There is much to be said of Reddit’s largest subreddit, ‘Askreddit’. The hivemind often comes to unusual conclusions when giving advice. However, when asked, “Writers of Reddit, what are exceptionally simple tips that make a huge difference in other people’s writing?”, some excellent responses were given.
While the answers may have concerned narrative, the advice can easily be applied to copywriting. You can read the thread yourself, or check out the advice I’ve collected below.
1. Read your work out loud
By reading your work out loud, you’ll catch mistakes in phrasing that your eyes won’t. This same advice is expanded upon in D&AD: The Copy Book. One of their 32 contributors (I can’t remember which, oops) recommends you read your work in a Forest-Gump-esque southern drawl. If your copy can pass the test of such a harmful accent, then it’s good copy.
2. Take Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice
Although it applies more-so to narrative than copywriting, Kurt Vonnegut’s no-bullshit tips for writing are great. Among these, sits a copywriting rule that I believe should very rarely, if ever, be broken. That is:
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
If you are writing an ad that is going to be viewed by the multitude, whether a letter or TV script, the thought of so many people can be daunting. You start to question your choices, “Should I say ‘Dad’? What if somebody’s father died when they where young? I don’t want to remind them of that. No, I won’t mention fathers. I’ll just call them parents. Wait – what if they where adopted?” .
As David Ogilvy recommends, you should write the way you talk. Naturally. You never talk to a multitude, so why should you write for them? As soon as you write to everybody, you speak to nobody. Have a clear mental picture of who you’re writing to, and empathise deeply.
3. Show, don’t tell
Good writing paints a picture in the readers mind. This stereotypical lesson has been pumped into our heads since early schooling. And that’s because it’s so god-damn effective.
This rule works for even the driest copy. Just the other day my partner and I were writing some headlines for a B2B campaign and we came up with, ‘Lead the way’. I asked myself, how do we show this idea, rather than just telling it. From this, came the line, ‘Others will follow’. I’m not pretending it’s great – however it’s certainly more interesting than, ‘Lead the way’.
4. ‘Very’ is
Do I really need to say this? Eliminate ‘very’ from your vocabulary. Very smart? You mean brilliant. Very pretty? You mean stunning. Very stupid? You mean moronic.
In the same vein, and more particularly for copywriting, remove empty adjectives that connote ‘more’ or ‘better’. Words like: ‘best’, ‘great’, and ‘quality’. Of course, there are times you can’t avoid this – but if you can, try and show your audience in other ways.
5. Create rhythm in your writing
This post was exceptionally written. I’ll let Reddit user ‘jglusk‘ do the talking:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
6. Learn how to use paragraphs
Rhythm engages your reader. But if you don’t break up the content, no one will bite. Paragraphs and subheads organise your content and give the reader control. The reader doesn’t have to read through a whole wall of text to find what’s important to them. They can jump back and forth – skip the inessential, and read more of what’s important to them.
Some other great techniques to use are:
- Numbered lists
- Images (Protip: Sex, and Ryan Gosling, sells)
- Indented quotes
- Italics & bolded text
8. Read about writing
Mostly everybody can write. Very few people can write well. Reading about writing is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to transition from somebody who can write – into a writer. Reddit user ‘dystopianpark’ provides an exhaustive list of books and courses that you can use to educate yourself.
9. Practice x3
It’s been said before and it will be said again. Practice makes perfect. Nothing will make you a better writer than writing. Whether this means maintaining a blog, keeping a diary, or writing stories – keep practicing.
10. Be open to criticism
Everybody writes (and reads) differently. If you have any suggestions on how to improve this list, let us know in the comments.