more than just the receiver’s name and address. Add in one sentence explaining why that person’s particular business should care. Or change the first sentence to something specific that will better catch their attention.
14. Avoid jargon
Use the plain language you use in conversation rather than fancy jargon that doesn’t have much meaning to most people. Sometimes in technical writing, such as user guides, jargon can be unavoidable, but for most business copy you should use words like “now” and “team work” rather than “at this juncture” and “synergy,” respectively.
15. Substitute short for long
Never use a phrase when one word will say the same. Here are some of the most overly used phrases that can be replaced with one word:
for the purpose of = for
the majority of = most
in order to = to
provide an introduction = introduce
on a daily basis = daily
on a regular basis = routinely
Similarly, never use a long word, when a short one will do. Many people think that the longer the word, the smarter they sound, but instead it often sounds like they are trying too hard. Instead of “utilize” write “used.” Instead of “engendered” write “produced.”
16. Write positively
To get readers to respond with action to your request you need to write in a positive tone. Have you ever been distracted while walking down the street by someone giving a speech? It probably wasn’t because they were shouting negatively at you; in fact, if they were you’d probably walk away quicker. People who speak enthusiastically about a topic attract more listeners. It’s the same in copywriting for the web. People react better to someone who takes a positive tone about what he or she is promoting.
17. Vary your sentences
Though concise sentences in active voice are best for persuasive writing, not every sentence should look the same or your reader will become bored. Mix it up with complex and simple sentence structures and a variety of clauses. But do not force your writing to be more diverse; your sentences should still sound natural.
18. Go light on ad-s
One helpful hint that will make your writing more concise is to go easy on adjectives and adverbs. These words end up being unnecessary filler. Too many descriptive words are distracting. You’re not getting paid per word like Charles Dickens so don’t write like you are.
19. Avoid “very”
If you are still inclined to use adjectives and adverbs, at least take “very” out of your vocabulary. The word is so overused and subjective that it has essentially lost its meaning. What does, “It was a very beautiful day” really mean? How more than beautiful is very beautiful? No one knows, so leave it out.
20. Avoid “insecure” words
And while we’re removing words from your vocabulary, you also want to stay away from “insecure” words, such as “seems,” “perhaps,” “apparently,” “usually.” These words are unpersuasive and make you sound like you aren’t really sure what you’re talking about. No one will take action if it only “seems” likely to result in something positive.
21. Do sweat the small stuff
After writing, re-read and make sure grammar, punctuation and spelling are consistent and reflect someone who knows how to write. If you’ve used dates, states or measurements make sure they are all written or abbreviated in the same format. Glaring errors and inconsistencies stop readers immediately and make you look like an idiot.
And while you are proofreading, triple check that every proper noun is spelled correctly.
23. Know your commas
For those readers who know where a comma should and should not be there’s nothing more aggravating than reading a paragraph drowning in commas. Leaving out commas is just as unsightly. A missed comma usually results in a run-on sentence and reader confusion. You don’t want to make your readers stop and re-read a sentence. Remember, their time is precious in an online environment of information-overload.
24. Know your grammar
Grammar is also like commas. For those of us who know proper grammar, reading improper grammar is downright painful. No one will take you seriously if you don’t write properly. Know the most common mistakes:
For more common mistakes, click here.
25. Say no to exclamations and capital letters
You do want to be enthusiastic and positive in your writing, but there is a limit. Do not emphasize with capital letters or lots of exclamations. Readers will be less inclined to take you seriously.
Always proofread everything you write before sending it off, including short e-mails. Double-check spelling, grammar and consistency. Make sure everything makes sense and that the action you are requesting your reader to perform is clear. Reading it more than once is best. And never shirk the proofreading process for lack of time; that’s when mistakes happen. Each mistake makes your goal that much harder to achieve.
27. Read it out loud
Reading your copy out loud makes it easier to hear any grammatical mistakes you made, and it will become instantly clear whether your writing makes sense. Reading out loud also helps you hear where you can trim your copy. Things that your eyes scan over, your ears won’t miss.