The One Power Tool That Will Easily, Instantly Ratchet Up Your Copy

This past week, a guy named Ben installed a new, high-efficiency furnace in our 109-year-old house. He came with a truck full of drills and wrenches and pipe and spent 11 hours revamping our antiquated heating system.

It required some plumbing, some electrical work, and some brute force. He met a few surprises along the way (to be expected in an old house like ours). But he had what he needed to get the job done. It was simply a matter of reaching, at each step, for the right tool. He reached, most often, for his electric drill. So many times, in fact, that the batteries died and he had to borrow my husband’s.

I edit more than 1,000 pages of copy a year. Some of it I write. Some of it others write and my clients hire me to “fix.” But when it comes right down to it, what I do isn’t that different from what Ben does.

He tinkers with furnaces. I tinker with words.

Like Ben, I have a box full of tools. Some I use to fine-tune an idea or bring a more logical flow to an argument.

Others come in handy when I want to fiddle with the way an idea is expressed. Often, in the copy I’m dealing with, the core idea is good. It’s just that the writer’s language gets in the way of it.

In that situation, I find myself reaching for one tool more than any other: the good verb. It’s like my “electric drill.” It’s powerful. And with it, I can instantly and tidily fix lots of different problems.

When a newer copywriter says to me, “I’m finding it overwhelming to try to remember everything at once. If I could just concentrate on fixing one thing in my writing, at least for now, what would you tell me to focus on?”

I always respond, “Your verbs.”

Because when your verbs are strong, your reader is able to envision what you’re talking about in his own mind. He’s engaged.

And when your verbs are strong, your writing is tighter. Because you can say what you need to say using fewer words.

And when you use fewer words, you get to your point faster and your ideas shine through more clearly.

And – assuming your ideas are good – that makes for the most powerful kind of copy.

Add instant power and pro-level polish to your copy

Here’s how to put verbs to work for you:

  • Banish the verb “to be.” (That’s “is,” “am,” “are,” “was,” and “were.”) Now, naturally, you can’t get rid of it entirely. But go through your copy systematically – sentence by sentence – and when you come to “is,” “am,” “are,” “was,” or “were,” replace it if you can.
  • Replace it with verbs that are more vibrant … active, descriptive verbs that help you paint a picture for your reader.

So instead of saying:

“AWAI is opening the door for you, preparing you to enter, and even showing you what to do when you’re in the room.”


“AWAI flings open the door for you, prepares you to waltz through, and even shows you what to do once you get in the room.”

See how “flings open” is more active than “is opening,” and how “waltz” is more descriptive than “enter”? And when you eliminate that “is” early in the sentence, you can trim the “ing” off all those other words later. It “tightens up” the language and helps a reader move through the sentence faster.

Here’s another example. Instead of:

“There are four powerful ingredients in this one formula, which means you’ll be trading four horse pills for one small, powerful remedy.” (22 words)

Try this:

“Packed with four powerful ingredients, this formula lets you replace four horse pills with one small, potent remedy.” (18 words)

If a sentence begins with “there is” or “there are,” that should trigger a fix. You can almost always recast it – and make it stronger – by using a better verb. And, more times than not, the fix lets you trim a few words too.

Here’s another example. Instead of:

What’s amazing is the regions along the coast are just now being discovered and developed. Today, a fairly small group of Europeans have the beaches of this tropical coast to themselves. They’re buying beachfront lots for $16,500 and beachfront condos for $67,000.” (42 words)

How about:

“Amazingly, this coast sits largely undiscovered and undeveloped. A small group of Europeans has this tropical stretch of beaches to themselves. They buy beachfront lots for $16,500 and beachfront condos for $67,000. You can too.” (35 words)

When you go to eliminate “to be” from a sentence, you force yourself to really think about what you’re trying to say … and the best way to say it.

It’s the ideal first tool to reach for when you go to “tighten up” your copy or “trim unnecessary words.”

Because when you improve your verbs, you automatically improve other things as well. By recasting a sentence to incorporate a more power-packed verb, you move other words around. And, as a result, you usually leave out the words you don’t need.

You let your good ideas shine through more clearly. And that makes for more effective copy.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: May 12, 2008

1 Response to “The One Power Tool That Will Easily, Instantly Ratchet Up Your Copy”

  1. Great article! Examples provide insight and inspiration. Thank You!

    Carla A

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