English students identify the 3 factors that make great copy

Since October, I’ve been teaching a professional writing course to a group of second year degree students at the University of Nottingham. Their Creative and Professional Writing degree is one of only a handful of courses in the UK that incorporates copywriting, business writing and copy-editing as well as more traditional English modules. And, as it’s a compulsory module, they all have to come to the lectures. (You’ll have to ask them about that.)

Before Christmas, I set them an assignment which contributed towards their final degree grade. I asked them to identify the three factors that, in their opinion, were essential to great quality copy. They then had to critique a piece of copy against these criteria.

Having marked the 17 assignments, I thought it would be interesting to share the results with you, and for you to see what the students consider the three factors that make great copy. In order, the results were:

  1. The copy should be clear, concise and easy to read
  2. It should contain good ‘calls to action’
  3. It should be focused on the reader

Other choices included ‘a good headline’, ‘the correct tone of voice’, ‘it should be reader focused’ and ‘it should be benefit driven’.

Now, clearly these are all important factors and a good piece of copy will no doubt satisfy all of these criteria and more. However, it got me thinking as to what my choice of three factors would have been. After some deliberation, I think I’d have chosen:

  1. Good copy should be benefit driven
  2. It should focus on the reader
  3. It should have a good call to action

Some of the students had an excellent grasp of copywriting ‘theory’ (such as it is) and produced some excellent work, justifying their choices with research and examples. But, if you had been asked to complete a similar assignment, what would you have chosen? Do you agree with the students’ choices? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 18 January 2013


Credit Card RewardsHaving worked in retail financial services for fourteen years, assisting a client with the creation, design and content for a credit card comparison site was a job perfectly tailored to my skills.

Credit Card Rewards has quickly grown to become one of Australia’s most popular card comparison sites thanks, in no small part, to the 70 odd card reviews and almost 200 articles about cards, fees, banking and charges that I have provided the site to date.? Combining my knowledge of financial services with my writing ability has been almost the ideal job.

(Incidentally, and annoyingly, about the only thing on the entire site that I didn’t write was the homepage welcome text, which I don’t like very much.? My version was (in my humble opinion) *much* better…..!

The site continues to grow and is now quite the resource – as well as dozens of cards to compare it contains

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a huge amount of information.? I’m pretty proud of the way it has turned out, and my client is delighted with it too.

Having written countless articles about how to avoid credit card and identity fraud, I actually took some of my own advice today.? When an obviously fraudulent ‘phishing’ e-mail turned up in my inbox today, I researched the provider it was purporting to be and forwarded the e-mail to their security department.? Practice what you preach, and all that….

And now this project is up and running, the same client has turned his attention to an altogether more, er, ‘adult’ online market. More of that in due course….

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of local and international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well finance, property, politics and cinema writing.

Election writing

Cameron milkshakeGetting a decent Politics degree has clearly helped me in my career. Now, I should qualify that by saying that I don’t think the fact that it was a Politics degree has made a blind bit of difference to my progress to date; it’s merely the fact that it was a degree at all that has helped.

It’s helped as it does everyone, I imagine, in that I got to apply for graduate jobs, and ever since have been able to boast the degree on my CV. It makes us all super analytical and capable of stringing a sentence together, apparently.

Now, though, many years later, I actually get to use the Politics bit of my degree.

For the next couple of months, I’m writing all the content for a leading Election betting site. They are small articles, and it is only for a few weeks, but I finally get to be a politics writer and write about a subject I know and care about.? So far I have politics writing really, really interesting. It’s a mixture of everything I like in writing: a subject I am interested in, it isn’t too serious and I can be bitingly sarcastic.

Actually, let’s be fair: it’s the perfect writing job.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of local and international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well finance, property, politics

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and cinema writing.

The Number One Tip To Writing Great Copy

copywritingSeneca, the Roman dramatist and philosopher, once said that “the best ideas are common property”.

Do you know what my one golden rule is for any copywriting jobs? Use words that have been proven to work.

There is no point in you spending hours writing your own great copy if it isn’t effective. You might think that it is the best thing you have ever written but if it doesn’t work, no-one will care how fantastic it is.? It will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Anyone who provides copywriting services should have a file, folder or scrapbook with examples of proven, successful sales copy.? You will have seen great sales

copy in books or articles.? You will no doubt have read the famous sales letters that have shown their effectiveness by generating millions of pounds worth of revenue.? You’ll have received direct mailings from businesses that have forced you into action.? You will have seen headlines and articles on the Internet that have been proven to work.? Keep them, and use them.


The key to great copy writing, of course, is not that you transcribe these examples word for word. The secret to great copy is to adapt them, filter them, and use the relevant pieces for the copy that you are writing.? Context is everything.? You might have an example of a great direct mail letter for selling wine but it might not be the best way to market double glazing.

What you should do, though, is start with a template of something that has proven efficacy and then build your copy from there.? There is absolutely no point in reinventing the wheel.

Use the language others are using

Sites like Google and Twitter are full of people’s personal thoughts, feelings, dreams and aspirations.? ? By accessing them you can find the specific language people are using today.? Listen to your readers, and respond to them in your copy.? Your writing can talk to them directly in a way it has not been possible to do before.

A combination of proven words that you have assembled over the years and an understanding of what your target market is looking for can generate hypnotic sales copy writing.? ? Use words that work in your writing jobs but remember to make the most of the context.

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well property, politics and cinema writing.

7 Steps To Editing Direct Mail Copy

copywriterRoscoe Born, former Wall Street Journal editor, once said, “What you have written is only preparation for what you are going to write.”

Once you have written the first draft of your direct mail marketing copy, then it’s time to follow respected copywriter Guy Yolton’s seven key editing steps.

1. Edit for warm-up

At the beginning of your direct mail letter will probably be a statement that got you warmed up.? Something like: “As a successful company owner, you know that managing people is a difficult job…”

The reader already knows this. If your letter contains some information they want to know about, tell them immediately.? They want to know what is new, or what you have to offer them.

2. Edit for stoppers

These often show up when you read your draft copy back to yourself, or when you read it to someone else.? Stoppers are words and phrases that are awkward, contrived, and out of the ordinary.? They hold up your reader and interrupt the rhythm of a piece that otherwise flows smoothly from one idea to another.

3. Edit for author’s pride

A beautifully-turned phrase is fine if it adds a unique and powerful twist to a sales point and keeps the copy moving.? However, if you have come up with a catchy expression that stops your reader along the way while she admires your handiwork and forgets what you’re working at, you may never get her back on track.

If a reader has to

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stop to figure out what your phrases or metaphors mean, they will probably never make it to the end. Delete those little fancy bits that appeal only to you (and

your fellow copywriters.)

4. Edit for order

There are natural sequences of ideas that are easier for people to follow.

For example, ‘small, big, bigger, biggest.’ If you are describing the advantages of your product, this could be the best way to build them.

If your explanation is related to time, use ‘then, now, later on, future.’

Make sure everything is in the right order.

5. Edit for “reason why”

Do the benefits and features you attribute to your product just sit there in mid-air, supported only by the fact that they appear on paper?? Why does it do what you say it will?? How did it get that way?? What proof can you offer?? The reader needs a little more than unsupported assertions to decide to buy.

6. Edit to stretch benefits

This kind of editing is related to what Elmer Wheeler meant when

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he said, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Your letter might suggest benefits, but does it go far enough? As a copywriter, have you really explained to readers what the benefits are?

7. Edit for market

Is your reader male or female, educated or uneducated? Do they have a large or modest income? Are they old or young?

When re-reading your draft copy, is your language, style, and tone something your reader can be comfortable with on their own terms? Writing for readers of The Economist is different to writing for readers of Nuts or Chat.? Have you tailored the language used in your copy specifically for the target market?

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer and copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases, books and marketing material to a

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range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports

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4 Surefire Ways To Get Your Copy Read

copy writingWould you spend £250,000 on a Rolls Royce and then paint it orange?

Great Midlands copywriter Jamie Hudson has, many times, submitted well considered copy to a client only for them to print his powerful words on the most appallingly coloured, laid out or designed website or brochure. It has been true of SEO copywriting, sales writing and normal copywriting.

It’s all very well having terrific copy but it is also vital that this copy is presented in the right way.? Jamie, calling on the expertise of well-known researched Colin Wheildon, has several suggestions to make sure your great copy is read.

Use Black

Studies have shown that seven times as many people showed good comprehension of copy when the writing was in black when compared with either pastel or bright colours.

Interestingly, the study also found that copy in deep colours was much more difficult to read than that written in black.

Get your Headline Right

The same study also found that headlines that are written in black are understood by nearly four times as many people as those written in bright colours.

It is also beneficial to slightly condense the headline (to around three quarters of the width of the page) as this aids comprehension.

As a copy writer, you should also avoid using a full stop at the end of a headline. A full stop makes headlines more difficult to understand, not easier.

Avoid Capitals

Copy written in capital letters is much more difficult to understand than copy written in lower case letters.

You may think that

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capitals are clearer and more defined, but people comprehend less individual words when headlines and copy are written in capital letters. That makes them more difficult to read.

Use A Well Known Font

With over three hundred fonts generally available in word processing packages there is a temptation to find an unusual or lesser-known font that you believe will work well for your product or service. Be careful. People generally understand headlines and copy better if it is written in a plain, recognisable font than if it is written in an unusual or flamboyant font type.

Studies have found that fonts which use ‘serifs’ – the small semi-structural details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters – are several times easier to understand than other fonts.

For more from Jamie Hudson’s great blog, click here.

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. He provides articles, copy, press releases, books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well as property, finance, politics and cinema writing.

The Single Best Word You Can Use In Copy

YouWhat do you suppose the single best word is that you can use in any sales or copy writing that you do?

I’ll give you a clue – it’s in the title of this article.

That’s right. The best word you can use, in any writing jobs that you do, is ‘you’.

Consider this. If I had titled this article ‘The Single Best Word I Use

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In Copy’ the chances are you would not have cared one jot. Why on earth would you care what great word I like to use in my work?

The fact I called it ‘The Single Best World You Can Use In Copy’ means that there’s something in it for you.

Of all the possible subjects in the world, you are the one that you are most interested in. When you pick something up to read, what are you subconsciously asking yourself? Generally speaking you’ll be asking

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‘What’s in this for me?’ or ‘How does this help me?’ Most people do. And only by giving people what they want, will they listen to you.

You don’t write a Valentine’s card by saying “I’m great, will you go out with me?” do you? You write “You’re great, will you go out with me?” Or maybe you don’t, and you’re still single.

Any salesman or copywriter will tell you that there’s no sale without rapport. And there’s no rapport without taking an interest in the reader and what they want or what they need. We have all read literature from companies who babble on about how great they are and how brilliant their product is. Do we care what their mission statement is and that they won an award in 2004? No. All we really want to know is what they and their product can do

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When you understand what your readers are interested in, you are in a position of control. Whether you are a technical writer or copywriter you can create something that grabs their attention. And if the thing that readers are most interested in is themselves, then why not write about them? It’s a surefire way to make readers take notice.

In his great book Hypnotic Writing, Joe Vitale tells the story of how, when Disney Studios released the film Arachnophobia, it was billed as a ‘comedy-thriller’. When Disney discovered that audiences didn’t care about comedy-thrillers, they billed the movie as a ‘horror’. It was exactly the same film, just a different approach.

Remember – in copywriting you have to think of your readers, not yourself.

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases, books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well as property, finance, politics and cinema writing.