Ok, I admit it, I put difficult things off. Not always, just sometimes.
Because sometimes certain things are just so far out of my comfort zone I can’t bring myself to face them immediately.
I know they’ll ultimately be good for me, I’m just a bit daunted by them at the time, so I’ll procrastinate.
And yet, when I finally pluck up the courage, I’m usually so enlightened, I wonder why I ever waited so long.
What I learnt recently from a top émigré London copywriter is advice that will not just transform the way you write.
But also the way you work.
And your readers will love you for it.
Andy Maslen appeared to me on Twitter, much to his own bemusement – Andy does not think Twitter is profitable.
Suffice to say Andy’s Tweet got me to spend my hard earned pennies.
I clicked the link, signed up on the landing page and paid.
I may be a so-called ‘professional’ marketer but falling victim to the old scarcity routine came easily once again.
That said this was not spontaneity.
I have put off going on a writing course for over 3 years.
Of course, I should never have worried.
And frankly, if you’re in the same boat, neither should you.
These massively actionable ‘copywriters secrets’ I’m going to share with you will power-up your technical writing and breathe new life into your company blog.
1. Help Yourself
There’s me thinking I‘m the only one who kicks-off haplessly on a blank word doc, hoping a half-decent post idea might magically form in front of me.
Of the 30 real-life copywriters in the classroom, over 90% revealed they do not plan their writing.
Can they all be winging it? Just like me.
This was a revelation.
Some said they had a plan in their heads (not really a plan then) and some didn’t plan due to time pressures – fair enough, I thought.
This was an honest bunch, I liked them.
When pushed (by Andy), we all nodded our agreement; not planning our writing was a poor strategy.
Andy emphasised, as with most worthwhile activities, the need to create a plan before you start writing.
Simply, a plan will save you both time, money and much anxiety.
And it will keep your writing on track too.
2. Andy Maslen’s KFC
Andy shared his simple yet powerful copywriting, planning tool designed to create goals for your writing.
It’s called the KFC.
The ‘K’ bit is for Know.
What do we want our reader to know?
We need to write at least two or three key messages.
The ‘F’ is for Feel.
How do we want our readers to feel?
Tricky this with technical writing but words like ‘educated’ or ‘reassured’ or ‘impressed’ work for me and they might work for you.
Putting yourself in your readers’ shoes, how do you want them to feel about what you have written?
I realise this may be out of the comfort zone of a typical technical writer but give it a go.
The C is for Commit.
Whether that is to download more technical information, sign-up for product updates or to become a registered member.
Whatever IT is, write it down.
The ‘C’ will make sure you don’t lose sight of your objectives for the article.
Tip: Write the ‘C’ first and work backwards. Start with what we want the reader to do once they’ve read the article.
Your KFC plan may look a bit like this:
Use the KFC grid with the ever-green WIIFM (what’s in it for me), the dark horse WI (what if?) and even wheel out the emerging SW (So What?).
What’s in it for me? No, not you. Your reader.
What is the potential outcome and how will that make the readers life better or easier?
WI and SW
‘What if’ or ‘So What’ objections.
Try to think of all the possible objections to your points as you write and jot them down.
Then write them down in a table like this one below:
3. Time Keeping
For those of us who are time-pressured (like, probably all of us), Andy suggests that we break that time into chunks.
25%, 50% and 25% to be precise.
And it doesn’t matter how long we have either. Five minutes or Five days.
Same rule applies.
Spend the first 25% of your time on planning with the KFC tool.
The following 50% spend on the first draft.
Get everything down, proper-brain-dump-download style.
And then, with the remaining on 25% you should edit, fiddle-with and buff until brighter than the sun.
The rather lovely looking chart below shows how these percentages could look in glorious colour.
- 25% Planning – Can be broken down to simply checking for clear goals for the article.
- 50% First draft – Just get everything down – Andy says with the right plan there should never be any more than 5 drafts.
- 25% Editing and polishing – when proofing and editing you should print the article out and get someone else to check it.
4. Copywriting is ‘Behavioural Modification’
Yep. Behavioural Modification. He said that.
Like, you know, getting someone to do what WE want them to do.
As proven by Andy’s tweet, the one that got me to sign-up to his course.
That’s Behaviour modification that is.
I hadn’t planned on signing up to that course, that day. I was happy putting it off.
He persuaded me otherwise.
So, there are two basic forms of writing for behavioral modification.
1. The Hard Sell
Writing for the hard sell is to get someone to do something – to buy a widget, to sign up to CPD or to download brochures or datasheets or BIM files or whatever.
2. The Soft Sell
Writing for the soft sell is about educating and nurturing the reader.
To nurture the reader into a state of trust we must first build our credibility and prove our capability.
Nurturing includes writing ‘How to’s’, ‘Installation guides’, ‘Comparison reviews’ and ‘check lists’.
These articles are for building credibility and act as a way of nurturing a prospect before she is ready to act more positively towards a sale.
Decide which type of article you are writing in your plan.
And remember this:
“copywriting is essentially the art of “behaviour modification.” The key to successful content is to provoke the reader’s emotions whilst engaging with them on a personal level rather than as a collective group.”
Tip: Ask yourself: ‘When my reader has finished reading my reader will…’
5. Change Your Environment
I’m writing at my desk now.
Andy says writing at your desk is fine, if you want to struggle for creativity.
If you can change your scenery, you might find that your creativity begins to emerge.
It’s true for me.
Leftfield, creative ideas always find me when I’m on a run, or in my garage, whilst reading a book, or watching a film or walking the dog.
Hardly ever when I’m at my desk.
But just be aware that this happens. And be ready to store those ideas. On your smartphone or in a notebook or on a wall.
Whatever, don’t plan to start and end your piece at your desk. Let it be for a while.
Your day-to-day desk is where the phone rings. It’s where your colleagues hound you and where cake is a real distraction.
Give your writing some headspace, away from your desk, and it will feel different when you come back to it.
Tip: Get into good habits by breaking out of a tired routine.
6. Rev-Up Limp Language
Start using Power Words to super-charge the impact of your copy.
Power Words relate to an action, an emotion.
Power words can shock, they’re visual, they’re simple to understand and probably Anglosaxon [see 9. Anglosaxon Words].
Sound a bit too ‘marketing’ for you?
Do not be put off.
Power words will not only reduce your word count, they will keep your audience from nodding off.
Use words such as SLASH instead of ‘reduce drastically’.
Tip: Never use a long word or multiple words when a short one will do. Unless of course you have no choice.
7. Ditch Long Sentences
Be brutal with your word count and aim for brevity over volume.
The graph below highlights the fact that long sentences lose their audience.
16 short words per sentence is just about bearable.
The chances of retaining your readers’ interest get slimmer the more words there are.
There is a perceived sweet spot for sentence readability.
It’s between 8 – 16 words.
Short sentences prevent readers from having to re-read your copy.
Tip: Write about what your audience is interested in. More chance they will read it, like it and share it.
8. Ignore Paragraph Rules
Andy said to ignore all the rules your English teacher told you about paragraphs at school.
Fine by me. I don’t recall any.
There are three Short Rules for Paragraphs.
- Write short paragraphs
- Write short paragraphs with short sentences.
- Write short paragraphs with short sentences, using short words (where you can).
And try to use images, charts and sub-heads to break up your copy.
Your job as a writer, technical or otherwise, should be to make your writing engaging and easy to read.
Where does it say we have to write dry, lengthy and uninspiring copy just because we’re being technical or factual?
Remember we are trying to make our readers life easier not harder.
Tip: Breaking up text tells the reader that the rest of the article is going to be easy to read.
9. Anglosaxon Words
Anglosaxon words get a bad press.
Yet Anglosaxon words make sentences dead easy to read.
That’s their job and they are bloody good at it.
They dollop and clatter and parp.
They make you smile or grimace.
They are short, direct and punchy.
An Anglosaxon word doesn’t f*%k about.
An Anglosaxon word has impact, guts and few syllables.
Use Anglosaxon words in your copy.
10. Active Voice
You won’t be surprised to read that I had no clue about Active Voice.
Or ‘Passive Voice’ for that matter.
The thing to remember for an easy to read blog is that ‘Active Voice’ is good and ‘Passive Voice’ is not so good.
Let me explain.
Active Voice focuses on the Actor not the Acted upon.
Example of Active Voice:
I serviced the old boiler – I [actor] serviced [action] the old boiler [acted upon].
Example of Passive Voice:
The old boiler was serviced by me – The old boiler [acted upon], was serviced [action] by me [actor].
Check it out.
Active voice uses fewer words.
And is therefore much easier to read – See ‘short rules’ in Paragraph above.
If you go on one of Andy Maslen’s copywriting courses, as a special bonus, he will show you how to manage Passive Voice in MS Word.
Verbs are the labour-force of the English language.
We should employ these hard–working ‘doing’ words with gusto.
They are the mortar of sentences.
Stories are propelled by actions. By verbs.
And story telling is a must.
Tip: Relate your technical article to a typical challenge or story where your audience can find context quickly.
We discussed headlines lots.
Rule no. 1 of headlines is; Never put full stops in headlines.
It stops our reader dead.
Rule no. 2 of headlines is: See rule number 1.
There are way too many rules for headlines to number.
Advertising guru David Ogilvy was famously quoted as saying this of headlines:
“80% of readers read headlines and only 20% will go on to read the body”
Our job is to get as many of that 20% to do what we want them to do.
I urge you to read David Ogilvy.
13. Editing and Proof Reading
“Hack it’s head off”
That’s the bit that caught my attention anyway.
Just write until your head is empty and your pen is dry.
Get everything down in one go.
Once you’ve downloaded all your expertise, leave it to simmer and then go back and “hack it’s head off”.
According to Andy, it is entirely possible (entirely probable in my case) that you will not have written anything good in the first two or three paragraphs.
So, print it out.
Read it out aloud.
Chop out the waffle.
And move the good bits to the top.
Go back and repeat this exercise until your copy is waffle-free, easy to read and punchy.
Then, knowing that nothing is ever finished or perfect, publish with a smile.
One more thing…
14. Check Your Work Against Your Plan
Remember why you are writing in the first place.
Look back at your KFC plan.
Check your goals for the article.
Who are you writing for and what do you want them to think, feel and do.
Ask yourself – how would this article or blog post make me feel?
Like I said in the last section on editing – Read it out loud.
Go on. I dare you.
Read your work out aloud and see how it feels.
Better still get someone else to read it out aloud to a bunch of people.
How does it come across? Are they smiling? Are you smiling?
Does any of your work make people feel uneasy?
How does it make you feel?
Are you happy? Do you feel better for reading what you’ve written?
I am. Having just re-read this for the umpteenth time!
And if I were you, I’d be scrolling right back to the top of this page and subscribing to this blog fully expecting an equally good installment next time.
Thank you. And thank you Andy Maslen.
As always, any feedback is welcome in the comments section, and please, do use the share buttons to share this on twitter or LinkedIn.
At least that way I’ll know if my plan is a success or not.