How to Become a Kickass Copywriter with “Crap” Writing

    how to become a kickass copywriter - book, pencil and rubber

    By guest writer Dean Rieck of Direct Creative Blog.

    Your English teachers taught you all the rules of proper grammar, punctuation, and style. But what they didn’t realize is that all those rules could crush your chances of making a living writing marketing materials, ads, and other commercial copy.

    Why? Because copywriting is not about good writing, it’s about helping businesses sell things. Successful businesses have to connect with real people to sell their products and services. And since real people don’t speak “proper” English, commercial copy must speak the way real people talk.

    In other words, the key to being a successful copywriter is to write effectively rather than correctly. You must be willing to bend or break the rules to accomplish the business objective of your writing project.

    Here are a few examples of how to become a kickass copywriter with “bad” writing:

    • Write in the second person. Standard styles rules dictate that you write in the third person in most cases. But when you write commercial copy, you are no longer a writer, you are a sales person. And like any good sales person, you must speak directly to your prospects to make the sale. This often means writing in the second person, using words such as you, your, and yourself. You can occasionally use the first person (I, my, mine, me, we, our, us) in letters and other one-on-one communications. Unless you’re telling a story about someone, third person (he, she, they) is rarely appropriate.
    • Use command language. You can’t be shy in the copywriting business. There’s no such thing as implying, intimating, or subtly suggesting an action. You have to bark orders firmly and clearly to get people to do what you want them to do. If you’re creating “teaser” copy for a direct mail envelope, write “Look inside” or “Open immediately.” At the bottom of the first page of a sales letter, write “Turn the page” or “Read on.” On an order form, write “Complete and mail today” or “Order your widget now!” No matter how obvious you think the action is, you can’t leave it for people to figure out. You must tell them directly.
    • Avoid rambling sentences. Nimble, experienced writers love to weave long, complex sentences. But according to readability research, your average sentence should be about 16 words and express a single thought. Once a sentence exceeds 32 words, it becomes harder to understand. So despite what your creative instincts tell you, when you have a long sentence with two or more ideas, break it into separate sentences. Of course, you should vary individual sentence length – some short, some long – for variety.
    • Keep most paragraphs short. Long, idea-laden paragraphs are fine if you’re writing the great American novel, but not if you’re writing an ad for acne cream. In effective commercial copy, your paragraphs ideally should run no longer than 7 lines, especially in sales letters. If a paragraph gets too long, break it into shorter chunks. Forget standard paragraph development. Your goal is to keep people reading. Short paragraphs are easier on the eye and make reading “feel” easier and more pleasant. Look at any newspaper and see how short most paragraphs are.
    • Drop in one-sentence paragraphs – they’re punchy and add variety.
    • Begin sentences with conjunctions. This includes and, also, besides, furthermore, likewise, moreover, or, else, otherwise, but, however, nevertheless, so, then, and therefore. These words can help you break long sentences into shorter ones and still make your copy flow smoothly. This is particularly helpful when you have a number of items you want to include which are difficult to fit together. For example, “The new RX9 is twice as fast as the RX8. Plus you get 12 new features.”
    • End sentences with prepositions. Ouch! This one’s gotta hurt. And it will send the persnickety into a dead faint. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the preposition commandment is a rule up with which you should not put. In ordinary conversation, do you say, “With whom are you going?” or “Who are you going with?” Allow yourself the freedom of putting of, for, with, and other prepositions at the end of a sentence. Strive to be natural, not slavishly correct.
    • Add occasional fragments. This helps add excitement. Urgency. Picks up the pace. And creates a firm tone. Don’t overuse this technique, though, or you’ll annoy readers.
    • Write like you talk. Use dialog and conversational writing. “People especially like to read anything in quotation marks.” Use pronouns such as I, we, you, and they. Use familiar expressions, including a sure thing, rip-off, O.K. Use contractions such as they’re, you’re, it’s, here’s.
    • Use intelligent redundancy. Free gift, actual fact, call anytime 24-hours a day, and other such constructions may get you poor marks in English class, but in the real world they help to emphasize your point and clarify your meaning. You can argue this one all you like, but a “free gift” sounds more valuable than just a “gift.” Embrace what works.
    • Punctuate headlines lightly. Periods signal a stop, so you should avoid using them. To draw the reader into the body copy, you can use ellipses (…) at the end, but no punctuation at all is often best. Avoid colons and semicolons, because they also signal a stop and are too formal for most copy. To separate thoughts in long headlines, use a dash – like I’m doing now – or use ellipses … both signal a pause, but don’t stop the reader.

    Remember, copywriting is not about writing. It’s about communicating and selling. It’s about getting people to act – to call, order, visit a Web site, or go to a retail store. For the successful copywriter, words are tools. If you are willing and able to wield them in a way that is proven to get results, you may have a lucrative career ahead of you.

    Dean Rieck is a leading copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in the U.S. and abroad. Visit hisDirect Creative Blog.

    Subscribe to the new monthly WritetoDone Newsletter! Get valuable tips for writers and bloggers. Be the first to know Leo and Mary’s amazing plans for WritetoDone.

    About the author

      Dean Rieck

      Dean Rieck is a leading copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in the U.S. and abroad. For more copywriting tips, sign up for Dean’s FREE direct response newsletter or visit Direct Creative

    • Hi
      Thank you so much for this article. I’ve got so many ideas from this.

    • Kara says:


      had read something like this in one free ebook by Ken Evoy You have given all those tips in one article.

    • Excellent post. Excellent. And definitely worthy of a bookmark so you can have great information to refer to.

      I strongly agree with these three especially:

      Begin sentences with conjunctions.
      End sentences with prepositions.
      Add occasional fragments.

      I second what James said as well about always cringing “when someone implies that it’s okay to suck as a writer, and you can be crappy and be successful.”

      Real writers know that that’s absolutely not what Dean is getting at. The point here is, you gotta know the rules to break the rules.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Dean, well presented and organized advice – whether for copywriting or for blog postings.

      The hardest lessons for me to learn were to use shorter sentences and less bulky paragraphs. I still don’t know when to use the one-sentence paragraph appropriately. On the other hand, I love using sentence fragments. The power of a well-chosen part-sentence is undeniable. Most of the time, anyway.

      Thanks for pulling all these great ideas together in one post.


    • joylene says:

      Now you’ve got me thinking. I just assumed that I had to write good English in my blogs because blogging is a representation of my novels. Hmm. Interesting that it’s not.

    • I enjoyed this article very much.

      In some articles (not ads) I write in the first and second person. I don’t know if that is incorrect – but I like the effect it has.

      I do this with self development articles. I like to say, “we” and “ourselves” sometimes so that the reader knows I’m including myself.

      Other times, I say, “you” because it’s when I’m purposely speaking directly to the reader and it thus has more power.

      But it doesn’t seem confusing to me, instead it seems effective and
      logical. I wonder what an English teacher would say.

    • Dean Rieck says:

      James, the quotation marks disappeared from the headline around the word “bad.” So the idea of “bad” writing was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, not literal.

      Bamboo, thanks for the catch. I think Mary will fix the web address for my blog. It’s http://www.directcreative.com/blog/

      Mary, oooh. “Gormless.” Nice word. Is that too intellectual for advertising? Let’s see, “Why settle for the gormless Widget 2000 when you can have the Thingamajig 3000?” Hmm.

    • You definitely nailed it here. These are all great tips for copywriters. These also work for bloggers. So if you are a blogger do not overlook these tips.

      I think the best tips out of these are that you should write short paragraphs and start a paragraph with the conjunction. Long paragraphs just make the reader more tired. Separate your sentences so that your writing is easier to follow.

    • I’m already practicing all that in the list – and probably more that isn’t listed here. 😉

    • Peter says:

      A very interesting article! There’s a lot of very good food for thought there. Well done! 10/10!

    • I really enjoyed these tips, Dean! I’ve tried to write some copy but it was a dismal failure because I wanted to write ‘nice’. Well, now I know: nice is gormless.

      I visited your website http://www.directcreative.com/blog/ and downloaded your free report “99 Easy Ways to Boost Your Direct Mail Response”. It’s excellent!

      My apologies for messing up the links to your website in article above. I’ve now corrected them. (Thanks for pointing that out, Bamboo Forest!)

    • The link to Dean’s blog seems to have the wrong address.

    • J.D. Meier says:

      Nice distinctions and angle … I like punchy, confident, and to the point – with an emotional hook here and there.

      An occasional pause is good too.

    • Hey Dean,

      Nice post, and I agree with most of what you suggest to create effective copy.

      Then again, I always cringe when someone implies that it’s okay to suck as a writer, and you can be crappy and be successful. I know that’s *not* how it’s intended, but there are enough people out there that will read this and think that’s what was meant.

      But yes! Great tips!

    • Trevor says:

      Nice post.

      Some bloggers think that they should use proper grammar when writing when they really don’t. You only need proper grammar when you write for a newspaper company, not for your own personal blog or when you’re selling things. Correcting yourself when you make a mistake speaking is usually a turn off.

    • e3941297e17226345b367b4f61e62e3e98e44947f806b5be70