The Copywriter’s List of Pet Peeves: What Not To Do

Writer taking notes on a piece of paper in front of a laptop

This drives my husband crazy …

In truth, you could say it's one of the biggest pet peeves I do that bothers him the most: Me not screwing the lids on containers all the way until their tight.

I can't tell you how many times he's pulled a jar out of the fridge or cabinet and the lid is so loose, the whole thing slips out of his hands. And it's worse when it's something he has to shake up before using …

You can imagine the mess it makes in the kitchen.

It's not intentional on my part. Often times, I think I've turned the lid tight enough when in fact it's not.

Everyone has a list of pet peeves.

In fact, in an article published in Psychology Today, Americans cited these three things as their top three pet peeves:

  • Chew sounds/noises
  • Repetitive tapping
  • Interrupting during a conversation

But pet peeves aren't just irritating habits.

They can and do happen in writing too.

So today I'm going to share what I like to call "copywriting pet peeves." These are things you want to avoid doing when writing copy and content.

Writing pet peeve #1: Too much repetition.

We learn from repetition because it transforms a skill from the conscious to the subconscious.

In copy, when you reinforce certain points throughout a sales letter, you're helping your reader better understand the benefits of the product or service you're selling.

But the trick is to not repeat the exact same point over and over, in the exact same way. In other words, don't use the same phrasing that you might have used a few paragraphs or pages earlier.

Some people call this "echoing." It happens when a writer uses the same distinct word or structure multiple times in a paragraph or starts a bunch of consecutive sentences with the same word.

Your prospect will notice when they see the exact same words repeated.

Instead of being persuaded, they'll be distracted. And a distracted prospect, is no longer an interested buyer.

Writing pet peeve #2: Using big vocabulary words.

Sometimes it's tempting to want to impress your reader by using vocabulary words that make you — the writer — sound smart.

But writing copy or content isn't about you. It's about your reader. You want to write to your reader in the same way you would talk to them in person.

It's all about writing in a conversational tone, or what AWAI calls "The Barstool Test," a technique developed by AWAI co-founder, Paul Hollingshead. It's simply a matter of writing the way you speak.

Once Paul is finished writing copy, he imagines he's in a bar having a drink with the prospect. Then he reads each sentence out loud. As he does, he asks himself, "Would I really say that, in that way, if I were sitting on a barstool having a beer with this person?"

If the answer is no, he deletes the sentence and re-writes it until it comes across in a conversational tone.

The importance of writing conversationally is so important to sales copy that In Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy said, "Unless you have some reason to be solemn and pretentious, write your copy in the colloquial language which your customers use in everyday conversation."

This doesn't just apply to sales copy … it goes for everything you write, whether it's content for a newsletter, emails, articles, or blog post.

Writing pet peeve #3: Too many exclamation marks!

Generally, we use exclamation marks to show strong emotion like, for example, an emergency such as "get out!" or "help me!"

In the newspaper publishing industry, exclamation marks are referred to as astonishers, gaspers, and screamers. I'm guessing this somehow relates to the days when people working at a newsstand would shout out the most recent headlines of that day's edition of the newspaper.

By calling out the headlines in this way, passers-by were intrigued enough to stop at the booth and by the newspaper.

But in today's world of content and copy, there's no need to shout at the prospect. Instead, we can create emotions with the words we use, the pictures we paint, and the promises we make.

If you use too many exclamation marks, it takes away from the emotion you are trying to convey. It makes what you write feel cheap.

In Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation, author David Crystal explains exclamation points were popular in the 18th century and used often in parody novels to show a character's reaction to a certain event. He uses this example, "Clare is marrying a man named Job Snooks: "Can't be – No go – Stump up to church – too true – Madness! Rage!"

This isn't to say you can use exclamation marks, but don't overuse them. As the Chicago Manual of Style says, "they should be used sparingly to be effective."

Writing pet peeve #4: Using cliches.

The English language is filled with cliches. You wouldn't have to search or think hard to come up with a cliché on any kind of topic or subject matter.

Just a few that come to mind are:

  • Time will tell
  • As old as the hills
  • Without a care in the world
  • Has nerves of steel
  • All that glitters is gold
  • You can't judge a book by its cover
  • The grass is always greener on the other side

These are just a few examples. I don't know if anyone has ever counted them up, but my guess is there are literally thousands.

The term itself is French and comes from the early days of the printing press. Cast iron plates were used to print words, phrases, and images on paper.

The noise the plates made sounded like a click, or cliché.

Because the click happened so frequently, the term cliché eventually came to mean a word or phrase that gets repeated.

In writing, cliches are so overused that they have very little meaning.

And that, Dear Writer, is a problem because when you are trying to persuade a prospect to make a purchase, you want every passage of copy you write to be meaningful.

Remember, prospects buy with emotion and use logic to help them justify their decision.

As I mentioned earlier, there are thousands of cliches in the English language, which makes it easy to slip into a habit of using them.

But there's an easy cure.

If you find yourself using cliches, the best way to not do it is to simply take a few minutes to rewrite the sentence using new words in their place.

Eventually, your writing will be free of cliches. And the minute you see one, you'll know to immediately replace it.

Repetition, big vocabulary words, exclamation marks, and cliches represent a small fraction of the writing pet peeves that exist. And I'll bet that every writer has their own list.

The thing to keep in mind is that you want your writing to be clear, concise, and persuasive. So, avoid pet peeves altogether because as a copywriter, your job is to turn a curious prospect into a happy customer.

The AWAI Method™

The AWAI Method™ for Becoming a Skilled, In-Demand Copywriter

The AWAI Method™ combines the most up-to-date strategies, insights, and teaching methods with the tried-and-true copywriting fundamentals so you can take on ANY project — not just sales letters. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: March 18, 2024

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)