Reading the news nowadays can be an ordeal. You might as well get something positive out of it.
When you go to read the next trending article on social media or the next headline news piece, re-adjust your viewpoint and look at the way that the writer uses language to get that point across. When you tune yourself in to how news writers portray an idea, you can learn a few things about copywriting and persuasion.
So let’s take a look at 5 ways that reading and observing the news can help improve your copywriting
Put Your All into the Headline
Observe how newspaper journalists craft their headlines, including just enough information to entice the reader to read more; or indeed in the case of front page headlines, to entice the shopper to pay attention and buy their paper. Headlines in any kind of writing need to be short, pithy, and attention grabbing, highlighting the most pressing, useful, or tantalising part of the story. It’s with this in mind that budding copywriters can learn how to put together headlines, title tags, and on-page headers (H1, H2, H3, etc.) that grab a reader’s attention.
Lead with the most enticing, practical upshot of what you’re trying to convey and put that in your header(s), but don’t try and cram everything in. The headline should be like an appetiser for the reader to salivate over, only to be satiated by the body of text.
[Sidenote: Budding writers can also learn from clickbait. Take an objective look at how trashy articles on social media try to grab you; how do they put their tantalising appetisers out there to get people to read? Even ten-a-penny list articles advertised using the corny line “Number 7 will shock you!” can be learnt from. We naturally want to find out how scandalous that part of the article is – only to find out it’s the same old dross as the rest.]
To Bury the Lede? Or Not to Bury the Lede?
You may have heard the term “burying the lede” in writing circles. A lede is the opening statement in a news story that gives you the lowdown on what the story’s about; as shown in this example from the BBC News website:
Newspaper writers need to make a good impression in their lede, putting the main points front and centre so the reader can decide whether they’d like to read more. “Burying the lede” however is when a journalist starts a story by writing about an angle of secondary importance to your average reader, only to mention the truly important stuff later.
So how do we apply this to copywriting? Observe how news writers drip-feed information throughout their stories and where they drop their bombshells. This is usually near the start of a story – journos and copywriters alike know to grab attention with the most attractive, appropriate points first because our attention spans are pretty low.
Think – what means most to the reader? Copywriting can get away with a little bit of lede burying here and there – think of the ways landing pages build and build until you reach the price, or how you think an infomercial is going to end when they drop a “wait there’s more – you actually get 3 for the price of 1!”. Tune yourself in to how newspapers and copy pace their information throughout, stating the important points at just the right time for the best impact.
Concise and Clear Language
When you look at the language that journalists use, it’s usually quite direct and easy to read. You’re unlikely to find flowery language in a newspaper. Copywriters are generally allowed a little more creative license, but immediate understanding of what’s being conveyed is paramount in both styles of writing.
Both kinds of writers need to put things in a clear, direct, and understandable way without overblown, verbose language so everyone reading understands and nobody gets left out – especially when writing for a B2C audience. Comprehension and clarity of your message is key.
Bias, Persuasion, and Assumptive Styles
As we’re now more aware than ever, newspapers have biases and spin the truth to suit their own agendas. When you write copy, you of course have your own biases, chiefly based around how the reader should choose you over your competitors.
In the era of “fake news” and always-on news media, we’re becoming more and more tuned in to the hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) agendas behind the words in newspaper articles (whether they’re digital or printed). Many news outlets know their audience inside out, and write using an assumptive style – a style that assumes the reader agrees with their political or ideological leanings and that they’re already on-side.
For example, certain newspapers may write from a position that assumes its readers all agree that Brexit is bad, leading to articles that boil down to “We all know Brexit is a disaster, so here’s why x, y, and z will also likely be bad news”. It’s where the “echo chamber” effect comes in – people only consume news that agrees with their worldview, so it becomes more and more ingrained as the correct position.
This isn’t a slight on journalists of course. Many news writers are sticklers for the truth and go in with an unbiased attitude. However, individual publications can have certain agendas and the hard work of plain truthfulness can get skewed prior to printing.
But let’s get back to how this can help a copywriter. Why not use assumptive styles in copy? Write in a way that subtly assumes that working together is already agreed (such as “when you work with us…” rather than “if”) can sometimes yield positive results.
The psychological hypothesis here is that if you talk about things as if the reader has already chosen you, you help to bridge the gap in their mind between the status quo and actually working with you. Granted, it doesn’t work for all types of copy and all industries, and you can’t overdo it – it needs to be subtle and strategic. But if you’re feeling experimental, try a more assumptive style in your writing. Write as if the prospect is already sold in a few carefully chosen places and see if it works for you.
Find Your Angles
Some of the best news reporting out there occurs when a journalist finds a new and interesting angle on an existing story. Newspapers want their take on things to be new and unique, not merely trotting out the same old stuff as their rivals. The same goes for companies in their copywriting. Just as news outlets are always on the lookout for a new point of view on a story, so must copywriters be aware of the different points of view that an end user may come from when seeking a solution to a problem. It’s that kind of lateral thinking and empathy that’s crucial here.
If all companies in your field are taking one approach with their marketing, standing out by taking a different tack might be your best way of making a name for yourself. Draw inspiration from how different news outlets release exclusive stories where an underreported or contrarian view is given the spotlight. Get your journalist hat on and use market research to weed out your prospects’ lesser-known motives and concerns and bring them to the fore.