Try These Simple Ways to Make Your Copy Livelier … and More Profitable

AWAI language guru Jen Stevens knows copy. She knows what works. And she knows what doesn't.

Jen knows from firsthand experience, because she has written dozens of winning packages over the past 10 years for many different products. Just as important, she regularly reviews other people's copy.

One of the techniques that Jen depends on is to put copy through language "stress tests" to make sure the words are powerful and will carry the prospect from the headline all the way through the close. All the way to making the purchase.

Her first rule – and the most important one – is to eliminate all forms of the verb "to be." (Remember what you learned from your grade school grammar teacher: Verbs are "action words" and the common forms of the "to be" verb include is, are, was, were, and am.)

You want your copy to be lively, exciting, and visual. You want your prospect to imagine a vivid, compelling picture. The way to do this is to use strong, active verbs. And "to be" verbs are not active. They are weak and passive.

Try this mental test: Visualize the word "jump." That's not too difficult. Maybe you thought of a basketball player making a jump shot or your child jumping off the diving board.

Now, visualize the verb "is" … or "am" … or "was." That's not so easy, is it?

Let's take this one step further. You can develop an even stronger image by using verbs that are more descriptive. Imagine Michael Jordon "soaring" toward the basket. Or your child "leaping" off the high dive.

The point is, when you get away from using forms of the verb "to be," you open up a whole, rich world of verbs that convey a huge range of actions and imagery.

Now for a quick exercise.

I'm going to give you five sentences using forms of "to be." Change these verbs to lively, more powerful, active verbs. (Hint: when you change the verb, you'll probably want – or need – to change other words in the sentence too.)

I've listed a suggestion for each sentence at the end of this article – but keep in mind that there are no correct answers. Your changes might be much better than mine.

OK, here are the five sentences:

  1. Lemming Castle is on top of the hill.
  2. Steve Smith is a successful stock adviser.
  3. SymoTech stock was down 312 points.
  4. Polycosanol is a good LDL cholesterol-lowering natural substance.
  5. The fall colors are delightful.

Of course, you cannot eliminate "to be" verbs completely. Some are indispensable. (Like the one I just used.) But if you want to strengthen your copy significantly, go on a "search and destroy mission" to weed out as many of the "to be" offenders as you can.

One more very important suggestion: Don't go on this word hunt when you're writing the first draft of your copy. When you're creating your first draft, let the ideas rip. Don't slow your creative juices by trying to edit at the same time. The best time to do it is in your second draft.

And, finally, here are my suggestions on possible ways to eliminate "to be" verbs from the five sentences in the above exercise:

  1. Lemming Castle stands guard over the Dyye River canyon.
  2. When it comes to picking successful stocks, Steve Smith kicks butt! (OK, maybe you wouldn't say this in a promo – then again, maybe you would).
  3. SymoTech stock plummeted 312 points.
  4. Polycosanol lowers LDL cholesterol significantly – and naturally.
  5. In the fall, nature paints the mountains using a palette of yellows, golds, and brilliant crimsons.

Happy hunting in your own copy!

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Published: October 11, 2004

1 Response to “Try These Simple Ways to Make Your Copy Livelier … and More Profitable”

  1. Good article!And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to everyone who want to write succinct copy.Please,keep it up.

    Ignatius ngoma

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