Finding a Winning Tone for Your Copy, Part 3

So far, I have given you four of my 11 secrets for finding a winning tone for your copy. A previous article featured my two most important secrets: Care about your reader and believe in the product. In another article I told you how to use short, simple sentences and varied tempo.

Now, here are two more of my secrets:

Using punctuation to your advantage

Creative use of punctuation has two positive effects on your sales letter. First, it makes it more visually diverse and interesting, and less intimidating to read.

Second, it lets you inject the natural inflections and pauses you use when you talk, making your copy read with a much more conversational tone.

The three forms of punctuation I use most are em-dashes (–), ellipses (…), and quotation marks (" "). I also use italics to affect tone.

Use quotation marks and italics when you want to stress a word, as in:

These gains came in two months [with "two months" in italics]. When was the last time you "earned" $20,000 without lifting a finger?

Em-dashes allow you to separate similar ideas that might be awkward in the same sentence, while making your copy more readable at the same time.

Ellipses let you "trail off" a sentence, which allows your reader to make his own assumption. They also can instantly lead him to another connected idea.

Here’s an example of both em-dashes and ellipses from a recent promo:

Sure enough, Petsmart shot to a high of $28.93 for a nice 5% gain – a mere 24 hours after hitting the prescribed buy price. No wonder people using this system say it’s like having a window into the future of the markets! And it works with any equity investment – stocks, index funds, ETFs … you name it.

You’ll notice I used an exclamation mark in the above example. Use them very sparingly. They "hype up" a promo very quickly.

Ellipses are also useful in making your point after you’ve made a "Sure, but what’s in it for me" kind of statement. Here’s a recent example:

The Technology That So Accurately Predicts the Path of Hurricanes Can Also Predict Where Stocks Are Headed…

And It’s Making a Small Group of Savvy Investors Very Rich

To make your own letters more personal and free-flowing, study lots of promos to see how other writers use punctuation.

The Barstool Test

The Barstool Test is something many of us do to see if our writing has a good pace, a good tempo, and a good conversational tone. The idea is to read it out loud, as if you were talking to a guy sitting next to you in a bar.

Here’s what you’re looking for:

Does your copy have an easy-flowing conversational tempo? Does it sound natural? Does one idea flow logically to the next? Do you have good conversational transitions like "Let me explain …" in place. (More on this in my next article).

It’s important to read your copy out loud. It’s much more effective than reading it silently to yourself. I’ve used this trick so long, I do it automatically now.

I read every paragraph I write aloud. And after every two or three new paragraphs that I add, I go back and read the entire letter. Nine times out of 10, I find ways to improve the tone along the way. And it’s a great way to assure that your lead is the strongest it can be … because you read it so many times.

But don’t take being "conversational" too far.

A friend sent me a letter that took "conversational" to a whole new level. It went something like, "Hey yo – if you’re missing out on sack time with the old lady, I got the cure right here …"

Nothing can spoil your credibility as an expert who has serious solutions than talking like an inner city gang member. Never inject slang or speak like a slack-jawed idiot either …

Adopt the tone of one educated, knowledgeable, well-spoken individual who’s informally talking to another one. But don’t get so carried away with the conversational thing that you lose credibility or risk losing your voice of authority. State facts forcefully and back them up.

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: September 26, 2005

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