A Sharp Word Scalpel Makes Your Copy Stronger

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the importance of making every word in your copy count. Lean copy is more convincing … and more successful.

At that time we looked at 3 of 4 strategies for helping to strip excess fat out of your copy by using what we call a CUB(A) Critique.

Here’s what the developers of the process – Mark Ford and Mike Palmer (lead copywriter at Stansberry Research, Inc.) – say about CUB(A) in their book Copy Logic:

“The CUB(A) Critique has one simple purpose: to make sure your reader never puts down your copy … until he’s read the entire promotion and gets to the sale.

 … It will simply make sure he does not put your copy down … once hooked with a good idea.”

As a reminder from our previous session, the CUB(A) Critique finds and corrects copy that’s Confusing, Unbelievable, Boring, and Awkward. I covered some strategies for eliminating confusing, unbelievable, and boring copy at that time. (Click here to read those strategies).

Today, we’re going to look at how to eliminate awkward copy by wielding a sharp “word scalpel.” The 4 strategies you’re going to learn are ones I use every time I edit my own copy.

These power-editing strategies slice out unnecessary words, free valuable real estate in your promo, and make it easier for your reader to “never put your copy down.”

They also make it easier for you to trim copy when you have a strict word limit, like for certain emails, space ads, postcard copy, advertorials, and the like.

Change weak verbs to powerful ones …

I never edit as I write. I simply write. That means my copy is liberally sprinkled with weak verbs (action words).

A good way to tell a weak verb is to see if you’ve used an adverb to give it oomph. (As a reminder, adverbs usually end in -ly.) So, on first round, I might write: “The stock grew quickly.” The adverb “quickly” tells me I need to find a stronger verb than “grew.”

I could change “grew” to “soared, climbed, rocketed” … or any number of stronger verbs I discovered using Word’s thesaurus.

Do you really need all those words …

I have a habit of using the phrase “of the” often: “Some of the top strategies for strengthening copy …”

Not bad. But eliminating those two words not only reduces your word count and frees up a tiny bit of space, it strengthens the copy: “Some top strategies …”

When you come across this phrase and similar ones like “this type of” or “this sort of,” examine them critically. Can you do without them, or can you use a shorter version? If so, hack them out!

“That” is another small word you can often do without. When I first wrote this sentence, it said “‘That’ is another word that you can do without.” Removing “that” did not change the meaning of the sentence at all.

In your editing, check each use of “that.” If you can remove it and not change meaning, eliminate it.

Remove unnecessary words …

We writers love words. The more the merrier. But in reality, the more words, the weaker the sentence. I wrote the following sentence for a recent article in The Writer’s Life:

“Once you develop these first two qualities of empathy, you truly cannot help but want to help your prospect fulfill the needs in his life.”

Twenty-five words. And the sentence wanders. In my second edit I changed it to:

“Once you understand and appreciate your prospect’s inner life, you feel compelled to help him.”

Fifteen words … and a much more direct, compelling sentence.

And just now, I wrote “ … you’re going to feel compelled to help him.” Getting rid of “going to” gave the sentence more immediate impact.

When I started writing, I found it hard to cut out words. They were precious. The more I practiced the art of hacking out unnecessary words, the easier it became. And it’s fun!

Eliminate redundant words and phrases …

Look at the previous paragraph. It originally said: “When I first started writing …”

“First started” is redundant. Getting rid of “first” eliminated only one extra word. But that one word (and 6 characters) can make all the difference in a space ad. Plus – and you know what I’m going to say – the copy is leaner and stronger without it.

Search your copy carefully for redundancies. They have a way of sneaking by. This is where letting your copy sit for a day or two or having someone else read it to you can help. To help spot them, search for “redundant word list” in Google.

Using these four strategies does not guarantee strong copy. But, if you follow the secrets and strategies you’re learning from AWAI, and apply these strategies, your copy will be leaner, stronger, and …

 … more successful!

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Published: June 15, 2015

2 Responses to “A Sharp Word Scalpel Makes Your Copy Stronger”

  1. Hey Will,

    This is an overlooked but valuable lesson. I try to trim words in successive rounds of editing... but having a concrete guide of "Frequently Made Mistakes" like you have started can help.


    Guest (Kevin Dawson)

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