7 Essential Tips for Creating Great Copy

New York Times Headline Fail
Even the New York Times makes mistakes… but you can avoid them.

Whether you’re a marketing/content manager, the head of copy/creative, or a lead project manager, commissioning copy and then getting it planned, written and signed off is often a laborious task; especially if you have a large number of stakeholders to please.

In the 2013 ‘State of Digital Copywriting’ survey by Sticky Content, a whopping 57% of respondents said that they had anywhere from three to eight different stakeholders involved in getting copy written and signed off.

With this in mind, once you’ve approved copy, it can be sorely tempting to push it through design and get it out there as fast as possible. But this is probably the worst time for complacency… and as sick as you may be of reading the same content over and over again, once you’ve had it laid out and art-worked – check it one last time.

All copy, especially if it’s for public consumption, reflects on your brand or your message, and if it includes errors these will reflect badly… not just on your business, but on you as the commissioning editor.

So, based on my experience, here are some key things to keep in mind when checking copy… especially after it has been signed off and art-worked.

Remember that some grammar rules are not as always as ‘arbitrary’ as you might think

I’ve art-worked the odd piece of copy in my time, so I know how easy it is to re-type headlines rather than copy and paste the original text. After art-working, ensure the copy has been reproduced exactly as it was signed off, or, as this all-important oxford comma example suggests, you may end up with a change in meaning that might be amusing for the reader, but won’t be amusing for you.

Oxford comma fail

Don’t just check the copy… check the links

As the Russian Metro learned the hard way, copy is important, but it helps when they’re complemented by the right pictures… or in this case, any pictures at all.

Russian Metro Layout Fail

Make sure your copywriter (and approving stakeholders) know what the intended medium is

It’s one thing to sign off copy because it reads well and is free from spelling errors. But when you’re reading it in a Word document, it’s also important to keep in mind the anticipated medium, or else you might end up looking a bit foolish, as this example demonstrates.

Copywriting Fail

Communicate with your digital designer

A good digital designer will be aware of the copy they’re art-working, but at the end of the day, their job is to layout content, not to read it. As commissioning editor, it’s your role to make sure the digital designer creates a layout that won’t inadvertently undermine your copy (even when this results in hilarious consequences).

Headline Layout Fail

Ensure everybody knows what everybody else is working on

It’s not just getting the copy with the right pictures… It’s also about getting the copy with the right copy. If there are two writers working on the same layout, with a digital designer then art-working, make sure they all know what the others are doing, and if possible, involve them at the review stage too… otherwise, this happens.

Copy Layout Fail

Encourage creativity, but remember; you’re still the client

You’ve signed off the copy, and you have a designer lined up. You should encourage creativity by all means, but be aware, it’s good to get a fresh pair of eyes. You might not be a copywriter or a designer, but you’re still the internal client so don’t be afraid to assert yourself and to ‘stick your nose in’… because if somebody’s been staring a font like this all day, they may be snow-blind to obvious mistakes that you will spot in seconds.

Font Fail

Accept that everyone makes mistakes, but don’t get complacent

Nobody’s perfect. If you get facts or images wrong, accept it, apologise and if you can, correct the mistake. But whatever you do, don’t let down your guard just because you’re eating humble pie. Factual errors are one thing… ironic cock-ups like this are another one altogether. And at the end of the day, whoever made the mistake, it’s you who is ultimately responsible. No pressure!

Correction Fail

Got a project in mind and need well-written, error-free copy that has been proofed, proofed and proofed again? Then don’t hesitate to get in touch.