What Are You Really Trying To Say?

by Raydal
9 replies
Writing is a strange art.

We have ideas in our heads and must first communicate those ideas
in writing so that (hopefully) our original thoughts will end up
in the reader’s head. Scary, huh? Only if there was a short-cut
to this process so we didn’t have to communicate in the first
place—telepathy?

At least most husbands I know wish so.

I mentioned this process of communication because a lot of what
is called copywriting involves selling an idea. But what I
discovered while reviewing a lot of my coaching students sales
letters is that the idea gets lost in the writing process. I then
have to dig through a lot of words to get the idea beneath
them—if it even exist.

One of the most important aspects of any sales letter writing is
clarity. That’s why I suggest to my students that they write out
in a simple ‘thesis’ sentence--what they are trying to say BEFORE
they actually say it.

I’ve taken a speed reading course in college. The real essence
of this skill is picking out the kernels of ideas from the
bushels of words. We really don’t need words if you can
communicate ideas. So if you can quickly look over a paragraph
for the main idea, (which is normally expressed in the topic
sentence) then you can quickly move on to the next paragraph.

As a copywriter, it’s easy to get caught up in all the parts of
the sales letter and miss the most important goal—“what are you
really trying to say?” If the reader cannot determine this very
early on, then you’ll confuse him and drain his patience. A
prospect reading an advertisement is not very patient, nor wants
to work hard at deciphering your words.

Now there are two levels of clarity as I see it: There’s the
micro-level and the macro-level.

At the micro-level you can add clarity to your writing by using
short sentences expressing simple ideas, using familiar words and
even appealing to the experiences of your readers. The use of
active instead of passive verbs and making your writing
conversational all add to reader comprehension.

On the macro-level, you are looking at the logical flow of the
ideas expressed in each paragraph and how to move towards a
certain goal. The familiar AIDA also gives a tried and true
order for presenting your sales pitch just as public speakers use
PREP--Position, Reason, Example, Position. The speaker first
states his position, and then gives reasons for that position
followed by a supporting example, and finally restates his
position.

Of course even if your macro-level clarity is intact but the
sentences are clumsily written your sales letter will still
suffer. While the ordering of ideas is easy to come by, most
writers still struggle with expressing ideas in simple
sentences.

And ‘simple’ doesn’t mean short. A sentence can be short in
length but mentally tedious because of the number of ideas it is
trying to express at the same time. Poets are experts at
expressing grand ideas in the most succinct form. But your copy
doesn’t have to read like poetry to accomplish the same goal.

The ‘not’ construction, for example, can often lead to
confusion. Consider the statement, “The sales letter was not
without its shortcomings
.” Does this mean that the sales letter
had shortcomings or not? Was it good or bad? This
double-negative can better be expressed as a positive: “The sales
letter had shortcomings.


I would recommend that every copywriter should own at least one
book on editing. An editor’s job is not just to correct grammar
and spelling but to ensure clarity. Brushing up on your own
editing skills will also help your sales letter writing.

(Caveat: The more ‘rules’ of editing you learn, the slower your
writing can become. Do not allow the editor in your head to slow
down your free flow of thoughts. Write first; edit later.)

In the final analysis, if your message is not understood then your
sales would suffer. I can’t begin to tell you the number of
“sales”-letters that I read through and the one question left in
my mind was, “What are you really selling?”

If you cannot give me the answer to that question in a few short
sentences I doubt you’ll be able to in a million. So be sure to
have the few short sentences written down before you attempt the
million.
-----------

[I’ve challenged myself to take my own advice and give the thesis
sentences for this article. They are, (1) Communication only
takes place when our ideas are understood by us as by our
readers, (2) Clarity is derived from two levels: sentences and
idea flow. (3) Editing skills are important for copywriters to
learn.

If you missed any of those ideas after reading the article then I
failed.]

-Ray Edwards
  • Profile picture of the author Copydog
    One of the most important aspects of any sales letter writing is
    clarity. That's why I suggest to my students that they write out
    in a simple 'thesis' sentence--what they are trying to say BEFORE
    they actually say it.
    Great point, Ray.

    If we're unclear in our OWN mind about the route
    we're taking, how can our READERS know where
    they're going?

    Kind regards

    Eldo
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    • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
      Ray,

      What you've written is so true.

      I'd like to add two points, one of which I learned when I was teaching college-level English comp and the other one which doesn't apply in the world of college English but does in our kind of writing.

      1)Transition words - "and," "at the same time," "however," "afterwards," etc. - are a very important tool for keeping a skimmer on track.

      2)The other very important tool for keeping a skimmer oriented is subheads. Someone who reads only your subheads should be able to glean the main points of your copy or article.

      Keep those insights coming, Ray!

      Marcia Yudkin
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      Check out Marcia Yudkin's No-Hype Marketing Academy for courses on copywriting, publicity, infomarketing, marketing plans, naming, and branding - not to mention the popular "Marketing for Introverts" course.
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      • Profile picture of the author Raydal
        Originally Posted by marciayudkin View Post

        Ray,

        What you've written is so true.

        I'd like to add two points, one of which I learned when I was teaching college-level English comp and the other one which doesn't apply in the world of college English but does in our kind of writing.

        1)Transition words - "and," "at the same time," "however," "afterwards," etc. - are a very important tool for keeping a skimmer on track.

        2)The other very important tool for keeping a skimmer oriented is subheads. Someone who reads only your subheads should be able to glean the main points of your copy or article.

        Keep those insights coming, Ray!

        Marcia Yudkin
        I don't believe this! You read my mind.

        As I completed the article I thought that I should mention something
        about transitions but didn't want to make the article too involved.

        But for sure transitional words from paragraph to paragraph will
        help to stitch ideas together in that logical flow.

        About to prove a point? For instance, for example, let's say ...

        Adding some pressure? What's more, Beyond this, In fact, ...

        Changing directions? Yet, however, instead, then again,

        Showing results? Hence, so, as a result, accordingly, ...

        Sometimes while reviewing copy I've written I'll edit the
        beginning of each paragraph to make sure they are connected to the
        previous one with the appropriate transitional words.

        Thanks Marcia,

        -Ray Edwards
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        The most powerful and concentrated copywriting training online today bar none! Autoresponder Writing Email SECRETS
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  • Profile picture of the author Mr. Enthusiastic
    Ray, this is a brilliant post and should be made a sticky for the Copywriting forum.

    Chris
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    • Profile picture of the author Raydal
      Originally Posted by Mr. Enthusiastic View Post

      Ray, this is a brilliant post and should be made a sticky for the Copywriting forum.

      Chris
      Hey Chris,

      I was the one who called out the moderators to reduce the
      number of stickies on this forum because the list was growing
      too fast. So I doubt this will make it to stickie status.

      Thanks for the vote though.

      -Ray Edwards
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      The most powerful and concentrated copywriting training online today bar none! Autoresponder Writing Email SECRETS
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  • Profile picture of the author CianMcCarthy
    Banned
    Excellent post, will use it for all a lot of campaigns
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    • Profile picture of the author Irish Intuition
      This forum is a treasure chest. Thank you Ray for taking the time to write this. I would give you a thanks but I do not see the button.

      I will mark you down as a guy who knows his business

      thanks
      Signature




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      • Profile picture of the author Raydal
        Originally Posted by IM Viper View Post

        This forum is a treasure chest. Thank you Ray for taking the time to write this. I would give you a thanks but I do not see the button.

        I will mark you down as a guy who knows his business

        thanks
        Thanks for the kind words.

        I critique all the copy written by my coaching students and one of the
        first tasks I require is that they tell me which FORMULA (eg. AIDA)
        they are using and give a rough outline of the copy.

        When I first started writing copy I would do an outline as I would
        when writing an essay in school.

        Introduction: ----

        Point 1, Supporting arguments etc..

        Point 2, Supporting arguments etc..

        Point 3, Supporting arguments etc..

        Point 4, Supporting arguments etc..

        Conclusion: -----

        I'm convinced that many copywriters don't bother to go
        through this planning stage because often the ideas in
        the letters don't flow.

        If the headline idea doesn't flow smoothly into the subhead
        and then the opening paragraph then you'll confuse the
        reader.

        Then your letter must fits together and persuades the reader taking
        action. For example, I find this outline to be very effective
        for selling to the IM crowd:

        1. Make a promise
        2. Give a reason why
        3. Tell a story to build the credibility of the product creator
        4. Introduce product and list benefits
        5. Price Presentation
        5. Call to action

        I name it REF. It has never failed me before.

        -Ray Edwards
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        The most powerful and concentrated copywriting training online today bar none! Autoresponder Writing Email SECRETS
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