Do you think you should always use perfect English when you write? You were probably taught to use ‘correct’ punctuation, grammar and spelling at school and it’s hardwired into your brain. It’s part of you.
But is it essential?
Particularly for a copywriter?
A copywriter’s aim: to make you money
Copywriters write to sell, not to produce a creative piece of prose. We aim to make you money not to produce ‘correct’ writing all the time.
Most important is engaging your target audience. If we don’t grab their attention what is the point of writing anything? Your potential customers won’t read the words and it wastes your time and money.
So how does a copywriter engage with your target audience?
Good copywriters tend to write in a natural, warm, conversational tone. It’s how you’d speak to your reader face-to-face and normally isn’t perfect English.
First we determine who your target audience is. You tell us, or we research and find out. And there’s a huge variety in how different people groups talk. An accountant probably wouldn’t follow a group of university professors talking in their research language, while a London Barrister may not understand the dialect of a Glaswegian taxi driver.
We also look at your professional voice because people expect different language from different people groups. Would you trust the law firm speaking ‘street’ or the one that used conversational Queen’s English? Would you buy from an East End market trader speaking in the local lingo or the one who tried to sound upmarket?
And, although it’s unlikely you’ll find good copy that uses only ‘correct’ English, copywriters never ignore punctuation, grammar and spelling altogether.
Lets look at that now:
Like any good writer we use punctuation to make the meaning of the writing clear. And if your reader understands you better they are more likely to buy your product or service.
Compare the following:
A. At Watkins Widgets, we believe in delivering a quality service, irrespective of the size of the account, producing the best widgets we are capable of, using the latest technologies and manufacturing techniques, and meeting every deadline we are set, whether that means hiring extra staff or working through the night.
B. At Watkins Widgets, we believe in delivering a quality service, irrespective of the size of the account; producing the best widgets we are capable of, using the latest technologies and manufacturing techniques; and meeting every deadline we are set, whether that means hiring extra staff or working through the night.
(examples from Andy Maslen’s ‘Write to Sell’)
Which do you find easiest to read?
Although both use punctuation correctly, replacing two commas with semi-colons allows you to pause longer making B easier to understand.
We also adapt grammar rules.
You were probably taught at school to never start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ because they should join two parts of a sentence:
My mother was cooking eggs for breakfast but she burned them so badly the kitchen filled with smoke!
But by splitting this sentence you add emphasis to ‘but’ and it becomes a more compelling read:
My mother was cooking eggs for breakfast. But she burned them so badly the kitchen filled with smoke!
Starting a new paragraph with a joining word compels your reader to continue even more:
My mother was cooking eggs for breakfast.
But she burned them so badly the kitchen filled with smoke!
This is a great way to get more people to read all the text and maximise your chances of making a sale.
Incorrect spelling can be useful to add emphasis, make the text more engaging or even change the meaning of the words.
Compare the following:
A. Nooooooooooo this can’t be happening again!
B. No, this can’t be happening again!
A implies the person is distressed while B conveys annoyance.
Are rules really made to be broken?
So, what is the point of English ‘rules’ at all? Is it best for a copywriter to break them all the time?
No. A good copywriter never thoughtlessly uses imperfect English.
As we write we always keep your readers’ feelings about the language in mind. If they are likely to recoil in horror at sentences beginning with ‘and’ or detest poor spellings we don’t include any!
But sometimes we do write in perfect English. Selling a university English course to prospective students may require good grammar, spelling and punctuation so the students are confident in the course provider’s expertise. But it’s probably best to adapt the rules to sell your product or service.
Key point: Don’t expect a good copywriter to use perfect English
- Copywriters don’t have to use perfect English to sell your product or service. Often it is better not to.
- We know how and when rules should be broken and when to write ‘properly’.
- Good copywriters always adapt to your needs.
The important question is not ‘do they use perfect English?’ but…
‘will they make me money?’