I realized early on — if I wanted to succeed as a copywriter (and I business in general), I had to unlearn everything I knew about writing.
Through school, I became a “good writer.”
When I’d put in the time and effort, I could knock out great academic writing with the best of ‘em. In fact, I got recognized early on for my writing. Which was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I put in even more work to write how I thought my teachers wanted me to write.
And I kept going.
As my courses covered more complex topics, I worked on making my writing more complex to match.
And as long as that kept scoring me high grades, I just kept writing with ever-thicker language.
In academics, this got me even higher grades.
Somewhere along the way, I learned about Flesch-Kincaid. And I actually took it as a challenge. To prove I was writing at or above my grade level.
By the time I was in college, I could write papers that were at the 20+ grade level. My writing got so complex that you basically needed to be in grad school to know what the heck I was saying.
That just kept earning me high grades.
There was one class I loved. The professor was my favorite. The topic was one I studied in my free time, as well as in class. And I wrote an off-the-charts breakdown of the topic.
The professor hadn’t even offered extra credit on the paper. But when I got that paper back, he loved mine so much he gave me 105% on the paper.
(This in contrast to classes I wasn’t excited about where I’d struggle all semester and could barely pull a B.)
Not only that, I considered myself a poet. I loved stylistic writing, not just informative prose. So even in these academic papers, I’d slip in subtle rhymes, rhythm, and more to make the writing poetic when read aloud.
My writing was IMPRESSIVE!
There’s a certain group of readers — mostly in academics — that like this complexity.
How many thoughts can you fit into a single sentence? How complex of a sentence structure can you make work? How long of words and how thick of jargon can you use correctly? How much style can you convey in your writing?
I most definitely learned how to impress those readers!
But then I entered the real world.
More specifically, I entered marketing.
In the world of marketing, that kind of writing doesn’t cut it. In marketing, you’re more concerned about getting your message across. In marketing, you need to move people, which requires them to understand what you’re saying.
And so I started to walk back my style.
I dropped down in complexity. I edited out complex, compound sentences. I chose shorter words, where I could.
(Oh yeah, and academic writing is full of passive language. I got active.)
And I even took out much of the superfluous style that made my writing feel flowery and carefully composed.
I stripped everything back. So what was left was me, the reader, and the message I was trying to convey.
I tried to make my writing INVISIBLE…
Can you still use the occasional alliteration, rhyming, or style to get your reader engaged? Sure. In fact, there’s a persuasive principle called the “Rhyme as Reason” effect.
We literally believe rhyming statements more than we believe ones that don’t rhyme. Rhymes also stick in our memory better. (Those two may be related.)
And so they can be useful in communication including marketing and advertising, when done with discretion.
But mostly, the more you strip down your writing, the better a communicator you will be.
Keep it simple.
Keep it punchy.
Use short sentences.
When you have a choice of two words, pick the simpler one.
Write actively, assertively, directly.
And make sure there’s no confusion.
Even if your market is sophisticated and very capable of reading complex language, they’ll appreciate that you’ve made your writing fast and easy to read.
(Oh yeah: and Mark Ford did an analysis that, in short, said even editorial that’s at a FK score of around 7th grade or below gets more renewals. Your sales copy should be just as readable.)
What to focus on instead of your writing style…
What makes writing even more interesting than its style is its substance.
Maybe you communicate to share ideas and to teach. Maybe you’re communicating to persuade. Fill your writing with proof and credibility elements. Make sure you’re focused on content over craft.
Great thinking, as Mark Ford has told me more than once, is the foundation of great writing.
When you put too much puffery into your writing, you’re hiding the great thinking. (Unless the point is to hide that you DON’T have great thinking!)
Instead, strip it down. Make sure you have great thoughts to put into your writing. Then, make it clear, compelling, and concise.
Make it about the message you want to convey.
And make the writing invisible.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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