Ask the Masters:
Tips For Being Less Direct

Question: "My big problem is directness. I've taught school for 18 years (Special Education and Chapter I K-12). I repeat the same things many times and don't do much explaining. Although this works great for my teaching career, it's interfering with my copywriting. My question is: How do I get over being so direct? I find I have it all said in a few sentences."

From Don Mahoney:

"Well, first of all, the basic rule of selling is that it's done with emotion, not reason. So if you can communicate emotion with such brevity, you're fine. If you can't, you haven't done your work.

"Also, remember the Golden Rule: Show, don't tell. You have to create images for your buyer. He's not memorizing benefits. He has to 'see' them in his mind's eye … experience them, if you will. This isn't accomplished simply by telling.

"The easiest way of learning a new method of communication – or style of writing, in this case – is by rote. That is, by taking samples of good direct mail copy and copying them over and over and over again until the style begins to become your own. If you do that diligently for a few months, you'd probably learn an entirely new way of writing and communicating. I have a friend who did this with great success."

From John Forde:

"As a teacher, you must have a well-developed ability to make complex things sound simple to understand. This is a valuable skill in copywriting. But it's not the same thing as being "direct." At least not in the sense you describe. What you describe sounds a little more like kind of copywriter's block. Try these three suggestions:

  1. Forget the copy for a moment. Instead, make a list of all the objections a prospective customer might have. Make the list as long as possible without being impractical. Then ask yourself, 'Does my copy answer those potential challenges?' Almost ALL first drafts fail this test.
  2. Make a list of product benefits. As a buyer, would you accept these promises on face value alone? What else would you need to know to make the purchase?
  3. Go online or to the library. Search for articles about ANY aspect of your product. Take notes as you read. Then take notes on your notes.

"Your goal: Prove to the reader how, while general doubts he has are justified, the product you're writing about is designed to resolve them. Look for ways to support your benefits with track record, studies, or other credentials. Look to prove that you know the subject matter as well or better than your reader.

"Do this much and I promise you'll find yourself with a LOT more to write about. Good luck!"

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: July 2, 2001

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