Copywriting Curiosities
  The writing tips your English teacher forgot to give you... May 2004  

For the Bookshelf

Recommendations from E.T. Robbins

The lazy, hazy days of summer are almost here. Need some good beach reading? Here are three of my favorites. Two have to do with writing (Bob Bly's book is the one every copywriter should have) and the other is just pure fun.

"The Copywriter's Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells" by Robert W. Bly. This book is my bible. It's always within reach. Bly confirms my "conversational style" theory.

"Escaping Into The Open: The Art Of Writing True" by Elizabeth Berg. Thanks to Candy O'Terry for getting me an autographed copy of this excellent and inspiring book on writing. You know the people who say you can't have success overnight? Well, Berg is the exception. And unlike many writers, she actually ENJOYS writing. Go figure.

"The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown. Okay, the writing is sometimes stiff and the dialogue a bit contrived, but I COULDN'T PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. And I'm still obsessing with his claims and the controversy surrounding them. A great read for anyone who likes history, mystery, and a good conspiracy theory.

Shameless Plug Alert: Check out my article on wedding gowns in a supplement to The Boston Globe Magazine on June 13th. Or click here for more articles on my website.


A conversational style is the most effective form of copywriting (I'd argue that it's the most effective form of ANY writing, but that's a subject for a different newsletter). Why is it so effective? Simple. Your reader doesn't have to struggle to understand the message. This "brain comfort" is important when you consider all the different messages vying for our attention every day.

Just because it ultimately sounds simple, though, doesn't mean it's easy to write. Having a conversational "voice" takes practice. And it often means breaking the conventional rules of English grammar (of course, I DO advocate learning the proper rules before breaking them). Here are five tips to keep in mind.

  • #1 Use Contractions
  •    Remember, it's all about your reader. You'll grab 'em faster, and they're more likely to consider your message if it's delivered in a conversational tone (think one friend talking to another). See how many contractions I used in the above sentence? We talk in contractions, so it makes sense to write with them (they're also great when you have a strict word count).

  • #2 Start Sentences with "And" or "But"
  •    I know you English teachers are cringing. But since we start sentences in real-life conversations with 'and' or 'but,' we need to do the same in our conversational writing. It'll make the writing sound more authentic. And that's the goal, right?

  • #3 End Sentences with Prepositions
  •    Ending sentences with prepositions is one thing most copywriters can agree on. See? It's much more awkward to say, "Ending sentences with prepositions is something on which most writers can agree."

  • #4 Keep Sentences Short 'n Punchy
  •    One of my editors wants me to keep my leads to 16 words or less. Most conversational sentences should be even shorter than that. Less is more. Really.

  • #5 When In Doubt, Talk It Out
  •    Aren't sure how to say something in a conversational way? Pretend you're talking to your best friend. Then say what you want to say out loud. Now, write it that way. It really is as simple as that.

    The nice thing about learning to write in a conversational style is that it translates nicely to every medium -- from websites to fiction to emails to love letters. Learn this art form and keep your readers spellbound every time.

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