Table of contents
- Preparing for work and a career in copywriting
- Types of copywriting
- SEO copywriting (extended)
- Writing for blogs
- Perfecting a press release
- Proofing and editing
- Common mistakes, forgotten rules and words to avoid
- Rules every copywriter needs to know
- Tips on hiring a freelance copywriter
This copywriting guide has been compiled to serve copywriters starting out in their careers. I doubt that an experienced copywriter reading this guide will gain much in the way of knowledge — although it might help to refresh a forgotten rule or memory.
It might also be useful for companies that are looking to hire copywriters. It will help them to understand what kind of work a copywriter will expect to carry out, what experience should be sought and what skills a copywriter will be able to bring to a company.
Most of what is written in the following come almost entirely from experience, and it is in no way an “ultimate guide to copywriting”, as few things can be the ultimate guide to anything.
But it should help those wanting to know a little more about a niche and mostly unknown job.
What is copywriting?
Contrary to what some people might assume, copywriting has nothing to do with copyright laws.
At its most basic level, copywriting is the creation of words meant for public consumption. Traditionally copywriters wrote, and still do write, for advertisements vaguely similar to what you might see on episodes of Mad Men.
Since it was worked out that money could be made on the internet, however, the average copywriter will partake in a variety of tasks and write for a variety of reasons, whether for direct advertising or not — although it does mostly root back to that.
Generally speaking, there is no precise definition of what a copywriter does, but you could argue that there are two kinds of copywriter:
- A content writer will write to inform
- A traditional copywriter will write to advertise
Both of these roles can work in offline and online fields — although the former does generally tend to work on the internet.
So what does a copywriter actually do?
As stated in the above, a copywriter creates words, often at an agency of some description, for clients of said agency, with the end result often — but not always — being lent to some sort of marketing campaign.
A typical writing day might consist of creating a guide, a news article, a blog, or ‘copy’ for the pages of a website. Depending on the task at hand, the copywriter might do this several times during a day, and for a variety of clients.
This requires a copywriter to write in a range of different styles and voices; the work may be tailored to a specific age range or gender, the client may want the copy to appeal to a certain socio-economic group, or towards people with certain interests.
Typically a copywriter will create using an objective voice, and one that is largely stripped of opinion or humour — depending.
The majority of the time, a copywriter will never have their name attributed to any of their work.
All of this may seem rather stale and regimented, but a copywriter of decent calibre will be able to work on a variety of different projects, products and clients, ranging from some of the smallest in the world, through to the very largest.
Some copywriters don’t work for clients at all, as they work ‘in-house’, i.e. for a company, corporation or media outlet that hires someone to create its own copywriting.
This has both its advantages and disadvantages. In-house work comes with a more generous salary, and the perks can be greater ranging, but the work, as you can imagine, will be oriented totally around one company and industry.
This can be great if you work for top brands like Coca-Cola, Porsche, or Spotify — but not so much if your company manufactures toilet rolls or bathroom supplies.
What a copywriter can do outside of writing
Although the bulk of a copywriter’s day might consist of writing, there are a variety of tasks to perform, both pre and post copy.
If a copywriter happens to be writing on large campaigns, it is not uncommon for them to attend ideas meetings or briefings where plans are created for future work.
From here it is likely the job of the copywriter to research chosen topics brought up within these meetings. This may happen on a daily basis, depending on what they are writing, and will always happen upon the introduction of a new client.
Aside from proofing their own work, a copywriter might be asked to proof the writing of others. This could be from someone in their own team to anyone in the company, including their direct manager or CEO.
Proofing is often hard as the reader must be meticulous and unforgiving in their work — there is simply no room for mistake.
A copywriter might also be expected to source images for their work.
A lucky copywriter or creative team might have a large bank of photographs to work with, or their employer might have subscriptions to services such as Shutterstock. A copywriter who is not so well off might have to depend on royalty-free images from places such as Creative Commons.
It is also becoming increasingly common for a copywriter at an agency to partake in a variety of social media tasks and campaigns.
This might make sense within a small agency, as a copywriter tends to be creative, easy-going with words, and will have an educated opinion about what kind of media will be relevant to a particular audience.
Preparing for work and a career in copywriting
As with any profession, starting out can be a difficult task and could actually be the hardest one of a copywriter’s career.
In the beginning fledgeling copywriters often find themselves on internships or in work experience roles and are likely to partake in a lot of other free work.
The amount of free work a writer has to offer can depend on how prepared that person is come the day they start their career, which is more often than not at the end of university.
A degree is not strictly necessary
Although it can certainly help.
There aren’t really any full-time copywriting degrees available in the UK (websites claiming to be copywriting universities don’t count), but there are affiliated courses that often contain copywriting modules, which can help anyone looking to break into the field.
Many copywriters study highly related subjects such as journalism, English, and marketing.
Quite often, however, they won’t start their degree with copywriting in mind, as it is an interest that is usually picked up along the way.
I’ve also met copywriters that have studied philosophy, history, film production, and American Studies, so there’s always room for a change of heart during or straight out of university, even if your degree is unrelated.
The only time a person might struggle is when they receive a third-class degree, but even then, the majority of the time, experience usually holds greater weight than a degree, which is why it is a good idea to put experience before qualifications on a CV.
Even with one of the best degrees, it would be nigh on impossible to walk into a copywriting position with no formal experience.
That said however, this can be gained while at university itself, with many institutions offering opportunity for experience thanks to clubs, magazines and newspapers.
Additionally, the centre of opportunity for any budding copywriter would have to be the careers department. Here it is possible to gain advice, work experience, part-time work, and summer internships in practically any given field.
It is during these crucial stages of experience where a copywriter can do one very important thing; build a portfolio.
For those who find themselves unable to acquire a short position at a magazine or newspaper, worry not. You can choose to build up your own blog. Whether on WordPress or BlogSpot, find a relevant and unending topic that means something to you and write about it.
Building your portfolio
Copywriting examples are crucial for showing off your talent, whether it’s to gain more experience, or for heading into the world of work itself.
If you’re starting completely from scratch, as mentioned above, you could start your own blog or magazine, where you can put hard work into serious articles, and if possible, have them written in a variety of styles and personalities.
Another way is by approaching businesses from the cold air of the streets. This can be done fairly easily if you happen to know the owner of a company yourself.
Whether they are a friend, family member, or just a small business that you know really well, perhaps offer to write a free press release, brochure, or a little website copy.
You could even offer to write a couple of blog posts a month.
At the end of the day, you will be doing the company a favour and in the meantime, you will be building an archive of writing examples. It could even lead to something really great, like freelance work or contact with another company (for which you can charge a fee).
If you don’t happen to know any business owners, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with researching some start-up companies and hitting them up on the phone. Try and target businesses in multiple industries and don’t be put off if they don’t sound particularly “fun”.
Be honest, friendly, and offer to drop by to explain your position. The likelihood is that the majority of businesses will turn you away — but you only need one company to help grow your portfolio.
Some copywriters will print out a page of web copy from a company’s site and rewrite it, offering both versions in a face-to-face meeting.
It’s cheeky, but if you’re sure that you can do better than the last guy (that they probably paid for), it is definitely worth giving it a go.
Aside from creating your own website or blog, it’s also important to build a professional web presence.
Building your name online
As with any job in a digital market, it’s imperative for copywriters to have some sort of online presence, whether that’s through your own website, LinkedIn or a professional Twitter account.
Now more than ever, managers and business owners look to LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networks to check on the digital lives of applicants. Depending on how you behave and conduct yourself, this could go either way.
By creating a LinkedIn profile, it gives business owners the chance to view your professional and academic history, as well as the projects that you have taken part in, what companies you have written for, and at the end of the day — what kind of person you might be.
Aside from this, it also gives you the opportunity to connect with other copywriters, so you can see what kind of information they share, whether they publish their own LinkedIn posts, and what kind of work might be available in your locality.
You can also join special copywriting groups and forums, where copywriters of all levels get together and share experiences, ideas and opportunities.
As for Twitter, this is also a great place to get your name about, as many copywriters like to be quite consistent in their social media approach.
Although it won’t be quite as effective as LinkedIn, if an employer was to search and find a well-kept account of knowledgeable tweets, retweets, and articles, it could just give you the boost that you need.
If like many, you’ve been keeping a more adventurous Twitter account, one that’s likely stocked with party pictures from university or college, it might be best to switch it to private and start a new account entirely.
In fact, SALT has created a social profile checking tool for this very purpose.
Types of copywriting
Just as there are many different forms of marketing, there are also many types of copywriting.
Sometimes a copywriter in a particular job, often in-house, will embark on only a handful of different kinds of copywriting.
Others, who might work freelance or in a digital agency, will have to turn their hand to a wide range of different copywriting tasks, with each one often written in its own style and for its own purpose.
Below is a list of different kinds of copy that a copywriter might be expected to produce throughout their career.
By far one of the most well-known types of copywriting (largely thanks to what people see in films and on television), advertising copy is the writing of words in order to sell a product.
Although this might seem unexciting, quite a lot of creativity goes into advertising copy, whether on paper, the internet, or across billboards.
More than likely a copywriter in advertising will be tasked with creating memorable slogans, taglines and headlines. A great deal of work will go into just five to ten words, which may sound easy, but the pressure of these situations can be intense.
Incidentally, before the release of Midnight’s Children, author Salmon Rushdie worked in this exact area of copywriting and came up with the slogans “Irresistibubble” for Aero, “Naughty but Nice” for ice cream cakes and “That’ll do nicely” for American Express.
Quite often a copywriter in this field will work heavily with members of the design team or art director to develop ideas in order to create a catchy and memorable advertisement.
As you can imagine, it is important for copywriters within this field to be highly creative and they must be able to come up with ideas in pressured environments, as at the end of the day, it is actually quite difficult to try and get someone to buy something that they don’t necessarily want or need.
If you want to know how to write for advertising, the father of creative copywriting, sometimes known as the original Mad Man, David Ogilvy, wrote seven commandments to ensure that your writing sells. Check them out here.
As you can imagine, website copywriting involves the creation of words meant for website pages and blogs.
Here a copywriter may work in-house and could be employed to update the company website with new features, blogs and other media.
An agency copywriter might work for a web development, digital marketing, or SEO company and will more than likely work on a website that is in the early stages of creation.
Copywriters that work primarily with website copy tend to be specialised in this service and will know a tad more than just copy.
Often they will work around user experience and usability and will be aware of technical aspects including basic HTML, CSS and of course, SEO.
Again, a copywriter will be required to write in a certain tone of voice for each website that they work on.
They must also be highly mindful to the latest SEO tactics and follow search engine news — but this will be discussed below.
There are two aims that an SEO copywriter must achieve in modern SEO.
The first is that the copywriter must create appealing, interesting and engaging copy for the reader. The second is that it must also be beneficial for the website in terms of SEO, in that it must both perform and adhere to guidelines set out by search engines.
That said, SEO copywriting is hard to pin down, as some regard it as a different discipline to ordinary copywriting, but others feel that it works largely in the same way, which nowadays, it can do.
Unfortunately SEO has a questionable history when it comes to copywriting, as many years ago, the majority of SEO agencies created poor copy solely for the use of search engines. This copy would often be “stuffed” with keywords and a 500 word article or blog would be written in anything from 30 minutes to an hour (a process that would be repeated throughout the day).
The results of which would end in a poor level of copy production, despite working, for the purposes of SEO — for a while at least.
Since around 2011 however, Google and other search engines have implemented a range of algorithms that detect and punish websites with low quality, duplicate or manipulative copy.
This means that for over the past half a decade, SEO copywriters have moved away from low quality churn, and will instead focus on the target audience, by creating well-written, interesting and informative copy.
It is often said that the difference between a copywriter and a technical copywriter is that whereas a copywriter will persuade, a technical copywriter will instead explain.
But there is room for overlap.
Much of the time a technical copywriter will have to explain something in clear and concise language to an uninformed audience. Yet some of the time, they will have to write complex copy for clients who might just know more about the subject than themselves.
It is therefore important for a technical copywriter to be able to quickly research, understand, and explain any given subject in the fashion of an expert.
With this in mind, it is important for them to be able to consider and analyse any given point or suggestion without providing the audience the opportunity to voice criticism.
As with many forms of copywriting, a technical copywriter might be tasked with undertaking an array of projects and pieces including:
- Article production
- Website copy
- User manuals
- Technical guides
- Reports of any kind
For those considering a career in technical copywriting, it is important to understand that although there is still room for creativity and the opportunity to work on creative projects, that these might only be a small portion of the workload.
Another difference between a copywriter and a technical copywriter is the fact that a technical copywriter could be charged with a task that takes weeks or even months (which can be the case in regards to guides and whitepapers), and will not deviate from that work before the deadline is past.
A good technical copywriter should always be able to find work and can move throughout an array of industries. This rule can also apply to copywriters who choose to work in-house.
Although there will rarely be such a job role for an “email copywriter”, depending on the role of a copywriter, they might tasked with creating a multitude of emails.
These emails will largely consist of marketing and promotional material (hence, email marketing), although occasionally, a copywriter will have to write about things such as membership updates and news bulletins.
In some circles email copywriting is frowned upon, as many people associate it with the production of spam. Although this might sometimes be the case, it does not necessarily mean that email copywriting is easy.
In fact, it is exceptionally hard, as it is the objective of the copywriter to create writing that grabs the attention of the reader, sells whatever offer is inside, and converts that reader into a sale or new client.
More often than not, these emails are tracked by the client or agency, who will then analyse the amount of people who have opened the email, how long they spent reading it and whether or not they clicked on any links found within it.
This information may or may not be reported back to the copywriter— depending on how well or poorly the campaign has gone.
Bourn Creative in Sacramento, California, has a pretty great breakdown of how to create a compelling and successful marketing email.
Much like email copywriting, there is a need to catch the reader’s attention, make the content stand out, and inspire them into action.
Although the receiving end of email marketing largely consists of people who might not appreciate what is sent to them, press releases are sent to journalists, editors, magazines and newspapers — both online and offline.
Usually a copywriter who works for an agency would be promoting a news story, a creative campaign, or some research that their agency or client has conducted.
As much of the time, a great deal of work will have been involved in whatever the copywriter will be writing about (a creative campaign for example), it is important that every aspect of a press release is thoroughly scrutinised.
It is not unusual for a single press release, consisting of anywhere between 300 and 600 words, to have up to five or six hours spent on it.
Sometimes, it might also be the job of a copywriter to send the release to the desired publications. More often than not a copywriter will create a professional relationship with journalists and editors who have accepted and published releases in the past.
Usually they shall be provided with a bank of contacts that might be interested in a specific release. If they are lucky, a copywriter shall be able to access databases such as Gorkana, which also provides information on how certain journalists like to be contacted, and what times are best to send releases.
How to write a press release is featured later in the guide.
Much of the time a copywriter in radio will find themselves working in local radio stations where they will be writing for advertisements to be aired on the radio.
Like advertising copy, a radio advert will need to be easily understood, snappy, and have a core message that relates well with the target audience.
In the pre-production stages of writing, a copywriter must understand what is trying to be achieved on behalf of the client.
Quite often a story or plot will have to be incorporated into an ad, so it’s important that a radio copywriter is aware of how to create believable dialogues between characters.
Once that a script has been approved by the creative director, it shall then be sent off for recording in a studio.
SEO copywriting (extended)
As mentioned earlier in this guide, many people tend to think of normal copywriting and SEO copywriting as two separate fields. Although once upon a time (in and around the noughties), this might have been true, thanks to the decline in sloppy and questionable SEO tactics, the gap between them has now been largely filled — keyword research aside.
Words need to engage
That might sound obvious, but SEO is still moving away from a period of time where keyword stuffing and churn copywriting were the norm.
Nowadays, these kind of methods are indeed quite rare, but it’s still worth knowing what they are and why they should be avoided.
Modern SEO copywriting should be all about compelling content that will garner traffic and links. Whether the copywriting is to be placed on an interactive website, or a blog, the copy should still be worthy enough to increase trust and authority of the website.
Keywords should be naturally placed
Although they are not as crucial as they used to be, keywords are still important to SEO, but writing for humans is arguably more so.
Once keyword research has been conducted, it’s important to ensure that keywords are in the text, but only naturally so, and do not look strange or out of place to the human eye.
It is often considered a rule that if a reader can detect keyword manipulation, then so will Google and other search engines — so don’t try it.
If you can however, it’s worth placing a primary keyword (a core keyword that would represent the main purpose of a business) within the page title, and perhaps a secondary keyword in the introduction of a page or article.
But if you write well enough, it will probably be the case that keywords and even search terms will appear naturally within the text as you write, although it is worth keeping these things in check.
Articles and pages should contain links
When it comes to SEO copywriting, both inbound and outbound links are great, both for the reader and for SEO itself.
Outbound links will help support research and arguments within the text, and will provide a greater amount of depth for the reader. This should bode well with search algorithms as well, and may show that the content has been written to help users further explore a subject, should they wish.
As well as linking externally, if you happen to be writing a landing page or company blog, it might also be an idea to place a few internal links within the content.
This will better help users to navigate the website, establish an information hierarchy, and help spread page rank (or “link juice”, as it is sometimes referred to in the industry) around a website.
And while we’re on the subject, when it does come to linking through to other websites and pages, it is best to use up to four or five words per link (otherwise known as anchor text), instead of just one or two.
It’s always worth avoiding links that say “click here”, as it is deemed not descriptive enough for users, and you would also miss the opportunity to place a keyword within anchor text.
MOZ also has a pretty informative article on anchor text that is also worth checking out, as it explains anchor text best practice.
Encourage a call to action
Although you wouldn’t want to do this within all pieces of copy, such as when you’re writing news stories, it’s usually worth offering a Call To Action (CTA) at the end of a piece.
Not only will it add an acceptable conclusion to most blogs, it will also encourage readers to share or contact the website in which the content is hosted.
Typically a reader might want help, a problem solved, plain facts, or to save money. A CTA must resonate with the reader in regards to what they are searching for.
Actions such as “tell us what you think in the comments section” can also help discussions or debates on your article.
Look after your images
Images can be quite powerful in regards to getting extra traffic to a website. Personally, I like to use around two to three large images within 500-600 words of blog or article text.
Not only will the perfect image look great on a piece of content, but also, there are ways of making your website more discoverable by using them.
By implementing alt tags alongside a caption under a picture, you can make your content more accessible to screen readers and the images will be searchable in search engines.
It’s worth knowing that image filenames are also searchable in search engines, so try and keep it descriptive and in plain English:
Whereas the original image may have been given the filename “CLPUIMAGE1065.jpg”, it would be far better for search if it was named “leeds-canal-summer-calm.jpg”.
When it comes to providing images for products, try to think about how people will search for them and what patterns and variations are used.
It’s also worth considering file sizes in regards to images. Although large images are great, it’s worth keeping them below 2MB so that they do not slow page load times.
Google uses page load time as a ranking factor, and it’s important that a website doesn’t get bogged down with large image files.
Amazon for instance, found that if its pages slowed by a mere second, they lost $1.6 billion a year.
Writing for blogs
I have no doubt that a lot of people will want hints and tips on how to begin or write for their own blog.
That’s not what this chapter is about, but if you are interested in that kind of thing, this is a pretty great article to get you going.
This chapter will be centred on how to write for corporate blogs, as it is a task that will be given to the vast majority of copywriters at some point or another.
First things first
Whether you’re in-house and writing for your own company’s blog, or you are working for an agency or are freelance, the first thing you need to do is get a clear understanding of what the business does and what it’s trying to achieve with its blog.
This will of course vary between clients. Some will be happy with social shares, others will simply be pleased to have new and “exciting” content on their website.
A very few will want their blog to bring in cold hard sales. This can be tricky for a copywriter, as traditionally, they are not salespeople, and in my opinion, never should be.
But it is best to have a clear discussion with a client about what ideas they want to bring forward, what they expect the blog to achieve and what kind of brand voice they require.
Depending on the client, it is also worthwhile discussing subject matters that they would like to avoid, alongside the competitors that they have.
Although it is always an idea to take a look at competitor blogs (if only for idea generation itself), it is best to scope out nearest rivals to ensure that topics aren’t carbon copies.
Sales don’t belong in blogs
One thing that an agency or freelance copywriter should make clear, as partially mentioned above, is that blogs should not only not be about gaining sales, but they should never be about sales at all.
Because no one will care.
It might be an unfortunate thing from a business point of view, but the vast majority of people just don’t care about sales messages in blogs. If they want to know about that kind of thing, they’ll look for it elsewhere.
Corporate blogs should be about engaging with readers, providing them with useful information or solutions, and helping them throughout their daily lives.
By acting as a mentor and by becoming an authority, the blog will help generate leads for a business, increase traffic, and help the brand establish itself in an online space (if this is not already the case).
Acknowledge your tone
But don’t make it too corporate.
A business will always want to keep a similar tone within a blog to the rest of their website, which is fine to an extent, but a blog requires character and characters.
As said before, a blog needs to engage its readers and it can do this by alleviating business tones and making the blog more conversational.
Readers need to feel confident that they are reading the words of a person, not a faceless company.
Some companies will task their employees to write their own blogs, often featuring guides and tips about subjects within their own skillset, and this is a great opportunity to involve a range of tones, voices and styles, and as mentioned before — characters.
Having multiple authors on a blog is important for a website that wants to get featured within Google News, which requires author biographies, accessible contact information and phone numbers.
Keep up to date
There’s nothing worse than a business blog that has really good posts, but either publishes about one per month, or hasn’t done so for about half a year.
Keeping up ideas is therefore important, and when it comes to idea generation, after writing for a blog for a year or so, things can sometimes get a little tough.
If you find your well drying up, it might be worth calling a creative meeting to see where the blog can go next.
Even if people don’t usually contribute, they’ll likely have ideas that are either outside of the box or that they have been keeping to themselves (probably out of fear of having to write them).
You can also source ideas by creating email alerts for your given area or industry in Gmail.
Otherwise, you’re more than likely to find interesting stories in Google News, industry magazines, and everyday places like Twitter and even Facebook.
Perfecting a press release
For copywriters within marketing agencies, writing press releases for clients will be a major part of working life.
They are a crucial tool that enables small businesses a chance to get their news, research, and marketing into big newspapers.
All press releases, no matter their size, deserve large amounts of care, attention, and time devoted to them in order to be picked up by journalists.
But where do you start with a press release?
Make sure it matters
Before you even begin, it’s crucial that the release you are about to write is actually worth reading.
Is it interesting?
The best press releases will contain stories that are irregular, which has original research or data within it, or has some information that can help solve a problem.
Either way, a press release will need an angle to get the attention of not only the journalist or editor that it is sent to, but also anyone else involved in the publishing process before a readership is even thought about.
For example, I once worked with a client that had an online clothing shop.
Looking through the sales data, we were able to find that different areas of the country bought certain colours of clothing that was unique to them.
So, people in Leeds largely bought one colour of clothing, those in Cardiff bought another colour, and so on and so forth.
Is that newsworthy?
But when we thought about it, and looked deeper, we were able to find that overall, the majority of the colours that people bought aligned very closely with local football teams — regardless of whether the items bought were sports related.
People in Newcastle largely bought striped shirts, blue jumpers were more popular in Leicester, and in Nottingham, red vests were the fashion.
This gave us a news story, and what made it even more interesting were the locations where multiple football teams clashed, such as Manchester and Liverpool. Which was the bigger team when it came to fashion?
Work on your headline
When it comes to a press release, the headline is everything.
It’s also what is usually used in the email subject line.
Even if you have the best story, data, or exclusive, if you duff your headline, the rest of the release might as well be written in mud, because no one will ever read it.
A journalist at a top publication might get in excess of a hundred press releases a day, so yours needs to stand out.
Some people spend as much time crafting a headline as they do on the rest of the press release, and depending on how important that release might be, I would argue that this is absolutely acceptable in some cases.
Journalists will take only a second or two to decide on whether they should open an email or ignore it.
A headline should also be honest and convey the “hook” of the story without being too clever. If a journalist can’t understand what the story is about from the subject line, they will simply move on to the next email.
For these very reasons it is also important that your first line is equally as gripping. Like all forms of writing, you need to be able to propel the reader onto the next part.
In no more than 20 words, the first line of your press release should adequately summarise the rest of the release, just like a news story will.
Use quotes accordingly
If you happen to have a few quotes knocking about, which will probably be the case, use them to provide insight into the story.
A quote should not tell the journalist about the story itself, but merely give it greater meaning, depth, or opinion.
Like all else, it’s also integral that quotes should not contain technical information, industry terms, or other such jargon that the average person will either not care about nor understand.
Usually a quote will appear in the third paragraph of a press release.
Keep it simple
When it comes to press releases, the writing style should be plain and simple.
It’s best to keep a sentence under 25 words in order to keep things punchy — lengthy explanations are not required.
If a journalist requires more information or media (images), then they shall either email or ring the sender.
When deciding on whether to attach photographs, you would need to think about their context within the story.
If you think it is worth it, add them as attachments and write a caption to each as a form of explanation. Especially if those pictures contain people.
Otherwise you can add the fact that you have photographs available in the “note to editors” section of the press release.
Contact journalists appropriately
Once you have written and proofed your press release, it’s time to send it.
Like any other email, you wouldn’t just send a press release without also providing a little information about yourself and why you’re getting in touch.
Write at least two lines of information between “Hi…” and “All the best…” explaining why you think this press release would suit the journalist or publication that you are writing to.
If you know that a particular journalist has written on the subject or something similar before, there’s nothing wrong with mentioning that in the email. Many journalists will appreciate it.
Once that’s written, you’re free to paste the release below.
Never attach it as a document and never ever as a PDF.
Pasting it is fine.
It’s best to contact journalists very early in the morning. Before 9am is ideal.
There’s nothing unusual about an outreach or content team heading to work around 7:30 to ensure that their press release hits the inboxes before all the others.
Many teams will also have email tracking installed in their emails so that they can see who is opening them.
This is a good bit of kit to have as it allows you to make a note of which publication to watch out for or to contact in the future.
After 12pm many outreach teams will then start phoning journalists to see if they have received or read the emails sent in the morning.
Some journalists will be appreciative of a little nudge.
Others will not.
If you have access to Gorkana, a lot of journalists will state whether they want to be rung in regards to press releases.
When you are lucky enough for your press release to be published, it’s not unusual for the newspaper or magazine not to contact whoever sent it.
Most of the time you can check whether something has been released via Google News.
Once a journalist does publish your press release, they might be more open to following ones, so keep them in mind the next time that you have something to send out.
It’s also worth thanking them.
Proofing and editing
Whether its proofing your own work, or the work of another, there’s no doubt that a great proportion of a copywriter’s time will consist of reading and amending.
There are many tried and tested techniques when it comes to proofing and editing but at the end of the day, it is often what works best for the copywriter themselves.
With that in mind, here are some of the most used tips and techniques in proofing and editing, from judging the quality of your own work, to going about judging the quality of another.
Proofreading your own work
When it comes to proofreading your own work, even the best copywriters can struggle to ensure that every mistake and erroneous repetition is erased from their work.
In an ideal situation, a copywriter will have a writing and proofing partner who will proof their work and vice versa. It’s not unusual for entire teams to proof each other’s work.
Often, the reason for this is when a person has invested hours on a piece of writing, they form a connection with their work and, not entirely because of their ego, they find it hard to pick out the faults that a true critic would recognise.
If you happen to work in an environment where it is required that you proofread your own writing however, there are certain techniques that you can use to help you pick up on your own mistakes.
It’s important to edit first, making sure to make revisions to the content and the language. Once this is complete, you can proofread to check for proper grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Before you undergo a solid proof, it’s important that you run simple spelling and error checks to get the obvious mistakes out of the way. This should also be done at the end of the proof.
Do not rely on the computer software’s grammar checker under any circumstances.
But once you start:
- If you’re not working to the tightest of deadlines, try and give yourself a couple of hours (some copywriters take a day), in between writing and proofing. This should help your mind clear itself from the subject before you return to it.
- Print your work off. You read differently on paper than you do onscreen. Many top copywriters will use this technique to spot subtle of mistakes.
- If you do happen to print off your work, use a ruler or another piece of paper to work your way down.
- As you read, pronounce each and every word as you go, and do it slowly. If you’re brave enough, read aloud. After proofing an exceedingly long document it’s tempting to skip through the last few lines — but that’s dangerous, and it’s a no-no.
- Once you have read your work forwards, go over it again, but do it backwords. This will present each word out of context. It will help you to avoid skipping over errors, which your brain will wilfully do when reading forwards.
- As well as proofing the text (and the headlines and footnotes), remember to also proof any quotes that might be in the work. It’s easy to think that there will be no errors within quotes themselves, but it’s always worth checking.
- If you happen to be proofreading long pieces, there’s nothing wrong with breaking up the work as long as you don’t have a nearing deadline.
Proofing the work of another
The techniques of proofing someone else’s work will be largely similar to proofing your own, but there are of course certain considerations to be taken into account.
Although mistakes should never be overlooked or left unchecked, it is important to consider the feelings of another when proofing and editing their work.
For instance, if you find a weak conclusion that doesn’t actually contain mistakes, but you feel that it should be improved upon, it’s important that you are able to clearly explain why, while at the same time, providing suggestions and alternatives.
Common mistakes, forgotten rules and words to avoid
As stated in the introduction, this chapter is likely to be of little use to seasoned copywriters unless they are searching for the occasional reminder or a brush up on an easily forgettable rule.
This chapter is best suited for people who are looking to get into a copywriting role, or for someone who might be tasked with the occasional responsibility of writing a company blog.
Neither is this list complete. It consists only of common mistakes that a copywriter will find either in his own work (it can happen), or that of another.
To most copywriters or linguists, the following list shall seem very basic. And I can’t deny that it is. It does not contain any mention of things such as participles or auxiliary verbs.
No, this is merely a handy guide for common mistakes and rules to think about when writing:
Affect & effect
Using the word affect correctly is something that most of us will learn in school. It is also something that after school, a lot of people have difficulty applying in real life.
The basic difference between affect and effect is that the former is commonly used as a verb, as it is used to influence or make a difference upon something else. For example:
“The way that Michael stabbed Boris in the back affected Boris deeply.”
“A week later, Boris came back into office, which affected Michael’s self-worth.”
And so on.
The word effect however, is used as both a noun and a verb, which can confuse things. But as a noun effect means ‘a result or influence’ has occurred. For example:
“The effects of Michael’s betrayal have been well documented in the media.”
“Boris’ new appointment had a great effect on his already large ego.”
Used as a noun, effect means to ‘bring something about’ and is used in formal contexts. For example:
“Boris struggled to effect a change in relations with several countries across the world.”
“It was up to someone else to effect a reconciliation between Boris and Michael.”
It has become quite common for people to write as to in articles and blogs. These two words are usually found in the phrase “as to whether”.
Aside from pushing up the doc count by two words, I cannot (at the moment) think of any reasons why as to should feature in any piece of writing. For example:
“It is not known as to whether the legislation will have any effect on schools.”
“It is not known whether the legislation will have any effect on schools”
Both sentences read well although the second is far snappier than the first and is able to convey the same meaning with less words.
I would therefore argue that as to is redundant in the majority of cases.
It goes without saying that the true meaning of decimate is known by some, but not by many.
I dare say that the word can be used as a synonym of destroy or annihilate in the majority of cases, as this is now its modern usage.
But you will always get one clever dick who is all too willing to take time (theirs and yours) to explain the true meaning of decimate in some form of comment.
That is worth avoiding at all costs.
The true meaning of decimate is to kill or destroy one in every ten. Its origin is historical and found in ancient Rome.
Fewer or less?
Unlike affect and effect, which can become quite confusing, the rule between fewer and less is quite straightforward and is easily rememberable.
The word fewer should be used when entities are countable. Such as books and socks. For example:
“Barry had fewer books after the bonfire.”
The word less should be used when entities are not countable. Such as water or sand. For example:
“Barry had less water in his bucket after dropping it on the dog.”
You should also use less for singular nouns and fewer for plural nouns.
Which or that?
In some cases in the English language, which and that are interchangeable. This is because much of the time both words introduce a restrictive relative clause. This kind of clause provides essential information after a noun. For example:
“Thomas held out the foot that was hurt.”
A restrictive relative clause can be introduced by which, that, whose, who, or whom.
There is also something known as a non-restrictive clause that provides extra information within a sentence. If that information was to be left out, it would not change the structure of the sentence.
It is in this instance where a non-restrictive clause should be introduced by that, although which, whose, who or whom is okay. For example:
“Emma accidentally ran over Thomas’ foot, which was always something that she had wanted to do.”
A non-restrictive clause should be preceded by a comma, whereas a comma should not precede a restrictive clause.
A minor complaint, but the word whilst is a word that many companies and publications do not use.
The primary reason for this is that whilst is viewed as archaic and literary. What’s more, the word does not read well with American audiences. Especially on the internet.
For these reasons it is best to use the word while and banish whilst altogether.
In the majority of cases when using the phrase off of, the word of can be discounted altogether. Although this is nothing too serious, as it appears quite regularly in speech and in writing, I would always argue for of to be deleted. For example:
“The puppy fell off of the building.”
“The puppy fell off the building.”
In both cases we are aware that the puppy has fallen from the building. The word of only serves to extend the sentence and is therefore useless.
Rules every copywriter needs to know
Apostrophes and possessive nouns
Although most people know how to use apostrophes, they can give writers a pause for thought when forming possessives.
Generally, the possessive of a singular noun is formed by the adding of an apostrophe and s. This occurs whether the singular noun ends in s or not. For example:
“It is anyone’s guess.”
This is changed when the possessive of a plural noun is formed. For example:
“They went to the Jones’ beach house.”
As you might know, an apostrophe and s is never used to denote plurals.
Everyone knows how to use bullet points. But do you know when to use a full stop when using them?
A list of bullet points is usually introduced by a full sentence followed by a colon.
Bullet points that carry sentences should have full stops to close them:
- This is bullet point one.
- This is bullet point two.
- This is bullet point three.
And so on.
If you just happen to be listing points or something else, there is no need for full stops:
- Point one
- Point two
- Point three
You can also use a full stop if the bullet points complete the introductory sentence. For example, I like listening to music because it:
- Helps me concentrate on work.
- Keeps me happy while in the office.
- Distracts me from how noisy phones are.
When a list is introduced by a full sentence, it is also important that each bullet point begins with a capital letter.
In the majority of cases, people will know when to capitalise a letter. At the beginning of a sentence, when writing a person’s name, or when writing about a place.
But what if you are writing about the Government?
Should this be capitalised?
This is something that can make even the most seasoned copywriter stop and think. But yes, in that case, we are referring to a title. So a particular government and not one in general, as in “government departments” or “previous governments”.
It was also once common to capitalise every main word in a title, but this is no longer the case.
Nowadays it is acceptable to only capitalise the first word of a title, or if it contains the name of a place, person, organisation, month, day or significant date (Mother’s Day).
En dash, em dash, hyphen
Confusion between the en dash, em dash, and the hyphen is quite common. Mistakes between them can be found regularly online.
The em dash is the longest of the three (—), the en dash is slightly narrower (–), and the hyphen is three times shorter than the first (-).
Em dashes are used to set apart clauses or parentheses within a sentence. A copywriter might chose to use them to create a pause with the intention of creating a greater impact than a comma or parentheses. For example:
“Fred returned with his guitar — only hours after breaking it — to play the festival that he had been booked for.”
An em dash can also replace parentheses at the end of a sentence. For example:
“Fred played his heart out to the few festival goers in attendance — as usual.”
The en dash is probably the most neglected dash out of the three, as it is often replaced with a hyphen or parentheses.
It is quite commonly used to show range (40–50), or stand in for the word versus. For example:
“The Newcastle–Leicester match ended in a win for the home team.”
Destinations are also connected by the en dash. For example.
“The Liverpool–Dublin flight”
The hyphen is more often used for compound terms such as “eye-opener” or in a compound adjective such as “state-of-the-art”.
I.e. vs. e.g.
The difference between i.e. (id est) and e.g. (exempli gratia) is remarkably straightforward, though it is something that many people tend to get wrong.
We use e.g. when we are looking to give one or more examples. We use i.e. when we are looking to clarify something. For example:
“After work, I’ll go to a bar to de-stress, i.e., The Huntsman.”
“After work, I’ll go to a bar to drown my sorrows e.g., The Huntsman or One Eyed Bear.”
So in the first example, we know that someone is going to a specific bar. In the second example we know that there is a choice of bars on offer.
Another common but easily fixed mistake is the writing of numbers. Generally a number is written out if it takes up less than two words. But most write only up to nine.
Anything above that is usually written in numerals.
Some people also prefer to write out numbers when it comes to less exact figures, especially those in the millions. For example, thirty million.
Personally however, I think it’s fair to write 30 million in most cases. If you happen to be writing for a publication, there might be a specific rule concerning this, so it’s always worth asking.
Whichever rule you abide by however, it must be consistent throughout an entire document.
There’s a lot of fuss over the Oxford comma, or serial comma, if you happen to be American.
So much so that the very lovely Vampire Weekend even wrote a song about it (although Ezra Koenig has since gone on record to say that the song is more about “not giving a fuck” than it is about the Oxford comma).
Quite simply, the Oxford comma is the final comma used at the end of a list of things. For example:
“Michael packed socks, toiletries, underwear, long johns, and magazines into his bag.”
The aforementioned fuss comes along because whether a publication or business uses an Oxford comma is largely stylistic.
There’s no set rule one way or the other.
But a list without an Oxford comma can sometimes cause confusion. For example:
“Michael loved his parents, Barry and Thomas.”
Here, Michael’s parents are Barry and Thomas. But with an Oxford comma the sentence reads entirely differently:
“Michael loved his parents, Barry, and Thomas.”
Some argue however, that the Oxford comma is still redundant in most cases, as sentences can simply be reworked:
“Michael loved Barry, Thomas and his parents.”
For the sake of reworking a sentence however, an Oxford comma is worthy of inclusion.
Most people know how to pluralise something, let’s face it.
But a lot of people do it accidentally, especially when they are referring to a company or organisation, which should always be referred to in the singular.
Much of the time, instead of writing it, a person will go on to write they. This also happens with has instead of have.
It is an easy mistake to make, as much of the time people will often refer to a business as a plural when talking. For example:
“Google has been in talks with the French Government for some time.”
“Google have been in talks with the French Government for some time.”
In this case, the first example is correct.
It’s also worth noting that it is okay to refer to a company as a plural if you happen to be talking about the people within that business.
When it comes to copywriting, quoting can be very simple. Although it’s very important to highlight your source, quotes aren’t as complicated as they once were at university.
They can be done with a simple hyperlink, usually while introducing the person speaking.
Much like at university though, it’s important to understand how to use quotation marks.
If your quote spans multiple paragraphs each one must begin with a quotation mark, but only the last must be closed by one.
And when you happen to have a quote within a quote (which can happen), it’s important that the inner quote begins and closes with apostrophes. For example:
“The dinner went on for many hours. Mr. Amis said that he was ‘very bored’ with the proceedings, although this cannot be certified.”
Tips on hiring a freelance copywriter
When it comes to copywriting, a good freelance copywriter can be worth their weight in gold.
More often than not, you can find copywriters offering their work for as little as £5.
These should be viewed with a great air of scepticism.
Their return may be fast and cheap, but more often than not, the words will either be copied directly from pages on the internet, written by some sort of algorithm, or sent abroad for churn.
Indeed, a good copywriter should be able to provide a vast body of work covering an array of different subjects and writing styles.
But what are the rates for a good freelance copywriter?
Getting your money’s worth
Depending on the experience that a writer might have and the kind of work that you want carrying out, the price will vary. If you haven’t worked with or aren’t familiar with a particular writer, they might ask you for 50 per cent up front.
This is not unusual, but it is up to you whether you want to go ahead with the work.
If the copywriter is to create articles or blog posts for you, it is not unusual for a new copywriter to charge £10 per article.
More experienced writers might charge anywhere between £15 and £25 per article.
This will vary on the amount of research that is required for the work and whether you want images included in the finished article, or if you are ordering in bulk.
Some copywriters will also have access to stock images and press release agencies where they can find unique stories and images.
For larger projects, where a copywriter might need to work in the office, for say, the creation of a manual or brochure, a copywriter can charge either by the hour or by the day.
Copywriters that work by the hour could charge anything from £20 to £80 per hour. For those that work by the day, they can charge a company between £250 to £800, depending on experience and the work involved.
Most experienced copywriters will avoid charging by the word, as this is a tactic often used to gain a price that is in the favour of the client.
Our copywriting experiment
Although I’m quite sure that I don’t need to prove that low cost copywriters provide low quality content, I conducted an experiment on Fiverr to see what the quality of copywriting there was really like.
I therefore asked one copywriter on the site to provide me with an article on why people shouldn’t hire cheap copywriters.
This was the result:
Of course, not every cheap copywriter will be a bad writer, but it’s worth asking for their book or if you plan to work long-term with them, it’s worth setting a test example with a real deadline to see how well they do.