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The Writing, Not the Words

  |  July 31, 2002   |  Comments

Great copy is the sum of all the words, not just the power or buzz words.

In an Amazon.com customer review of my book, "Net Words," the reviewer expresses disappointment that there's no talk of "power words."

It's true, there is no chapter on power words in my book.

There is a reason for that. Individual words are simply tools. Similarly, a particular color is a tool to a painter, and a given note to a musician.

To write copy while focused on power words is like painting by numbers. You achieve a recognizable outcome with absolutely no creativity or life. No passion, no originality.

Copywriting "by numbers" may be good enough for some people. But if you have aspirations to write great copy, to make your mark -- you need to think beyond that.

The thing about focusing on those words, such as "free," "now," "buy," and "sign up," is as soon as you put them in place, you have confined yourself and your thinking. The use of these words where they "belong," where they have power, immediately confines you to the ordinary, expected way of writing. You have predetermined the way in which you approach the copy. You have boxed yourself in.

If you want to write great copy, online or offline, you need to avoid anything that confines you or puts you into a particular box.

Look at each copywriting job through fresh eyes. You don't have to ignore all you have learned. Nor should you ignore the power of particular words or phrases in key areas. But get to what you "know" last. When you put that knowledge first, you may as well stop thinking. You already know how everything else will fall into place.

"Hey, I know it works pretty well this way. This will do."

It's a challenge and pleasure to anyone who takes pride in her craft to find new ways of making things work. Keep your knowledge of particular words or phrases in your back pocket -- and seek new ways to approach each new job.

Beyond pride in your work, there's a more compelling reason to write in ways that are not expected. Your readers will appreciate it.

In the words of copywriter Neil French:

I have this heartfelt theory that people hate ads. Ads interrupt TV programs and bulk out newspapers and mags and are generally a waste of perfectly good trees. So I try to avoid writing "ads." Or at least I try to make my stuff look different, so that it doesn't scream off the page, "Hi! I'm an ad! Ignore me!"

The same approach works for all copy -- even copy for Web pages and email.

To be a great copywriter, you need to love the act of writing, you need to respect your audience, and you need to look for new, refreshing ways to get the job done.

Great copywriting isn't about individual words or writing by numbers. It isn't about "power" words.

Meet Nick at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in Chicago on Thursday, August 8.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Usborne

Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.

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