Bitter Taste, Sweet Results

If you’ve ever spent time and energy coming up with the exact words you wanted for a bit of copy only to have it edited by someone else, then you know how bad this medicine tastes. Perhaps that bitter taste was associated with an email, a Web page, a newsletter, or an article. You have an emotional attachment to your words, and you expect your readers to as well. You were so content with the substance and cleverness of what you said that you didn’t want anybody messing with your word choice. Well… get over it!

Every copywriter needs an editor. True, editors need to work closely with writers to ensure they’ve understood the message. Nevertheless, everyone needs an editor. Actor Christopher Hampton said, “Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.” Just know that a great editor can make a writer’s words sing, like a great chef can make a cook’s ingredients into a gustatory festival.

Many writers, myself included, feel like we should have the last word. To keep myself in check, I always remember the words of the legendary advertising guru David Ogilvy: “I’m unable to judge my own work, and I don’t see how any copywriter can.” Writing can always be improved, but the writer, by virtue of having created the copy, suffers from Inside-the-Bottle Syndrome. It’s hard to be objective when you’ve poured yourself into the words.

This is where a good editor makes all the difference. More than simply proofing the copy, an editor can offer the objectivity and skill that turn good writing into brilliant writing. Ego is an unproductive factor in the equation. No matter who is involved in the process, the collective goal is to achieve copy that works hard and performs well.

The editor’s job is to refine the copy so the fewest words yield the greatest effect, all within the context of the writing style you have chosen to express your message. Here are some editorial tips you can use to help improve your copy:

  • Look at “that” words. People tend to overuse the word “that.”‘ They write, “She said that she would come” when they could write, “She said she would come.” If your sentence makes sense without “that,” exorcise it. One less word is a good thing.
  • Edit for rhythm. All short or all long — no variation gets monotonous. It will bore your reader, who will then proceed to tune out you and your message. Words, phrases, and sentences all have “sound” value. Writing has an inherent musicality, and a pleasing rhythm will make your writing much stronger and more memorable.
  • Consider combining sentences. If you take multiple sentences to make a point, see if you can combine them and use fewer sentences.
  • Remove unnecessary words. In writing, less very often is more. When there are fewer words, each stands out more prominently. If you don’t really need a word, take it out.
  • Rearrange thoughts for a better flow. You are asking your readers to follow a logical flow of ideas in your writing, so your job is to make that process easier — and to engage the reader in the story. Remember, interest comes before desire in AIDAS (attention, interest, desire, action, and satisfaction).

Writing is a craft. Being good requires lots of time and practice, and even then there’s always more to learn. Do what you can to tighten and shape your copy, then hand it over to a good editor. Not only will you find you have a better product, you will probably also learn how to improve your technique. Is your copy doing its best to grab and hold the attention of your readers?

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