Voice. Every piece of writing has one. Sometimes it’s flowery, and sometimes it’s brief. Sometimes it’s engaging, and sometimes it’s boring. The goal with every piece of writing is to capture the right voice.
Writers often spend years, even lifetimes, developing the voice of their writing. In fiction, the ability to tell a story with an effective voice is essential and prized. In copywriting, however, a writer’s ability to capture customers’ attention with a particular voice is sometimes mistakenly overlooked.
In our recent podcast How to Find Your Voice as a Copywriter, guest Andy Maslen dispelled the myth that copywriting should be free of any particular voice. In fact, he showed why voice is paramount to successful copy — and provided seven tips for giving a piece of writing the correct voice.
These seven tips have served Andy Maslen well in his career as a copywriter. His advertising agency, Sunfish Ltd., has written copy for the likes of The Economist, Christie’s and World Vision. He’s also co-authored five works on copywriting and freelance writing (and written four novels), and he recently co-founded Copy Cubana, a copywriting conference that takes place on the coast of Great Britain.
Voice, Andy discussed, came from the patterns within a text. The stops and starts, resonances and redundancies, all come together in a well-written piece to create a moving voice. This is just as true in copywriting as it is in songwriting, but it must be much more subtle in copywriting. In copywriting, the every technique used to craft the voice of a piece should bring the reader closer to the ultimate goal of the copy, and not detract from that goal by drawing attention to the technique itself. Without further ado, here are Andy’s practical tips.
1. Create Resonance
Copywriting, like all writing, needs rhythm. It doesn’t necessarily need the meter of poetry — that can be too distracting. It does need resonance, though. Resonance generates a sense of rhythm without drawing the reader’s focus to the rhythm. The example Andy used was the first line from the jazz album My Heart Belongs to Daddy: “Leaders lead because they are driven to.” The sentence lulls the listener (in this case) into a sense of comfort and security.
2. Pace Pieces
Pacing increases the engagement factor of writing by varying sentence length. It’s widely known that copy, especially online copy, should generally use short sentences. Alan was careful to point out, though, that this was an average guideline. The average sentence length of a piece of copy should be short, but within the piece there ought to be a good mixture of short, medium and long (and very short and possibly even very long) sentences so that the copy keeps moving along.
3. Consider Musicality
Musicality refers to, as one might guess, an almost musical nature of writing. Both alliteration and rhyming can be used to give a piece a musical sense, but, as is the case with all of these tips, neither should be blatant in copywriting. Repeating sounds in a piece but not next to each other, and using imperfect rhymes often will give a piece the right amount of musicality without turning an ad’s copy into a song.
4. Invoke the Senses
Many writers know strong copy often appeals to the senses, but Andy was careful to underscore the importance of invoking sight, sound, smell, feel and taste when writing about even dry and abstract topics. In his example, he pondered the question, “What does a pension smell like?,” which he answered with a depiction of smelling freshly mowed grass. To see just how he worked smell into copy for a pension, you’ll have to listen to the podcast. If you can’t listen right now, trust us: Andy’s brief copy made us much more interested in talking to Greg about pensions (and lawnmowers) for us here at WriterAccess.
5. Use Repetition
After a brief history lesson reaching back to Julius Ceasar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici,” Andy demonstrated how repetition is still a relevant tactic. It can help capture people’s attention and reinforce messages. If repeating entire phases is too blatant, including a small part of a phrase several times often still has a powerful effect.
6. Be Precise
All writing, including long sentences, should be precise. Every word should advance the reader’s understanding, which leaves little room for adverbs and adjectives that do little more than communicate excitement. Instead of containing superfluous modifiers, the longest sentences in a piece should have researched details that add to the sentence’s and piece’s precision.
7. Show, Don’t Tell
For his final tip, Andy pulled from his experience as a novelist. In copywriting, as in fiction writing, it’s important to “show, don’t tell.” Copy is at its best when it doesn’t merely list the benefits of a product or service but shows readers how the product or service will benefit them. Draw a picture with words, invoking the senses, and let people’s imagination do the rest.
Read the complete transcript, listen to or watch the podcast with Andy Maslen How to Find Your Voice as a Copywriter.
Scott B understands how to communicate businesses’ and organizations’ values both clearly and effectively. His past clients have included graduate schools, hospitals, doctors, financial advisors, insurance agencies, tech startups, cafes, churches and retailers.
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