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October 8th, 2018

This might sound like a silly question, but it’s important for copy writers: Do you move your lips when writing copy?

This is one of the easiest ways to decide whether your writing is conversational or not, one of the most important ways to engage a supporter.

Emails and direct mail letters must be conversational. After all, they are taking the place of a real conversation between the organization (in the form of the letter signer) and the supporter or prospect.

If your copy is too stilted or doesn’t read smoothly aloud, your readers won’t be engaged. Not engaged = no gift or no action.

Once the recipients get beyond the subject line or the outer envelope teaser, they’ll need to quickly and easily grasp your content. The written word is still king so make your copy sound—and look—like a conversation with these tactics:

  • Short sentences: There are rarely any conversations that go beyond a few words or sentences without the other person acknowledging their understanding. Since your readers can’t nod or interject comments, keep your sentences no longer than 10-15 words each. Long sentences both lose attention and often cause difficulty in conveying meaning.
  • Open spacing and layout: Nothing is more daunting than a full screen or letter that is edge to edge, top to bottom. Leave extra space between paragraphs. Make sure that the margins are wide enough to create white space to relieve the eyes.
  • Brief paragraphs: Although your high school English teacher may have told you to have a lead sentence that is fully-fleshed out in each paragraph, she was never a fundraiser. Paragraphs with more than two full sentences should be rare in any successful copy.

If your copy is too stilted or doesn’t read smoothly aloud, your readers won’t be engaged. Not engaged = no gift or no action.

  • Connecting conjunctions and ellipses: Again, you might have been taught never to use “and” or “but” to start a sentence, however, this tactic keeps the conversation moving along. Virtually every passage in the Old Testament started with the word “and”!
  • Use contractions: Listen to everyday speech. It’s a rare conversation that is not heavily sprinkled with contractions. Use them judiciously to make the conversation friendlier.
  • Ellipses and bullets: Rather than a long list of items, try breaking them up with ellipses … you’ll see the difference in readability. Or use bullets (like this listing) for ease of scanning.
  • Em dashes: If you want to qualify a statement—like this one—try using em dashes to set off the qualifier. It highlights the subject directly, while allowing readers to take up right where they left off—much better than commas in most cases.
  • Read it back—aloud: Decide whether your copy can be easily absorbed by reading it back aloud. See if you find yourself overemphasizing certain sentences to make them understood … then edit those for clarity. Decide if you’re running out of breath when reading … then shorten those. Picture your ideal reader … and communicate to his or her level of understanding.

Follow these steps to get your copy to sing!

By Jim Johnson | Senior Vice President and Creative Director

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