What Are You Really Trying To Say?

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 get lost in the writing process. I then have to dig through a lot of words to get the idea beneath them—if they 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 are 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.]

One Response to “What Are You Really Trying To Say?”

  1. So true. Clarity is so important. I always tell my clients clarity of goals and getting your idea across is so important. If people are unsure they will move on!

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