Copywriting: Economising your words

To become a copywriter, you must learn to write efficiently. Get to the point and don’t waste words, period. Move onto to your next point, and the next, and be equally economical throughout. Yet also remain interesting and engaging and don’t cut your sentences so your reader feels hurried or panicked. There is a tricky balance to find and strike.

The word count window

It is recommended that you write no sentence in copy longer than twenty five words, and certainly don’t stray over thirty. That sentence was twenty-one words long. That one was only seven. Five. One.

It is really useful to have an quantifiable measure of sentence length. As we get inspired by our subject it is very easy to start to write long sentences regaling how wonderful it is. We might want to write adjective after endless adjective and really sell each sentence as an amazing adventure. But we have to remember our readers want clear and crisp information, so limiting sentence-length helps us achieve this basic task. Twenty-two words.

Use your active voice

As a general rule, write in the active voice. In the active voice the subject acts; in the passive voice the subject is acted upon. I use my notebook to plan articles versus My notebook is used by me to plan articles. The active voice does two things to a sentence: keeps the word count down and makes it proactive, energised and direct.

For the copywriter, the active voice is a friend for both the points. We want to tell the reader what’s what without any fluff or procrastination. We want them to imagine themselves potentially in the shoes of the writer, enjoying whatever we’re enjoying the same way.

Let your editor out

As a creative writer, I can tend to go on a bit. I like the ways words can sound and how many different ways I can paint the same picture to add depth and intrigue to the subject. My learning as a copywriter has always been how to harness this enthusiasm within the frame of the economy required. This leads me to a process that requires some patience.

I write a sentence. It is beautiful but far too long. I take the essential information and try again. It’s shorter, but I go again: what do I need to say and am I saying more than I need to. Get to the point. Deliver only what’s necessary and be satisfied to craft this inventively. By the end I have a sentence that satisfies both the creative urge and the economic editor. With practice, this process gets faster and faster. So I practice.

Variation is the key of life

Heading through your work with equal length sentences, however, is not the answer. As in a conversation, sometimes we need to say one word, at others we need to nudge up to twenty-five or even twenty-seven, (shock horror!) Variety is the spice of life. A true adage to work with.

Varying the length of our sentences creates intrigue and interest in our writing. We are engaged with unpredictable sentence lengths, creating a subtle emotional ride through the text. We aren’t writing a list of facts, dull and dry. We aren’t writing sentences that’ll require a deep breath before each one. And staying the active voice throughout can feel a little in-your-face persuasive so the subtle invitation of the passive voice can help soften this.

Deliver success, deliver satisfaction

With variation you can deliver what needs to be said clearly and persuasively and give the reader a satisfying experience. And this is what it’s all about!

Economising is a skill and skills need practice. No avoiding that one. But learning to strike the balance is even more challenging than simply discarding redundant words or over-using your passive voice. So find your economic copywriting voice by balancing the word counting editor and the free-wheeling creative. In that dialogue lies successful writing!


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