I’m a freelance writer. So, to earn a crust, I write website content, brochures, adverts and magazine articles, etc. It’s a good job. Barring “rock star”, there’s nothing else I’d rather be.

As a freelance writer, I’m also asked to edit copy. For example, a client will say, “I’ve written this brochure. Can you make it look professional?” My clients sometimes do this to save money. And that’s fine — a job’s a job. So, having edited a heap of copy over the years, I’ve noticed three writing sins that occur time and again. 

3 writing sins that drive me mad!Click To Tweet


Sin no. 1: Wrong tone 

As a rule, sales copy should be written in first or second person — it should speak directly to the reader. For example:

Do you crave a great night’s sleep?  We’ll help you find a bed that suits your unique body shape. Visit our store today at ….

This copy talks directly to prospective customers in second person. Its direct approach is likely to connect with readers and make an emotional connection.

For some reason, though, non-professional writers often become serious and write in third person. Here’s an example:

Everyone craves a great night’s sleep. Acme Bed Emporium helps customers find beds that suit their unique body shapes. Their address is ….

Though well written, this approach is detached. It is unlikely to engage the reader and compel them to rush out and buy a bed.

If you thought using the wrong tone was bad enough, how about mixing it up? For example:

Do you crave a great night’s sleep? Acme Bed Emporium helps customers find beds that suit their unique body shapes. Visit our store today at ….

I hate that!

Sin no. 2: Hyperbole

Some of the copy I’ve edited, particularly from clients in creative businesses, reads like a rant from Muhammad Ali. Here’s a quote from the famous boxer:

I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.

The thing is, Muhammad Ali was the greatest. The chances are you’re not. I recall once writing copy for a property developer. He’d just started out and hadn’t yet won a client. Yet, he wanted to call himself the number-one property developer in Auckland. Not only is a statement like that laughable, it’s darn right dishonest.

Sales copy should be positive, of course. It must put your business in a good light. But let’s get real. Using too many superlatives, like “number-one in the business”, “top-class” and “amazing”, makes the reader think “bull s%$#”.

Be positive but truthful. If you are the best in the business, back up your claim with testimonials and case studies.

Sin no. 3: Clichés

Non-professional writers love clichés. The general wisdom seems to be that the more clichés there are the better. Wrong. Now, I admit to using clichés — they’re often hard to avoid, and I’ve even used some in this post. However, remember this: The more common a phrase is, the less impact it will have. How often have you read “cost-effective”, “one-stop-shop” and “high quality”? All the time, I bet. These phrases would have made readers stop and take notice in the past. Not anymore. Now that every man and his Fox Terrier is using them they mean very little.

Anyway, I’m glad to have gotten this off my chest (sorry about the cliché — I told you they are hard to avoid).

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  1. Going from strength to strength is a cliche I often have to sub. And a US client had no idea what it meant so that’s another reason to avoid cliches in international copy. They don’t make sense everywhere.

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