How To Tell Good Copy From Bad Copy [Guide to Copywriting Series]

How To Tell Good Copy From Bad Copy [Guide to Copywriting Series]

Anyone can spot amateur writing IF they know what to look for. It’s the same technique you can use to spot fake experts too.

When I say fake, don’t take this the wrong way. ‘Fake’ can also mean “oh my god, I never really did quite understand that bit, but now I’ve got to explain it anyway, so I’ll try”.

We’ve all been in that situation. It started in our childhood, and almost certainly from a ‘why?’ question. “Johnny, why did you do that?”.

It’s a basic human characteristic to make things up when it’s a question of survival (and survival includes ‘saving face’ for most of us).

So what is this trick? It’s called Redundancy. Take any sentence, then remove superfluous words. How many can be removed? How many are truly redundant? (is ‘truly’ in that last sentence a redundant word? – tell me in the comments).

Watch out for trigger words too (they include most adverbs – but not all, and it depends on context). If you hear any sentence start with ‘basically’, it’s a strong indicator that what follows hasn’t been thought through.

It doesn’t mean the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about (although that’s often the case), it just means they’re not clear on it.

“Basically, it’s like this…”. is a bad way to position yourself as an expert (it also has a sense of patronisation “look, this subject is so complicated, I’m pretty sure you’ll never understand it, so I’ll break it down into simple components that I think, even you, might understand”).

Words like ‘basically’ are a delaying mechanism. It’s a bit like an ‘erm’. It gives us time to think and is not meant in a patronising way. So it’s entirely forgivable. Just avoid it in your copy or speech and you’ll never be accused of being an amateur (at least not for that part).

If you want to improve your copy, edit it, then edit it again, and repeat (editing usually means reducing the word count, but not always if the original meaning of the text was not clear). Leave long gaps between each edit and it will be all the better for it.

Look back over something you wrote a year ago. Can you improve it? I know I can in every case (see the second PS below). Top musicians, artists, and writers know they can too (there are numerous examples of the most successful people in the world returning to former work years later to improve it from Beethoven to Hemingway and beyond).

Once you KNOW this, you will be all the better for it. It’s why I stopped getting precious about my written work and now chuck away sentences, paragraphs, and articles without batting an eyelid.

So, if you don’t want to be seen as an amateur. Get editing and strip out superfluous words.

PS. Never get this confused with perfectionism. Being as perfect as you can is a great thing. When self-help gurus talk about perfectionism as though it’s somehow bad, they really mean procrastination. Perfectionism is about doing your best work. Nothing is more noble than that.

PPS. This piece was written in a single session. It took me just over two hours. I edited it 4 times. If I left this till tomorrow and edited it again, it would be better. But my publishing deadline has arrived, so up it goes. If this were for a client, I would explain this to them, and they’d have the choice of leaving it for a day and paying a little more, or publishing it now.

About the Author Quentin Pain

I've spent my working life starting and running a whole variety of businesses, from my first QPL Express Couriers where I travelled over 100,000 miles every year delivering packages on a motorcycle (along with a whole bunch of colleagues) to Accountz.com which made a major in-road in the UK, to ProofMEDIA my current business that focuses on Copywriting and the International Copywriters Association, which showcases copywriting and copywriters to the world.

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