Copywriting for rookies: how to smash it first time

As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Copy writing is no exception.

If you’re not a natural born copywriter but have been tasked with writing your company’s business content, copywriting can be an exercising business. Knowing where to start, how to appeal to your audience, getting the tone and grammar right: these are just few of the challenges to grapple with if copywriting isn’t your forte.

Copywriting and copy editing take practice, like everything else. Fortunately, we’re about to share with you the 10 most common rookie copy writing mistakes, distilled from our 20 plus years of copywriting and copy editing business documents. We’ll also tell you how to avoid them.

1. Not being clear about what you want to say

It’s very common for people to start writing without thinking first about what it is they want their readers to know or to understand. Take even a few minutes before you start writing to consider what your key points need to be. This will help you to write with clarity.

2. Not making clear the benefits or advantages of what you’re offering

If your content has a sales or marketing purpose such as, for example, website copy, a tender or proposal, a direct email, case studies, brochure and similar, be sure to explain the benefits of advantages of what you’re offering the reader.

Novice writers often talk about the features of their product or service but not what this means for the user. What will the user gain by choosing your product or service? Your readers are interested in knowing how your product or service can solve their problems or save them time or money.

3. Not explaining what you want the reader to do next

A call to action (CTA) is the instruction you give to you reader on what you want them to do next. Including a CTA gives you an opportunity to establish a relationship with the reader, who may become a lead or even a customer.

Your CTA could invite them to download a free guide, sign up for a newsletter, place an order or telephone you today.

4. Using jargon or complex language

A study by Princeton University found that if you use long words and jargon you come across as less knowledgeable and less competent than if you expressed the same ideas using plain English.

But inexperienced copywriters often fall into the trap of using jargon, unusual or complex, lengthy words or phrases when short ones will do.

Whatever type of business document you’re writing, keep your language and sentence structure simple. Content should be clear, straightforward and easy to understand. Sentences should be short.

Here are a few examples of simple words to replace longer ones:

  • Demonstrate…show
  • Facilitate…make easy
  • Assistance…help
  • In order to… to
  • Illustrate…show
  • Initial…first
  • Initiate…start

Imagine you’re writing for a 12 – 14 year old. In Australia, writing as if Year 7 students will be reading your content will cover most reading abilities.

5. Using two words when one will do

Rookie copy writers often unintentionally exaggerate or over emphasise by doubling up on words when one is enough. Here are a few examples that we’ve found over the years:

  • Actual experience– all experience is actual
  • Weekly meetings each Monday – remember, Monday comes round each week
  • Major disaster – compared to a minor disaster?
  • Most unique – it’s impossible to be more unique as unique means the only one of its kind
  • Advance planning– all planning is done in advance.

6. Not using action words

Using action words makes for more effective copy writing.

For instance, instead of: Our company has five customer consultants available to help you.”

It’s more powerful to say: “Five customer consultants are on hand to help you.”

Or instead of: “We are replacing our IT system later this year with the latest technology.”

Try: “Our new IT system launches in October.”

7. Using self-promoting words

It’s common to see a business describe itself as the ‘best’ or as the ‘leading’ in its field. You’ll see typical phrases and words along the lines of:

  • We’re Australia’s premier…
  • We’re the leading provider…
  • We’re uniquely qualified…
  • We’re trusted advisors…
  • We’re highly regarded by..

While it’s easy to say these things, unless you have independent evidence to prove your business really is the best, avoid judgement words.

It’s more believable to give evidence that proves you are the best.

For example, it’s just not credible to say: “We are the leading accountants…”

It more compelling and believable to say: “Five of Australia’s top 10 listed businesses choose our accounting services.”

8. Not using headings, subheadings, bullets and numbered lists

Breaking up your copy by using these handy little formatting styles is a great idea, particularly if your document is a long one.

Using subheadings and bullet points make content easier to read and, if your piece is easy on the eye, people are more likely to read it right through to the end. And that’s a good thing, which is the point.

9. Failing to thoroughly copy edit the draft content

When you’ve written a business document yourself, it’s a little challenging to edit it yourself too. That’s because you know what you’ve written and what you were trying to say. In other words, you can’t see the wood for the trees.

But checking for overall structure, flow, and readability are important to form a cohesive, solid document. Hence, every business document needs thorough copy editing.

The best option is to give yourself a break between writing and editing. Taking a day to give yourself head space will make you a little more removed from the content. A night’s sleep gives you distance from your work and helps you avoid embarrassing and possibly costly mistakes.

If you don’t take a break, you’re simply way too close to your work to see it as your reader will see it. Editing can be a ruthless business so you need a clear head and a fresh perspective to do it well, so make sure to have that break.

When you do return to the draft, print it and read it aloud.

You’ll be surprised how reading aloud makes it much easier it is to pick up where the flow is dodgy. It also gives you a chance to preview your writing ‘voice’ – does the tone sound right for the message you’re trying to convey? Is it right for your audience? It’s also an excellent way to pick up red flags relating to factual content or mistakes in headers and footers, too. And working from a hard copy is easier on your eyes than reading from your computer screen.

10. Not checking thoroughly for grammatical mistakes and typos

Let’s face it, spellcheck doesn’t catch everything. Just consider the word ‘unclear’. Swop the ‘u’ and the ‘n’ and you get ‘nuclear’. Both are genuine words, spelt correctly, which means the spellcheck won’t pick them up. But get the two letters the wrong way round, and everything changes.

And as we  know, the spellcheck can even substitute words it thinks you want for the words you really want. Use your program’s spellcheck, but still proofread your content for spelling mistakes anyway.

No one will notice if your copy is free of errors, but they will notice if there are typos and grammatical mistakes. And such mistakes impact your company’s credibility. Proofreading is an important part of the copy writing process. Once you’ve written and edited your content, you’ll need to go back and give it a good proofread.

Contact us today for your professional copy writing and copy editing needs

Partnering with the professional copywriters and copy editors at Proof Communications will help you to ensure your documents are spot-on and increase your opportunity for success.

Get in touch or ring us on 02 8036 5532 or 0448 566 377 to discover what we can do for your business.

Want help writing business-winning content?

Contact us for more information about how we can make your writing more successful.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Share This: