We have a way with words
The practice of writing for advertising or other promotional marketing materials is called copywriting. In most cases, several copy elements come together (often paired with visual elements) to tell a complete story—one that makes your audience think, feel, believe, and ultimately take action.
If you’re working on a campaign, it can help to first develop a messaging strategy. Your messaging strategy should clearly describe how your creative work will use verbal language to address the objectives outlined in the project brief. You can then use that approach to write copy that will be carried out across media and touchpoints to build a cohesive body of creative work.
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Get down to the specifics
You’ll often be writing with limitations, having to meet formatting specifications and operate within small spaces. Once you know your media placements, be sure to pay attention to all specifications and to follow best practices for that channel or platform. This is vital to maintaining the integrity of both your execution and the IU brand, and for maximizing the effectiveness of your creative work.
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A few principles of writing persuasively
While there are no steadfast or absolute rules to copywriting—and plenty of occasions where breaking a rule of thumb can be quite successful—one of the most foundational principles of copywriting is that short is sweet. Great copy is lean. So write tight, sharpen your lines, and don’t say more than you need to.
It’s also critical to stay on strategy. Your campaign’s strategy will determine what you want to say, but copywriting is about deciding how to say it.
Reward your audience
Whether it’s with a smile or a surprise, you’re stealing a second of your reader’s time, so make it worth it for them. Your job is to form a connection between the IU brand and your audience, so your copy should be engaging, interesting, and relatable.
One of the best ways to leave your audience feeling rewarded is by allowing them to connect a few dots. You want them to grasp what you’re saying, but it doesn’t hurt to make them think a little or provoke their curiosity.
Speak in details, not generalities
Vague statements tend to be less compelling than specific ones. Whenever possible, replace abstract or general statements with specific content. Be particular with the words you choose, rather than going with the first and easiest description that comes to mind. You can consider pulling in an interesting figure or statistic, and frame it in a unique way. Details will make your copy more believable.
But speaking in detail doesn’t mean being wordy. Make your level of detail appropriate for the type of copy you’re creating. The body copy of a brochure, for example, provides more room for specifics than a headline does.
Don't be cliche
Great copy has imagination. Overused or predictable expressions will put your creative work at risk of being dismissed. If your audience feels like they aren’t seeing something new, there isn’t much reason for them to engage.
However, twisting or providing an unexpected take on a cliché can capture your audience’s attention. Try substituting a new word or phrase into a familiar cliché to make your copy clever.
Focus, and get to the point. Fast.
Know what you want to say before you say anything and make sure your copy communicates that idea. Your writing should have a unifying message around which all of your copy is centered, whether it’s body copy in a print ad or a caption on social media.
Convey your central idea in your headline and use other copy components to elaborate or emphasize. If you’re creating a video, you’ll typically want to put your most important thought up front, knowing that many viewers may only watch the first few seconds. (This is the same reason you’ll want to put branding in the beginning of a video.) You want your audience to get the message and associate it with IU, even if they only interact with your content briefly.
Use an active voice, speak in the present tense, and consider writing in first or second person
To make your copy more engaging, you can use pronouns like “we,” “you,” and “your.” Avoid using the past tense, except when there’s a good creative reason to employ it. Active voice is more direct, and makes your writing feel more relevant.
The essential components of copy
Both your creative concept and the specifications of your media placement will determine how much copy you’ll include in your piece. To help build hierarchy and make your creative executions both digestible and compelling, you’ll typically want to break your copy down into different components.
There are three core copy components across which you can strategically break up your message. Keep in mind, you won’t have all of these components in every piece. To find out more about writing for a specific medium, this page can help.
This is the most prominent piece of copy in your execution, and in many cases, it’s the only one your audience will read. In fact, three to five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. So use it to deliver your key takeaway or communicate the value or benefit IU offers that you want your audience to be aware of. But that doesn’t mean it should be boring or straightforward. You want your audience to think a little—it makes them further engage with your piece.
It’s also important to use the headline to draw attention to your execution, and to lead viewers into the rest of your copy. Think about how your headline acts as a companion to the visual, using the two together to paint a whole picture.
A subhead is a secondary headline that is typically set larger than the body copy, but smaller than the primary headline. Subheads can be located above or below the headline, or can appear in the body copy in a way that’s visually emphasized (like bold or italic type). Use subheads to help lead your reader from your headline to the body copy.
Don’t feel like you need a subhead, however. Sometimes your headline can stand on its own.
This is your opportunity to provide credibility to your story. Use body copy to elaborate on the statements you’re making in your headline. As copy set in smaller type, body copy is the appropriate field for providing details, or describing the benefit and utility IU can bring to our constituents’ lives.
Only a fraction of your audience will read your body copy. But don’t dismiss it—those who do read the body copy are the most interested parties.
A little reading to help your writing
Always make your writing accessible and inclusive to maximize its reach and impact.
Writing across media
Learn best practices for writing content across media touchpoints.
Our editorial style
Get access to our style guides: the IU Web Style Guide and our Editorial Style Guide.