When writing marketing or fundraising copy, you will often be addressing people who aren’t yet invested—or even interested—in what you have to say.

Your first challenge is to get them to start reading your copy. Your second challenge is to keep them reading long enough for the copy to deliver its “payload” of persuasion. Only then can it accomplish what you want it to.

  • Keep it short. If you’re writing for paper, keep it to one side of a page. If writing online, don’t make the reader scroll down. Even if your copy is interesting and engaging, the reader might not even start reading if they judge that it’s going to take too much time and effort.
  • Keep it simple but not stupid. People only want to think hard about things they’re already interested in… you haven’t gotten them to that point yet. Make your copy clear, to the point, and concise. But don’t “dumb down” your copy to try to force a connection with the reader. They’ll see right through it, and find it annoying or offensive.
  • Make your text as “graphical” as possible. If you have the option of using photos or pictures, use them. Faces, action and emotion are most persuasive. But you can also make your text do some of the work that graphics do. Keep paragraphs as short as possible and avoid the “wall of text” look. Use boldface, italics, underlines, and bullet points. Psychologically, this gives the reader’s eye a “goal” to strive for—the next bit of important text that you’ve highlighted. Don’t overuse this technique, though. You don’t want your copy to look like an old-time circus poster.
  • Get right to the point. Your opening paragraph (which should be no longer than two or three lines) should let your reader know what your main point is. Don’t make them guess…they won’t bother.
  • Don’t ask questions to which the answer might be “no.” If you’re promoting a life insurance policy, don’t ask “Have you ever thought about life insurance?” If the answer is no, the reader will move on right there. Your job is to give the reader a reason to think about life insurance.

Think of your copy as an audition and your reader as a bored judge who’s already seen 20 auditioners that morning. Your task is to give the judge as few reasons as possible to say “next!”