What makes good copy?


Answer these four critical questions and you can't go far wrong:

1. What are you trying to do, i.e. what's the objective of the communication?
2. How will you go about doing it, i.e. what is/are your key sales message(s)?
3. Why will you succeed, i.e. what supporting evidence for your sales message and other sales points will help ensure a positive response?
4. So what?- i.e. so what do you want the reader to do?

5. Structure your copy in the same order as answers to the questions above.
6. Learn as much as you can about the mindset, lifestyle and attitudes of your audience before writing anything. Match the language and tone of voice you use to what you've learned.
7. Remember that women largely respond more positively to benefits/appeals/ arguments that are emotional rather than rational; vice versa for men.
8. Start your headline copy by writing down the first thing you think of, then see if there's a way to make it fresher or more compelling. You might try to differentiate the communication visually instead by considering different looks or themes.
9. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate! Ask yourself if what you've written clearly belongs to the brand involved and will stand out from the competition.
10. Don't preach, persuade. Use a tone of voice that your recipients will warm to.
11. Repetition (in moderation) can strengthen your message; don't be afraid of it.
12. Never underestimate the intelligence of your market. Today's consumers are highly advertising-literate.
13. Use a good dictionary (or check www.dictionary.com) and keep a book on grammar and English usage handy for reference. The largest part of your audience might not pick up spelling, grammatical or punctuation errors. Those who do will see the company as unprofessional. (And that can include the client, the competition and the directors of your business.)


  • Headline based on the offer, e.g. 10% OFF, 0% interest for 6 months etc.
  • Body copy provides further details of the offer (e.g. start/end dates, what to do to get it, etc.) and key reasons why the reader should take up the offer (e.g. high quality at affordable price, youíll feel more confident etc.)
  • Strong call to action possibly with reminder, e.g. 'To get X, call today.'
  • terms and conditions


  • Headline based on the key benefit for the reader (e.g. peace of mind; time saving; chance to be pampered; biggest choice of, for example, mobile phones). Objective is to trigger interest and motivate response.
  • Body copy offers support for the main benefit and highlights any secondary benefits. Objective is to persuade reader of the value of the product or service to themselves and/or their lives.
  • Strong call to action
  • Ts and Cs


  • Headline and visual together project the essence of a simple, strong idea, e.g. 'You know when you've been Tango-ed'; 'in a skid, it's your instinct that can kill you' (road safety). Objective is to excite interest, engage the reader, make people say 'I never thought of it like this before', i.e. put an original spin on the selling proposition.
  • Body copy focuses on the one, simple, single-minded idea behind the concept, as persuasively as possible.
  • Strong call to action
  • Ts and Cs


  • Headline sets up the problem
  • Body copy provides the solution
  • Strong call to action
  • Ts and Cs


  • Lead with the strongest offer or benefit you've got to grab the audience's attention immediately.
  • Break up the copy with bold sub-headings, written so that the reader can get the gist of your message even if they read only these.
  • Avoid stiff and overly formal language (ditto overly chatty).
  • Always close with a clear call to action.
  • If there's a point you specifically want to promote or reiterate, do it in a PS - these almost always get read.


  • Have a clear idea of both customer and brand identity/personality and reflect this in the language and the tone of voice you use.
  • Lead with a strong offer or benefit.
  • Keep the message simple and to the point with minimal copy.
  • Write and design the item to stand out in whatever environment it will appear, e.g. a starkly simple approach will stand out in a busy, cluttered environment and vice versa.

Val Valentine, advertising and direct mail copywriter

Copyright 2005 Val Valentine

Val Valentine is a B2C and B2B advertising and direct mail copywriter based in the Midlands, UK. With over 25 yearsí experience, she also writes commercials for TV and Radio, brochures, sales letters, articles, web content and has broad experience of strategic brand planning and development. You can reach her at +44 (0) 1684 772 021 or +44 (0 )7802 959 009. For further information, please visit www.valvalentine.co.uk

Ways of starting a sales letter
I've received probably thousands of sales letters... Read more
10-point checklist for effective headlines
Press ads and direct mail have to fight hard for attention against other ads and mail shots... Read more
Why do 80% of small business owners fail?
Is it finance? Is it red tape? Is it that the competition's too tough? Is it crippling legislation? Read more
How to Write a Press Release
Editors often read hundreds of releases every day. Typically, they have only seconds to review each one... Read more
What makes good copy?
It's not as easy as many people think. Here are a few guidelines to help you along. Read more
Direct mail isn't called junk mail for nothing
There are no guarantees in this business, but here are a few tips so you can give it your best shot. Read more
Would you credit it? Why not all debt is bad.
The British owe £1 trillion to banks, building societies and other lenders, according to economic forecasters. Read more
How to make sure your children grow up credit wise.
You've taught them about money, but have you taught them about credit? Read more
Food for thought
For decades, it was great sport to knock British cooking... Read more