4 fast, easy tips to tighten up your copy

A quick read. That’s what we want. Whether it’s for marketing or fundraising — whether it’s an ad, a brochure, direct marketing, or any communication — copy should get to the point and move along briskly.

Problem is, copywriting should also be conversational in order to be effective, and by definition, writing that’s conversational means more words not fewer, since it involves phrases and expressions used in everyday speech.

But there’s a way to make copy both tight and conversational. In fact, there are at least four.

1. Watch out for that. When you write or review copy, be aware of how often you see the word that. Often it’s the written equivalent of like when we talk — not needed. And it slows copy down. For example,
• “It’s one more way that Acme Advertising ensures your success” can become “It’s one more way Acme Advertising ensures your success.”
• “Staying number one means that we need to work harder” becomes, “Staying number one means we need to work harder.”
• The server that stores our applications is on the third floor” becomes “The server storing our applications …”

Of course, not every that can be eliminated. But you’ll hear the ones that can be when you read the copy.

2. Be careful of to be. The verb to be is a tricky one, since it takes many forms, such as am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being, and so on. These verb forms show up when we write because we tend to use them when we talk. Most times, copy is better off without them. For example,
• “The Red Cross is doing life-saving work” can become, “The Red Cross does life-saving work.”
• “The income we’re generating comes from increased prospecting” can become, “The income we generate comes from increased prospecting.”
• “The changes in the economy we’ve been seeing …” becomes, “The changes in the economy we see …”

3. Go easy on the modifiers. Whenever you see an adjective or an adverb, ask yourself whether it’s necessary. Most times it isn’t. We tend to use them liberally when writing in an effort to be emphatic. But modifiers often weaken the impact we try to create. And worse, they slow copy down. For example,
• “We desperately need this program” isn’t as strong as “We need this program.”
• “Our lead-generation process is extremely effective…” isn’t as strong as, “Our lead-generation process works.”
• “Advertising that’s precisely targeted generates rock-solid results in sales” becomes “Targeted advertising generates more sales.”

4. Chop off the first paragraph or two. When we write, we tend to work up to the main point instead of tackling it straightaway. As a result, the first one or two paragraphs of just about any piece can usually be deleted. Copy will get to the point faster and will seem more direct — both of which are good things.

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