My year 12 English teacher has had a lasting impression on my life. And my career.
She was an exceptional teacher, but it wasn’t an easy class for me. I’d always excelled at English. That is, until she came along.
She’d write ’KIS’ all over my work and hand it back covered in notes with a mark of 13 or 14 out of 20.
I was shocked. A B-grade or lower simply would not do, and wasn’t something I’d experienced often throughout my schooling, especially in my favourite subject.
My English teacher was a notoriously hard marker, but it served me well.
I pushed myself to do better. To read more carefully. To improve my comprehension of complex texts. And to become a better writer.
Fast-forward 15 years, one journalism cadetship, a Masters degree in Journalism, and close to a decade of professional writing experience, and my writing is much improved.
So I wanted to share a few of the simplest writing tips I’ve learnt along the way to help you become a better writer too.
Keep it Simple
The acronym that was once scrawled in red all over my essays definitely inspired my business’ name. I put it front and centre as a reminder to simplify my copy wherever possible. This is especially true in a marketing context.
Some tips for keeping it simple include avoiding big chunks of copy and limiting the number of ideas in a sentence. Remember, if it doesn’t pass the breath test, it’s too long. And if you need to re-read the sentence to understand it, it’s too complicated.
Ensuring your thoughts are organised is key to great copywriting. Increasingly, we’re digesting what we read on screens, which makes organising your thoughts more important than ever. Make headings your best friend and break up long paragraphs of copy wherever possible.
Incorrect usage of apostrophes is one of my biggest pet peeves. Unfortunately most of us (or my generation at least) didn’t spend enough time on this at school. Grab a grammar book and master your understanding of these pesky punctuation marks. Worst case scenario, defer to a sub editor for external copy. (I’m here and subbing copy is one of my favourite things to do!).
Edit down your work
Thomas Jefferson put it best when he said “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Read your copy aloud when proofreading your work, and cut unnecessary words and sentences to keep your copy punchy. The exception to the rule here is website copy, as you’ll need to balance the KIS principle with SEO requirements.
Remember you’re a work in progress – and that’s okay
On my last day of school, my English teacher handed out laminated quotes to each of us. The one she gave to me was a great fit. The quote, by Dr. David M Burns, said: “Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life.” I remind myself of this often, and if you have perfectionist tendencies I think you should too!
Finally, never underestimate the power of your words. They have the potential to weigh heavily on hearts and minds, to evoke emotions and spur action.
And, just in case you’re wondering, my year 12 self survived 2004. I finished the year with a perfect score of 20 in English Studies, earning me a Merit Award and my first visit to Government House. It was an achievement that wouldn’t have been possible without a pretty extraordinary English teacher.
I hope these tips help you to become a better copywriter! Still in need of some help? Get in touch! Over the years I’ve written copy for the likes of Burberry, Chandon Australia, JBL and many more brands, and I’d love to help you with your copy projects. Email [email protected] to enquire now.