Pilots have ‘em, graphic designers have ‘em, but do your copywriters have a preflight procedure? They should. Taking a writing project through a checklist before publication (online or print) is a great way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your content. Here are a few ideas for what to include:
NUTS AND BOLTS
Start with the Basics – make a master list of information that must be included in your various publications at all times (e.g. a company’s website address in a press release) and tick off each “must-have” on each piece.
Follow a Style Guide – for how your company refers to brand names, technological terms, company titles, etc. This ensures your publications are consistent across the board.
Focus on the Reader – it doesn’t matter whom you’re writing for. People will read your copy to solve a problem, quiet a fear or satisfy a need. Focus on their issues! In practical writing terms, this also means more “yous” and less “Is”.
Grab ‘Em from the Get-Go – for headlines and titles, think like your reader. Ask yourself the question: “What’s in this for me?” The answer should be obvious. If it’s not, it’s time to start editing.
Highlight Benefits – seriously, this can be done with a highlighter. Go through your copy to make sure it addresses how your product or service will benefit the reader. Did you start with the most powerful benefit?
Back Up Claims with Results – if you have made claims about your work, you need to prove that they’re true. Testimonials and statistics are fabulous tools – don’t let them go to waste.
Make ‘Em an Offer – they can’t refuse. This might be a discount, a freebie, an invitation – it’s your call to action and should be of powerful value. Make sure it’s easy to know what the call is and easy for your readers to respond.
Ixnay the Passive Voice – active implies action. “We are designing brand-new features” is a helluva lot more exciting than “Brand-new features are being designed.” (Note: why are you designing brand-new features? How will these help readers?)
Scan for Clarity – writing real estate is expensive. Get rid of words that aren’t making an impact. Especially long, hard-to-understand words.
Check for Tone – does the piece fit in with your overall brand and reputation? (e.g. see how Coca Cola ads promote their “shiny happy people” mantra)
Quadruple-check Spelling and Grammar – it’s amazing how errors still get mussed (oh, wait, missed).
Respect your Audience – before you started writing, you identified the key audiences for your piece. Now that it’s written, double-check – have you addressed the needs of your target group?
Assemble a Trusted Panel – a small group of friends and colleagues will give you a quick and honest outlook on the impact of your writing. They can also pick up on embarrassing mistakes.
Test the Sucker – make the call, click on the link, do what your reader is supposed to be doing once they’ve finished reading the piece.
Get Ready to Record – statistics, url hits, customer feedback… Do you have systems in place to track the effectiveness of your writing project (so you can improve on it next time)?
Honor the Thru-flow – it’s no good giving readers a call to action if you’re not ready to answer the calls. Are all your departments primed to follow through with a campaign?