A Low-Tech Strategy for Strengthening Copy

Ah, the good old days.

I had an email last week from a member of my Circle of Success Headlines Intensive that took me back 15 years to when I first began copywriting.

This member asked me to review his Accelerated Program final exercise (a perk of COS membership).

His copy was good, but it sounded a lot like copy I used to write when I started copywriting. It wandered. Key ideas repeated, often in the same words. It lacked focus.

That’s when “nostalgia” set in. I offered him a strategy I used to use for making my own copy tighter and more focused.

Remembering the days when I was starting out

I haven’t used this strategy for a number of years, but it helped me get through those early days of writing. I discovered it because my copy was disorganized. This happened because I hadn’t internalized a clear sense of the structure of a strong sales letter … and how to incorporate everything I wanted to say.

I pretty much would be typing along and think, “Oh! I’ve got to put that idea in.” Then, as soon as I came to a logical stopping place, I’d stick in the next bit of must-have info.

Not a good way to compose a successful sales letter, as I could tell once I’d finished my first draft.

I was faced with the problem of having a bunch of pages of disorganized copy I needed to trim and reorganize. But, how to do it? This is a task I don’t recommend anyone doing on a computer. Not then. Not now.

I tried marking up the copy with instructions, arrows, and demarcations of what should go where. Disaster.

Adapting an old strategy I used as a teacher

Then I hit on what I call the “Cut-and-Tape Method” of editing. I adapted a strategy I used when planning schedules and lessons for my class back when I was teaching.

Here’s how it goes (and what I recommended to my COS friend) …

First off, print out your copy (one-sided). Then get four large sheets of paper and write Promise, Picture, Proof, Push – AWAI’s “4 P’s” – on the top of each page, one word to a page. Color-code these four words.

(If you’re not sure about the 4 P’s, you can find them on page 2-123 in the online version of your Accelerated Program.)

Then read through your promo carefully. In the margins, mark sections as Promise, Picture, Proof, or Push. Use the same color-coding as you did for the big pieces of paper.

So, if your copy is like mine used to be, you might have three paragraphs of Promise at the beginning followed by two paragraphs of Proof. Followed by a smattering of Picture, and so on.

Now it’s time for the scissors

After marking up your copy, cut it up according to how you’ve labeled it, putting each cut-up piece onto the appropriate sheet of paper. Don’t worry about organizing those slips of paper … yet.

Once you’ve separated the cut-up copy this way, go back and read all the copy in the Promise category. Do you have any copy that substantially repeats itself? If so, paper clip those pieces of paper together.

Once you’ve completed this part of the analysis, go back and decide if you can get rid of any of the repetitious copy. Or, can you rewrite it so it will be tighter copy? If you can rewrite it, do it long hand on a blank piece of paper.

Repeat this process with the remaining three categories.

Once you’re done, you should have gotten rid of a fair amount of repetitious copy.

Rebuilding stronger, more successful copy

After trimming the copy this way, organize the pieces of paper you’ve cut up so they flow smoothly. Do this separately for Promise, Picture, Proof, and Push.

Once the copy is reordered, tape it together so it’s easier to use. Type these changes into the computer. The result should be leaner, more cohesive copy.

But, you’re not finished yet. Let your revitalized copy sit for a couple of days. Go back and edit for exaggerated or hypey phrases and words. Change weak verbs into strong verbs. Get rid of all mistakes and typos. Use all the strategies you’re learning in the Accelerated Program to make your copy stronger.

Make sure the copy reads smoothly, conversationally. When you finish this stage, let your copy sit a few more days and repeat.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? But it’s worth it. After going through this process a number of times, following this structure becomes second nature.

This strategy works. But don’t forget the very most important thing you can do to become a stronger writer is to write. And, write some more.

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Published: March 2, 2015

3 Responses to “A Low-Tech Strategy for Strengthening Copy”

  1. Will

    I really enjoyed the "cut and paste" practical advice for organizing and tightening copy. It brings to mind a tale told by the great non-fiction writer John McPhee who was paralyzed for weeks trying to organize his thoughts for a monumental assignment until he wrote out quotes and ideas and started moving them around on a big posterboard.

    Thanks for your always helpful advice, Joe Bergin

    JD BerginMarch 3, 2015 at 12:56 pm

  2. Brilliant. I even printed this one out. Thanks Will!

    David TomenMarch 4, 2015 at 2:13 pm


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