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Copy Edit Tips

Mini grammar lessons, storytelling tweaks, and persuasion hacks that takes you from an average copywriter to an A-list copywriter.

Missed Opportunities And McDonald’s

Oh, French Fries!

I ventured to an actual store last week. And while I was sitting in the customer service line, I noticed a kid standing to my side rambling about something.

He was all of 3 years old and was pulling umbrellas out of the impulse buy rack.

I noticed it wasn’t sturdy so I pulled up about an inch and blocked the leg of the stand with my wheelchair’s footrest. (That way if the rack decided to have a great fall, it would land on me AND the kid wouldn’t be broken like Humpty Dumpty.)

That’s when it hit me…

This kid might have been rearranging the impulse buy rack, but he was talking to me the whole time.

“You’ve got big wheels. Why do you have big wheels? Why do you have big wheels on the back but not on the front? What do those big wheels do? You basically have a race car, you know? Like a big race car, that goes fast. Does your race car go fast?”

I laughed and told him that my wheelchair is exactly like a race car and goes really fast so that I can keep up with my niece and nephew.

He kept on talking, and I did my best to answer every question. But after a few minutes, his mom pulled him away from the rack, apologized for his interrogation, and they left the store.

He was craving connection. And I didn’t mind being that for him.

A few minutes later, it dawned on me that I should have offered him a ride on my wheelchair. (I tote kids around on the back of my chair all. the. time.)

Talk about a missed opportunity.

You know what’s another missed opportunity? Not using the words your readers use.

Those words? Slang, baby.

The Oxford University Press hates slang.

“Slang is a type of language used by a particular group of people – e.g. teenagers – or by people in a particular occupation – e.g. members of the army. It can act as a kind of code: using slang creates a sense of identity or belonging among members of the group and effectively excludes outsiders. It’s better to avoid using this sort of language in general contexts as people outside the group in question may not understand it, or may well interpret it wrongly.”

But I’m lovin’ it. (ba da ba ba ba)

Why? Because copywriting’s job is to connect with readers. (Be that connection, Obi-Wan.)

To do this, you have to write in the same language. You have to use words and phrases your readers use.

And doing this works…

McDonald’s proved it with its 2003 jingle, “I’m lovin’ it.” (Bonus points – it’s also grammatically incorrect, which warms my grumpy heart.)

Even though this jingle is slang and grammatically incorrect, it’s still McDonald’s most successful ad campaign. The fast food company spent $1.37 billion on advertising in 2003. However, in the first quarter of 2004 alone, its revenue increased by $455 million.

McDonald’s held a competition among 14 international ad agencies to create the jingle. The competition featured some of the industry’s largest companies. The winner (Heye & Partner) was actually a “tiny” company compared to the others.

But what flips my burger is the fact that McDonald’s held a competition and paid an ad agency to come up with something so simple.

And Heye & Partner doubled cheeseburger down on their win – They hired Pharrell Williams and turned “I’m lovin’ it” into a full-fledged song. They commissioned Justin Timberlake to sing it, and it was released a few months before the ad campaign. This boosted the credibility of a McDonald’s jingle because it was in pop culture form.

Slang and pop culture go well together. And immortalize almost everything they touch.

So ask yourself, do your readers use slang AND would slang be appropriate & entertaining to your readers?

The answer is… hellz yeah.

P.S. Ginger wants to know where those French Fries are.

I love ellipses…

Almost as much as espresso

I use ellipses like vanilla syrup in my lattes.

Sprinkled here…

And there…

And sometimes just dumped haphazardly…

Because what’s life without a sweet treat? (Nothing but sour-grape-sad coffee. Trust me.)

I love ellipses so much I dedicated a whole chapter in my book to those punctuation marks.

But ellipses can be difficult to understand (is it ellipsis or ellipses) and difficult to use (quotation omission or trailing thought).

Some grammar geeks call ellipses suspension points. Hint: It has nothing to do with car parts and everything to do with creating suspense in your copy.

Copywriters are notorious (B.I.G.) for using these punctuation marks as transitions to create that suspense and keep readers reading. They catch a lot of heat about this punctuation mark too because they tend to overuse it.

But there’s more than one way to create suspense in your copy, so readers keep reading, besides using ellipses as transitions.

And that’s through delayed transitions.

Instead of using an ellipsis at the end of a one-sentence paragraph, use a period.

And start the next paragraph with a connecting phrase like “and”, “but”, and “so.”

For example:

“You want to learn how to use copy editing to make your copywriting more compelling, so you read my emails and pay attention to my tips because they make you a stronger copywriter.”

“You want to learn how to use copy editing to make your copywriting more compelling.

So you read my emails.

And implement my tips. Because they make you a stronger copywriter.”

These delayed transitions help create cohesive sentences that hand-holds readers from one thought to the next.

And they strengthen your copy because…

  • They make it easier to start the next thought process.
  • They help make your copy less predictable, which maintains interest.
  • They allow for shorter sentences. Which helps you build momentum and keep your copy moving at a fast pace.

Use delayed transitions instead of ellipses to make your copy more cohesive and digestible.

P.S. Learn more ways to make your copywriting fun. Check out Drool-Worthy Copy.

Sacrifice your writing

Rituals are cool

I love rituals. (Not the animal-sacrifice kind.)

They soothe my anxiety and boost my confidence much like my pitbulls reduce my nail biting and Pitbull’s songs increase my energy.

I have a lot of rituals… My morning routine is a ritual. My bedtime routine is a ritual. Even my writing routine is a ritual.

My writing routine is sophisticatedly simple. All I do is:

-Open up my notebook. (I’m switching to a digital notebook, so no more dead trees for me.)

-Grab a colored pen. (I have 10 to choose from which is down from almost 30. Because I procrastinate picking out the right color to match my mood.)

-Open my can of Coke. (Room temp, please.)

-Turn on some old music. (The songs that I know all the lyrics by heart. Because learning new lyrics is distracting.)

-Write. (Even if it’s just gibberish and doodles at first.)

And boom… this ritual kicks my brain into writing gear.

Other writers have rituals, too.

One writes with a blindfold on. (To silence their inner critic because they can’t actually see the words.)

Another writes with a cigarette dangling out of their mouth. (Even though they’re a nonsmoker, the sensory activity focuses their thoughts.)

These rituals all have one commonality — they’re simple, and they trigger the brain into writing mode.

Do you have a writing ritual? I’d love to hear about it.

Don’t have a writing ritual? I can help you create one in Drool-Worthy Copy. Check it out here.

Conjunction Junction like has a function

Schoolhouse Rock is strong with me today

If you’ve read my book (The Grumpy Grammarian’s Guide To Copy Editing For Copywriters), you know I’m not a fan of Valley Girl words in your writing.

Totally. Whatever. As if.

They make my skin crawl like I have prickly spiders running up and down my tattooed arms.

But here’s the exception — the word “like.”

I love this Valley Girl word. I particularly enjoy using it as a conjunction.

Other penchant grammarians will scold you for using it as a conjunction. Because it’s a preposition. They might even break a ruler over your knuckles for your “mistake.” (But I think that’s illegal and highly problematic nowadays just like the Schoolhouse Rock song & video “Conjunction Junction.”)

But using “like” as a conjunction has been happening for 600 years by some of the greatest writers, including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, HG Wells, and William Faulkner. Even style guides (that enforce this archaic rule) inadvertently use it.

It’s okay to break this grammar rule. I give you permission. You get my frowny face of approval.

Wanna know why?

During the Mad Men era, every cigarette brand had a slogan. The most infamous? “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”

It didn’t become infamous because it was a catchy jingle. It became infamous because it contained a grammatical error – using “like” as a conjunction. (Oh, the horror!)

Steven Pinker, a psychologist and linguist, says, “The New Yorker sneered at the error, Ogden Nash wrote a poem about it, Walter Cronkite refused to say it on the air, and style guide icons Strunk and White declared it illiterate. The slogan, they all agreed, should have been ‘Winston tastes good, as a cigarette should.’”

You know what this controversy achieved? Unpaid publicity and extra revenue. This ad campaign was wildly successful. Because brands are in the market to do business not to teach grammar.

So ignore this grammar faux pas and do what you do best — writing copy that persuades readers to take action.

P.S. Ginger looks studious today. It must be because I sang that Schoolhouse Rock song to her.

Perspective and impact

A copy edit tip inspired by a 9 year old

Last week, I lamented over taking the perfect picture of my penny tree art.

I was so bummed about not getting a great shot that I lost sleep and even considered hiring a professional photographer.

Oh, silly Autumn — pictures are for kids.

That’s right, pictures are for Hailey in particular.

She strolled through my front door on Saturday. (Taking her coat & backpack off and dropping them on the floor in one seamless motion.)

Fangirled over my art with an “A, that’s so cool!” (Which is the exact confidence boost I needed.)

Snapped a pic of it. (Before I could even tell her about my terrible pictures.)

And showed me what she captured from her angle. (Which I thought would be even worse than mine.)

But nope…

4 feet 3 inches — is the exact height needed to capture a reflection-free photo of my penny tree.

Talk about perspective.

When it comes to describing a story in your copywriting, you need to choose a perspective too. Because it helps your readers connect with your copy more.

Perspective in copywriting is either based on comprehension or emotion.

Do you want your readers to feel like they’re familiar with the story? Like it’s a similar situation they’ve experienced?

Choose the insider’s perspective.

For example:

She came into the grocery store.

Your readers process this perspective from their point of view. It’s easy to process because it’s familiar to them. Everyone has been to a grocery store.

Do you want your readers to feel an emotional impact from the story? Even though they may have never experienced a similar situation?

Choose the outsider’s perspective.

For example:

The robber went into the bank.

Your readers process this perspective from the bank customers’ point of view. They process this differently because most people haven’t experienced a bank robbery. Even though they process this perspective differently, it’s still easy to process because it impacts them on an emotional level.

So remember when you’re telling a story in your copywriting, choose the right perspective. Your readers will connect with your copy more.

P.S. Now Hailey’s picture does this art justice.

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