Looking over your shoulder

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in Copywriting

In the olden days, when fewer people could read and you had to take your entertainment where you could, books and letters were often read aloud to family and friends. You can hear remnants of this past in some of the phrases we use today – how often do you reply to an email or text with ‘It’s great to hear from you’ or say ‘this doesn’t sound right’ when something doesn’t quite make sense?

These days, reading is almost invariably a solitary activity. It’s something you need to bear in mind when you’re writing marketing materials.

Your leaflet / letter / email may be sent to thousands of people, but it will be read by an individual, one at a time. They may be on their own at home or they may be in an office full of other people. But wherever they are, it will only be them reading it and they will be reading it silently to themselves, not out loud to other people.

You should bear this in mind when you’re writing. Phrases such as ‘Some of you may know’, ‘All of you reading this’, ‘For those of you who have been’ and so on, sound faintly disconcerting in this context. It has the effect of making your reader look over their shoulder to find out who’s behind them reading the same thing they are. It causes a distraction, interrupts the flow of what they’re reading and breaks the spell that you’re speaking directly to them personally.

The lesson? Write as if you’re talking to an individual individually not a room full of people en masse. It will make your copy feel more personal and more appealing, I promise.

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