Email copy, website copy, tweets, blog posts, Instagram captions, Facebook ads, press releases, event invitations, podcast scripts, video scripts.
What do all these things have in common?
- They’re all elements of a robust marketing strategy.
- They’re all made of sentences.
Writing sentences is integral to marketing. If you plan on doing any copywriting, you must have a good grasp on writing sentences.
Copywriting for Beginners is our series that gets into the nitty-gritty of using grammar and language to communicate with your customers. (You can find the previous posts here and here.) Dive into the latest installment of Copywriting for Beginners as we break down the most basic element of writing: the sentence.
Subject + Predicate = Sentence
A sentence comes down to two parts: a subject and a predicate. Sentences can have plenty of other parts, but every complete* sentence needs those two pieces.
*Sentence fragments are missing a subject or predicate. We’ll cover those later.
If you grew up with Schoolhouse Rock like we did, you may remember this song: “Mr. Morton is the subject of the sentence, and what the predicate says, he does.”
All complete sentences boil down to a subject and what that subject is doing. Not sure if your sentences are complete? Try to reduce them to just a subject and verb.
For example, we can simplify some of the above sentences to “a sentence comes,” “we (will) cover,” “you may remember,” “sentences boil.” They may not make much sense, but they are grammatically complete sentences.
To keep your sentences from getting too repetitive, try not to use the same subjects and verbs over and over. Some repetition is fine—but don’t use the same subject and verb in every sentence.
Get Comfortable with the Second Person
The subject of your sentence is simply the person or thing doing something. And more often than not in copywriting, your subject is often the second-person pronoun, “you.”
You’re usually writing to or about your reader, so you’ll naturally use the word “you.” Forget the rules you learned in English class about not using the second person. In copywriting, you want to keep the focus on your reader.
Some sentences will appear to have no subject, but these aren’t fragments—they’re imperative statements, or commands. In these sentences, the verb is directed to an unseen subject, an unspoken “you.”
Consider common copywriting phrases like “buy now,” “don’t wait,” and “visit your store today.” There’s no subject “buying” or “visiting.” There is only the implied “you” and the understanding that they need to take action.
Keep an eye out for other subjects in your copywriting, especially “we” or your business’s name. If your “we’s” outnumber your “you’s,” you’re probably focusing too much on yourself instead of your reader. (Remember, your customer—not your business—is the hero of the story!)
Introduce Action with Verbs in the Predicate
Verbs are the action of a sentence. Verbs give your writing motion, momentum, and energy. Verbs paint moving pictures in our minds as we imagine ourselves taking action.
Look at these example sentences that use powerful, personality-filled verbs:
- “Skyrocket your business with 3 simple steps.”
- “This all-in-one makeup brush will zhuzh your look from ‘mom bun and sweats’ to ‘glam goddess.’”
- “Craving something sweet? Quash that sweet tooth with 4 secret tricks.”
Great verbs inject energy into a sentence, establish your brand voice, and encourage your reader to act now.
… But don’t overdo it.
Many of the verbs in your copywriting will probably be some form of “to be” or “to have.” If you’re having flashbacks to English class and being told not to use “is,” don’t worry. “Is” isn’t a dirty word. In fact, “is” is the basis of lots of great copywriting.
You’re not writing a novel or an academic paper. Copywriting should use familiar language that your reader can relate to. Everyday words like “is” and “has” help keep your writing accessible.
Strong verbs are more effective when they’re used sparingly, when they can stand out against “to be” and “to have” verbs. Overuse them, and they start to lose their oomph. A few standout verbs can elevate bland copywriting into a story your reader wants to join.
When to Break the Rules (and When to Keep Them)
The grammar rules you learned in school don’t always apply when it comes to copywriting. But knowing when to keep the rules and when to break them is more of an art than a science. Breaking grammar rules the right way takes practice and a little experimentation.
Always make sure your subject and verb agree.
Subject-verb agreement looks like this: You write. He writes. We write.
“You writes” does not agree.
When your subject and verb agree, your sentences make sense. The last thing you want to do in copywriting is confuse your reader.
You can begin a sentence with “and” or “but.”
Contrary to what you might have learned in school, it’s not always wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction—especially in copywriting.
Conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “because” help connect the dots from one sentence to the next.
If your next sentence agrees with or adds to the previous one, try adding an “and” up front. If you’re posing a contrary idea, use “but.” Don’t do this with every single sentence or else you’ll sound repetitive, but don’t be afraid to use conjunctions to help your sentences flow together.
Experiment with sentence fragments.
Remember how all sentences need a subject and verb?
Well, sentence fragments don’t.
Most of your sentences should be complete, with a subject and verb. Most. But not all.
Sentence fragments (like the ones in the last paragraph) can add emphasis, urgency, and personality to your copy. They shake up the rhythm of your writing and keep things interesting.
Just don’t overdo it, or you might confuse and distract your reader.
Above all, be clear and concise.
There’s an adage in marketing that we like to use at Sigl: “If you confuse, you lose.”
When your copywriting (or design, UX, or other elements of marketing) is confusing, you will lose customers.
Potential customers don’t have the time or energy to decipher a poorly written sentence. If your sentences are too long, too complicated, or grammatically incorrect, you will lose business.
Do all your sentences sound the same? Maybe you tend to write long, winding sentences that sound like they could have come from a Faulkner novel. If you’re struggling to write compelling, concise copy, you don’t have to do it alone. Schedule a call and see how we can help. Our marketing experts will work with you to create copy that engages, excites, and encourages your audience to take action.