5 Elements of Can’t Miss Copy

Whether for the Web, direct mail, a feature article, or an advertising campaign, I believe all effective copy shares certain characteristics or elements.

What are they? I offer my five must-haves below.

These aren’t new. The first three come from direct-response copywriting legend Herschel Gordon Lewis. Lewis grouped them under what he called The Umbrella Rule. “Your copy must succeed if it has these three ingredients,” he wrote.

With some additional inspiration from William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (The Elements of Style), I offer the final two to round out my five elements of can’t miss copy.

1. Clarity

I was discussing copywriting recently with a writer friend who was in the process of completing a Q&A. We agreed that clarity trumps all. To the question, if there’s one secret to writing effective copy, it is … , he answered, “Clarity. Without clarity no one understands the copy, its purpose, or its value.”

2. Benefit

A famous quote of English author Samuel Johnson bears repeating: “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.” Of course, “large promise” can apply to any written communication, not just ads.

3. Credibility

In this age of skepticism, copy must ring true to win hearts and minds. That includes writing with authority and supporting ideas and claims with facts and expert opinions.

4. Simplicity

I borrowed this one from Strunk and White. Simple words and sentences are easy on readers and aid comprehension. Simplicity and clarity go hand in hand.

5. Tone

Lastly, striking the proper tone is of great importance. Tone has been described as mood. Let the particular communication, audience and purpose be your guide. In creative briefs I’ve used, suggested options have included hard-hitting/serious, informative/educational, scholarly, formal, casual, humorous/irreverent and more.

These five elements will ensure that your copy connects with readers and persuades them to take action.


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