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How to Stop Formality Killing Your Copy - Arrowmaker Communications Limited

Studies have consistently shown that informal communication is far more effective than formal. So if your copy always seems to have something stiff and prim about it, it’s odds-on it’s not resonating with your audience as well as it could.

Follow these few quick tips to take your copy from wooden to wow!

1. Abbreviate – it’s not a crime! The convention that written English should not use apostrophes of omission (‘you’re, it’s, they’re, we’re. I’ve, etc.) went out with the Ark. With the exception of very formal documents, use apostrophes of omission wherever you’ve (see?) got the option.

2. Annoy your ex-teacher. We were all taught that sentences shouldn’t begin with ‘and’ or ‘but’. And we listened. But it’s bullshit. Starting a sentence with conjunctions like these can add a really punchy rhythm to your copy, and help you create a memorable punchline at the end of the point or argument you’re building. And the next time someone of classically educated sensibilities objects, just point out that it didn’t seem to bother Julius Caesar when he cried ‘Et tu, Brute?’

3. Stop Using Capitals Like An Eighteenth-Century Printer. If anything makes copy read like a pompous, self-important proclamation, it’s gratuitous use of upper-case letters. Restrict capitals to actual product and service names, headings, proper nouns (e.g. names of people and places) and perhaps some important key concepts like, say, ‘Big Data’, or ‘Brexit’.

4. Explain acronyms. This is an *actual* sentence from some marketing copy I rewrote: ‘Our DAMs and TAMs are committed to enabling VARs to transition to MSP, and MSPs to transition to MSSP, via our comprehensive range of offerings for AV, DLP, APT, and more.’ Nowhere else in that document were the acronyms actually explained. If you’re going to use acronyms (and it’s not necessarily bad practice – they can help keep sentences shorter) then do at least expand them the first time you use them to make sure the reader knows what they all stand for. (Because they probably don’t).

5 Ask – and answer – questions. Which of these reads more effectively? ‘We offer a broad range of solutions for every challenge. Here are just a few.’ Or: ‘So, where do you find solutions that work for all your challenges? Answer: here!’ The first is a formal statement that assails the reader. The second is a conversational question that conspires with the reader to actively involve them in finding a solution to their problem. No prizes for guessing which approach I tend to favour!

So there it is – five quick rules to help stop formality killing your copy every time.

(For every other copy challenge you face, of course, somewhere there is a copywriter ready to help…)

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