I once did some work producing magazines for a government department. One day my main client contact told me I would soon be receiving a news item for the next issue. ‘This will go through with no editing needed,’ he assured me. ‘The guy writing it has a master’s degree in English.’

Hmm, I thought – we’ll see. Sure enough, the article kicked off with this beauty of a sentence:

‘The dominant Transatlantic paradigm is predicated on assiduous improvement.’

I don’t mind admitting that some of those words had me scurrying for a dictionary. I eventually converted it into: ‘Most people in the US and the UK believe that things can only be improved through hard work.’

You guessed it – no-one queried my version and it was the one that ‘went through without editing.’

So, how do we avoid confusing our reader and instead, leave them more informed and knowledgeable than before?

Here are our seven tips for better copywriting.

Keep it simple

As in the example above, the art of good writing lies in trying to make yourself understood by as many people as possible. That seems obvious but it’s surprising how many writers over complicate things, opting for esoteric and arcane words in place of the simple and the everyday.

I’m a big fan of the articles in ‘New Scientist’. With an easy-to-read style and the ability to simplify complex concepts without trivializing them, the writers get information straight into your mind without you needing to re-read any sentences – for a time after reading the article, I understand ideas like string theory and membrane universes.

Most people are capable of understanding what you want to get across to them. I’ve found that if they don’t, it’s most likely because I haven’t explained it well enough.

Break it up

No piece of writing will attract a reader if it is merely a long block of solid text, so break it up with frequent subheads. Depending on the form, you may also want to include tables or illustrations. Try short sentences.

It’s at about this time in a blog that I’m glad of some bullet points – so here goes.

  • If it’s a blog, consider starting off with an anecdote – nothing gets the reader hooked quite like a story, so get personal to keep people reading.
  • Suppress your inner nerd – it’s easy to get too technical but resist the urge to start quoting your data sheet. It will just read like a manual and turn people off. If you want people to know more, point them subtly towards a landing page for your downloadable collateral.
  • Don’t be afraid to use humour – you need to be careful, but a little harmless fun in the right place can give the reader a break and doesn’t go amiss. Sending your readers away with a smile can help them remember your piece. And speaking of humour…

Avoid cliches like the plague

Too often we adopt lazy words or phrases that add nothing to what we are trying to say, or even just make things less clear. ‘Leverage’ – I’m looking at you. What does it bring to the party that the simple word ‘use’ doesn’t? The same goes for ‘impact’ and its mushrooming verb forms – ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ do the same job more elegantly.

Overusing words and phrases that everybody else makes habitual use of just gives the impression that you are not thinking about what you are writing and have not bothered to really find a way to connect with your audience.

Have a good structure

This all depends on the type of piece you are writing of course – a whitepaper will have a different structure to that of a feature article, which will be different again from a blog. But whatever form you are using, getting the structure right will help you organize your thoughts and present the information in the best way – the way that ensures your readers understand it.

Essentially, a good structure should tell a good story, taking the reader from little or no knowledge of the subject to a reasonable understanding of its main points.

Who are you talking to?

If you are talking to automation engineers, they won’t appreciate you spelling out PID control and what it does – on the other hand, you might need a different approach if you are trying to persuade high school students to take part in a STEM programme run by your client.

You need to know who you are trying to reach – what do they know about the subject already, what is their level of expertise, what do you need to spell out and what can you take for granted?

Style matters

An important question to ask yourself is what style you are going to adopt? A white paper will be more academic in style and tone, whereas a brochure would have a style that is confident, informative and enthusiastic about your proposed solution. A feature article will be balanced in tone, while a blog can be more playful and informal, using idioms, humour and even slang to get a reaction from readers.

Also don’t forget things like passive and active voice. In general, active voice is preferred to passive voice – ‘the cat chased the ball’ rather than ‘the ball was chased by the cat’.

In the active voice, the subject is something or does something – in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon by something else. Active voice makes your writing stronger and more direct.

Eye for detail

Don’t worry – even the most experienced writers miss typos and repetition. It’s all too easy to spoil a seemingly well written piece by failing to spot a misplaced or missing apostrophe. The trick here is not to be in too much of a hurry. If you can, put the piece away for a day or so and come back to it with a fresh eye. You’ll almost certainly think ‘How on Earth did I miss that?’, as you correct punctuation and remove unnecessary spaces.

Stepping away from the article also lets you view it more objectively – suddenly, it’s not your best ever piece of work, full of stunning phrases and eye-catching concepts, but simply another text to appraise with a critical eye.


Follow these tips and you could soon be on the way to improving your own copywriting and making those vital connections with your readers.