HomeBlog How to Write Great Copy: A Primer

How to Write Great Copy: A Primer

November 25, 2015 | By Kate Pierpont

  • Top-shelf content is an essential and vital asset to your business
  • Ask someone to review your latest missive before submitting it to get a fresh perspective on something you’ve been mulling over
  • Keep your audience at the forefront (e g what are they looking to read, and what are their business concerns?)

Whether it be a blog post, marketing or ad copy, corporate communications or the next great American novel, there’s one shared commonality: writing is hard. I know, not exactly an earth-shattering admission there, but it is true and it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re swamped and overwhelmed and you’ve got a COB deadline looming dangerously up ahead. As SiriusDecisions has maintained, top-shelf content is an essential and vital asset to your business; so, with that in mind, I’d like to share some writerly know-how that could help get you up and over that rough spot and on to winning the accolades (and eyeballs) of your organization’s audience.

1. Set the stage.

For starters, I get a little squirrelly (read: too easily distracted) if there’s too much clutter on my desk and if I’m surrounded by any noise whatsoever. Open up a window and let the fresh air blow out those cobwebs in the attic. If you’re in an office setting, listen to music or ambient noise that will allow you to focus and drown out everything else (my colleagues on SiriusDecisions’ editorial team have exchanged many an eye roll when I have extolled the virtues of calm.com [yet again] – but for me, it really works!). My point is, never let distraction take away from the real business at hand. Plus, that copy was due like yesterday and you need to step on it already.

2. Open yourself up to criticism.

I once had a writing professor say to me, “You’ve got skills, but you’re a little too in love with the sound of your own voice.” Zing! It stung, but it’s great advice that I (clearly) have never forgotten. And what’s more – he was exactly right. Know when to dial it back – it’s trite, but it’s true: less is always more. Asking someone else on your team (or someone non-work-related) to review your latest missive before submitting it is a great way to get a fresh perspective on something you’ve been mulling over and are having a hard time buttoning up. Even better, if you have an editorial function in your content operations structure, by all means, enlist their help – trust me, they’ll be glad to give it! 

3. Let it simmer.

Have a solid writing session and then (if your boss and deadline allow) let it simmer for a day. You’ll be amazed at what a night’s sleep can do to help you magically fix a sentence or a troublesome turn of phrase that you’ve been puzzling over. I’ve scrabbled many a sentence on a two-year-old gas receipt or on the back of my kid’s latest glitter-spackled masterpiece (sorry, honey!) because lightning has suddenly struck on something I shelved the day before. Being competent at revision is almost as tough as being dexterous at writing – but it’s a worthy and valuable skill to hone.

4. Read a for-real book. No, seriously.

Take a (literal) page from people in the know. There are some excellent and inspiring books about writing that will help get you in the mood (some of my personal faves are Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King). It’s also great fun to read about the tricks and talismans that worked for famous writers – for example, Ernest Hemingway would stop writing for the day midway through a sentence (written out in pencil, no less!), so he had somewhere to get started the next day. So simple, but that’s killer advice to heading off writer’s block at the pass!

5. Land a great hook.

The first sentence is always the hardest. But once you get a good one plotted on the virtual page, the rest will fall into place. Eventually. Always keep your audience at the forefront: what are they looking to read? What are their business concerns and worries? What keeps them up at night? What is going to really stop them in their tracks and keep them coming back for more? The hardest part of writing a really great hook is knowing where and how to find it – do your homework and understand your audience and their needs.

Do you have some best practice writing advice you’d like to share with your fellow content creators? We’d love to hear it – please leave a comment below!

Kate Pierpont

Kate Pierpont is an editor at SiriusDecisions and has nearly 20 years of editorial experience, the majority of which was in magazine publishing. Follow Kate on Twitter @KatePierpont.