7 steps to effective copywriting

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Written By Athina Antarakis

Copywriting is a specific skill. It takes years of practice, and even then it’s not that easy. With so many things to think about – your audience, client, brief, and copy deliverables… you can appreciate that getting a fundraising appeal or call to action right is more than good luck.

For those starting out in the industry, the process may seem overwhelming.  Our CEO, Dominique Antarakis, writes about what it takes to produce great fundraising copy.

1.  The preparation

Read everything. Reading as much as you can will expand your vocabulary and style. It may mean you’ll be a derivative to begin with but as your experience grows, your style will develop.

Remember, writing’s all about clarity and effectiveness.

Bone up on psychology – the way we react to stimuli is different for each of us. It’s amazing what we’ll do depending on how we’re asked to do it.

2. The brief

If you’ve been given a brief, read it from beginning to end. And then reread it again. Briefs are like school exams – read through the whole paper to look for questions that are liable to trip you up.

Check that any attached forms and documents mentioned in the brief are there. Look for any mistakes or omissions. The sooner you iron out any problems or missing elements, the better.

If you are the person writing the brief, ensure that you include all the necessary background information. It’s better to provide too much rather than too little. That said, briefs the size of War and Peace aren’t helpful at all.

3. The reader

You want the reader to nod along as they are reading the campaign material. What brings the story to life?

Using a person’s own words and real-life experiences are where the gold is. Interview to get the quote that sums up what the person’s been through. You need to stimulate an emotional response in the reader within 2 minutes.

Structure the story to ensure that the emotion is present and real. Often it’s the tiniest detail that makes it authentic and humanises the situation. We can talk about an issue in medical terms but when you read about how this impacts a real person, the effect is so tangible.

4. The copywriting process

Read (or draft) your brief. Ensure that you understand what is needed for the campaign; not just the pack elements or digital components – but also the response required and the mechanism you are going to use to achieve it.

After you’ve read the brief, take a notepad and pencil and start making notes. You may find, like I do, that it helps to clear the mind and get you in the mindset to work on the perfect pitch.

Develop an outline and type and edit as you go. Sometimes what I first write on my pad has nothing to do with the finished product. Frequently, that outline brings the gold with which I can then work.

I find an organic process helpful and working this way means I am generally more creative. This is my approach but having a good understanding of the brief, a clear purpose in mind, having settled on the mechanism and then drafting a great outline will help to establish a solid foundation for your campaign.

5. The draft

Ask “Is making this change going to bring us more income? Is it going to help our cause?”

As a fundraising writer, you need to know when to push back and when it’s not worth it. People will respect you more for pushing back when it counts.

If you’re not sure when to concede and when to say ‘no’ to changes, ask: Do I have reasons for my push back? Is there data, research or a rationale to back up my argument and make it objective?

Often the client asks for changes because they don’t like something you’ve written. It’s a subjective thing. If you can base your argument on verifiable data, then you are in a stronger position to defend your reasoning.

6. The reader again

Get into the head of the audience. How do you want the reader to feel? Where will the reader be when they see this? What do you want them to do next?

Sadly, it’s not always about beautiful prose; it’s more about being effective. Don’t be precious about how you’ve worded something. Ask yourself if you’ve got your point across.

7. The most important thing

Most importantly, writers need to meet the brief.

Ask good questions to clarify the brief and communicate more effectively. If you can’t meet a deadline, tell your client as soon as you know. And be versatile.

Study. Check out our online training courses. Look carefully through our curated set of resources or our Blog that will help you focus your mind on the art of copywriting.

Read On Writing Well by William Zinsser. It’s an excellent guide to writing and has stood the test of time, still selling since 1976.