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Good and Bad Writing Style

Persuasive commercial writing should have substance, which is the rational and emotional embodiment of the strategy.  But it should also have style.

The strategy is the message, and the style is the vehicle that delivers that message. It should be interesting to the reader and appropriate to the audience, to the company using it, and to the nature of the message.

‘Appropriate to the audience’ refers to personal and communication style. Some audiences prefer a more formal style. Some even think it’s wrong to begin a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’.  (It isn’t.)  Others expect a more modern and informal style and will consider anything too formal to be stilted, if they even bother to read it.

There’s another way your copy needs to be appropriate.  It must reflect well on your company. Poor English, for example, doesn’t make a flattering statement about your company’s image and taste. Language that is unhelpful or unclear reflects poorly on your customer service. Boastful style destroys credibility. If your company is an upscale leader in its category, writing that is too breezy and casual makes your company look schizophrenic.  Remarks that could be considered offensive to a certain group not only hurt the communication, they might have a deleterious effect on the company’s image.

The right style reflects who you are and what you want to look like. A skilled and experienced copywriter, knows the style that is right for a specific assignment.  A novice writer understands neither business nor language.  He’s happy to just string words together in a sometimes clever way and can’t spot ineffective copy when he sees it.

A related stylistic problem is writers writing mainly for other writers. We all want to win awards and to have our work considered ‘cool’ by our peers, but our main calling should be to serve those who are paying us. A campaign I created that won awards for creative excellence from the American Marketing Association was an honor I enjoyed receiving. But the fact that the campaign exceeded our sales goals by ten times and took our client to a much higher level nationally was the greater honor.

The stylistic devices we use should be judged by their effectiveness.  They should facilitate and not detract from the communication. Anything that serves the effective communication of our message is good style. Anything that hinders that effort is not. Writing is strategic when we keep it focused on the audience, the communication goals, and the message.