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Copywriting Grammar Ain't Perfect

Break the rules. It's OK. You're not writing for your high school English teacher. Present your copy in a casual but professional way.

One of the most important aspects of writing great copy is making sure it's grammatically correct. That doesn't mean, however, you need to have a grammar textbook by your side as you write copy. The trick is balancing proper grammar with a conversational tone. Blind devotion to perfect grammar can come across to consumers as arrogant, but grammar that's too sloppy looks unprofessional. How do you strike a balance between the two extremes?

Consider Your Audience
Determine who will see your ad and the target group you want to respond. Write copy in the same tone that you would speak to that audience, using messages that are meaningful to them. The secret to copywriting success is adjusting your voice to match that of your target audience, and with that adjustment also comes changes in the grammar you use in your copy.

Think of it this way: You use a different tone in communicating the same story to your boss than you use with your family, right? The same theory holds true in copywriting. While you might say, "My analysis of the current state of the economy provides a negative future outlook," to your boss, you would probably say something more like, "The economy stinks," to a family member. You need to change your language and tone in your copy just as you do in your everyday conversations in order to appeal to the audience you're communicating with.

Consumers need to relate to an ad and its messages if they're going to be compelled to act. If they can't relate to your copy's tone, sentence structure and words, they'll skip your ad without a second glance. You have only seconds to capture consumers' attention and convince them to take a closer look at your ad. Make sure your copy is relatable and personable to ensure they'll give your ad more than a cursory glance.

Grammar Rules You Can Break
In simplest terms, you can break any grammar rule in copywriting as long as doing so makes your copy sound conversational and more appealing to your target audience without negatively affecting your business's professional image. The goal is to write copy consumers will respond to, not copy that your high school English teacher would approve. With that in mind, break the following grammar rules--as long as doing so enhances the conversational, personal tone of your copy:

  1. Contractions: It's perfectly acceptable to use contractions in your copy.
  2. Dangling prepositions: It's OK to end a sentence with a preposition.
  3. Slang words: Slang words can be used as long as they are appropriate for the audience.
  4. Sentence fragments: Consumers typically skim an ad before they commit to looking at it more closely. Therefore, short snippets of information presented in sentence fragments can be more compelling than complete sentences simply because consumers can digest more information, more quickly in short bites.
  5. One-sentence paragraphs: Short blocks of text that are easily skimmed are more compelling than lengthy paragraphs of text or recitations of copy.

It's unlikely that a consumer will take the time to read (or listen to) lengthy copy that's written in an overly formal tone. Copy that's written in a conversational tone, however, is laid out in short paragraphs, uses adequate white space and is designed to convey key messages that convert to sales.

Susan Gunelius is CEO of KeySplash Creative Inc., an Orlando, Fla.- based marketing communications company. She has authored several books, including Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, published by Entrepreneur Media. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
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