Ivan Levison —
Direct Mail, E-mail and Advertising Copywriting

Three easy ways to improve your writing

If you read The Levison Letter, you know I'm always exhorting you to write with "energy" and "personality."

In this article I'm going to give you some specific tips on just how to do it. Obviously, I can only scratch the surface, but I think you'll find these suggestions of real value.

If you do some writing yourself, or judge the work product of others, keep these proven techniques in mind. (Of course, if you need some help with an ad or sales letter, you know who to call!)

Enough. Let's get started . . .

1. Begin your letter with a lead-in that grabs the reader's attention. Avoid a formal, stuffy tone. Here's a strong lead I used in a recent sales letter for Attain, the creators of In Control software.

    "Dear Macintosh User:

    Throw away those little yellow stickies . . . tear up those messy to-do lists . . . put away that dog-eared calendar . . .

    Today we're going to get organized!

    That's right. I'm writing to tell you about a terrific software product for your Mac that will revolutionize the way you work and finally get you totally and completely organized, once and for all."

Now that's copy that gets read! I jump in with three imperatives, then pay the intro off with a solid promise.

How about the start of this letter I wrote for Q+E Software?

    "Dear ObjectVision Developer:

    Do me a favor . . . pretend for a second that you've just used ObjectVision to prototype a nifty application that accesses a Paradox database.

    Is your work all finished? Can you put your feet up on your desk and admire your new creation?

    Not if you're like most developers!

    You see, the chances are excellent that your application will also have to work with an Oracle database and a DB2 database . . ."

I start the letter on a casual note and immediately get the reader to join with me in an imaginative consideration of some important questions. This is the kind of technique that creates compelling, involving letters.

2. Ask a rhetorical question, then answer it. This is a technique I use all the time. I find it breaks up a paragraph and adds a little bit of punch. Here are excerpts from three of my letters:

    "Why should you take advantage of this unique opportunity? Because our new upgrade is loaded with all the features you've been dreaming of.

    Want to break free from the prison of 10, 12, and 14-point type sizes? MoreFonts lets you choose any typesize you like, from 2 to 1,000 points!

    Want to make some changes? Go ahead and modify that scanned-in color photograph, illustration, or chart -- it's easy!"

3. Use some extremely short sentences. Forget what your teacher told you in eighth grade. Sentence fragments, or phrases used as sentences, are fine. Look how snappy they are when they're used correctly:

If this scenario sounds like an exaggeration, let me assure you, it isn't! In fact over 500,000 computers will be subjected to a serious virus attack this year. The costs of such attacks can be enormous.

    In downtime. In loss of business. In the erosion of user confidence.

    That's why I'm writing you today.

Or how about this example:

    "If you've put off writing or updating your employee handbook, if it's a project that's been sitting on the back burner, now is the time to act.
    Before the bitter accusations from angry employees.

    Before the charges that you're inconsistent and unfair.

    Before the law suits and the damage awards.

    Don't take a chance on the future of your company. Give us a call today.

    Sincerely . . ."

As you can see, if you want your copy to sound fresh and energetic you have to loosen up and put tried-and-true copywriting techniques to work.

Believe me, a well written letter can far outpull a pedestrian effort. Give me a call and I'll prove it.



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