Copywriting The End
Copywriting Strategies Toward a Strong Conclusion
June 27, 2019
copywriting is music
Copywriting is music. And that’s a biological fact.
October 17, 2019
Show all

Copywriting and the structuring of narrative logic

copywriting logic

Waffle. Ramble. Repetition. Pointlessness. These are clear signs that your structure (narrative logic) needs fixing. When your copywriting is not ordered into sound logic, the text can  disorientate, flounder, and even confuse your reader.

Think of it as a spine. This is more obvious in multi-page documents like brochures and white papers, where each section is a vertebrae in the overall structure (over-arching story). However, the same metaphor can be applied to a one page, long form piece such as articles, web copy and blog posts. And that’s what we will focus on here.

Between the first impression (headline, opening hook line and introduction paragraph) and the last impression (the conclusion) there is the substantiation section (the narrative spine). This is where you talk features, benefits and key points that support your proposition. These substantiation sentences must persuade your reader to buy in to your argument.

Whether you write this section in prose or bullet points (or more likely a combination of both), the order you arrange the substantiation points shows direction as you move story forward. It is this narrative logic that guides the copywriter and the reader.

While we all judge quality copywriting in terms of ideas, writerly verve, and the ten principles of clear writing¹, narrative logic is often overlooked in the conversation. Perhaps because we tend to be too lenient about structure. As long as the key points are made, who cares which order they come in, right?

Wrong.

Never underestimate the conscious, and especially sub-conscious, decisions your reader is making about your piece (and its author). I started taking subconscious decision-making seriously after researching the psychology of the hospitality and restaurant industry. Andrew Freeman², a professional consultant on the subject, revealed that we make decisions about the slightest thing (stain on the menu = kitchen is dirty; the lighting makes your skin look good = hotel manager is attentive).

What’s worse, we tend to focus on the wrong more than the right. Even if five things go right, it only takes one thing to go wrong for us to be left with a negative impression. Ever read three good reviews followed by a bad review in TripAdvisor making you have second thoughts about that hotel?

So too in all types of writing.

Especially copywriting, where the audience is reluctant and impatient. One bad move in the logical flow can be like that stain on the menu.

 

Stage 1 of narrative logic: list.

If you start with a communication brief, you will have already listed the key points in the Reasons to Buy-In section. But if you’re rewriting an existing piece, then you extract and list all the key points mentioned in the existing draft. Either way, here are the three stages in designing and building a strong back bone for your story:

  1. List all the relevant facts, stats, virtues, points
  2. Shortlist them into what’s relevant for the story
  3. Arrange them into logical sequence.

The key points must follow logically from A to B to C to D and so on. This can be sequential (a, b, c …) cause and effect (this leads to that leads to this …) or in order of importance (inverted pyramid style). Most of the time it’s cause and effect, like in the following example of a Copywriting in Action project on Life After Fossil Fuels: Toward a Low Carbon Economy.

 

Listing all the facts, stats, virtues, points, relevant quotes:

  1. Global Reporting Initiative, the leader in sustainability reporting 1997
  2. Set up Ceres 1996
  3. “This is an important insight because if you fight about this you may never get to the agreement as people set up machine gun nests for their own beliefs,” he says.
  4. Visiting Australian this week
  5. Investor Network on Climate Risk 1998
  6. Created or led three ground-breaking coalitions that have helped shape the sustainability agenda
  7. Bob’s key principle is that “people can want the same thing for different reasons”.
  8. During his childhood he struggled with many personal health issues, which he writes about in his book Song in the Night: A Memoir of Resilience.
  9. Massie’s life experiences put him in a good position to rise to the complexity of the challenge, having been a business professor, Episcopal minister, apartheid rights activist, political veteran and survivor of hepatitis, HIV and a liver transplant.
  10. Massie’s inspiration comes from reading a paper 20 years ago by renowned legal scholar Cass Sunstein about incompletely theorised agreements
  11. Massie says that what he learnt from Sustein is that “people can want the same thing for different reasons.”
  12. Al Gore says Bob Massie is a man who has ‘combined foresight, passion, and skill to create lasting change in the US and around the world’.

 

Stage 2 of narrative logic: shortlist.

You might find that some of the key points are not relevant to the story you have come up with. Or perhaps some key points are closely related and therefore can be merged into one key point. It’s not unusual to start off with 10 key points and end up with five or six — depending on the story or word count limit or time.

  1. Global Reporting Initiative, the leader in sustainability reporting 1997
  2. Set up Ceres 1996
  3. “This is an important insight because if you fight about this you may never get to the agreement as people set up machine gun nests for their own beliefs,” he says.
  4. Visiting Australian this week
  5. Investor Network on Climate Risk 1998
  6. Created or led three ground-breaking coalitions that have helped shape the sustainability agenda
  7. Bob’s key principle is that “people can want the same thing for different reasons”.
  8. Al Gore says Bob Massie is a man who has ‘combined foresight, passion, and skill to create lasting change in the US and around the world’.

 

Stage 3 of narrative logic: order.

You’ve got to be very logical here. And consider the delicate cognitive processes of your reader.

Point #1 below is the whole reason for the post, so it makes sense to start off with Bob’s arrival to Oz. Then we need to know why he does what he does, so Points # 2 and #3 (interrelated) explain that clearly, showing us the driving force behind his exceptional ability to bring opposing forces onto the same page. This is demonstrated with Points # 5, #6, #7 and #8, all of which are set up by Point #4 which packages them into the idea of “ground-breaking coalitions”. Then Point #9 makes a nice summary by quoting an expert on the subject we all know and love.

  1. Visiting Australia this week
  2. Bob’s key principle is that “people can want the same thing for different reasons”.
  3. “This is an important insight because if you fight about this you may never get to the agreement as people set up machine gun nests for their own beliefs,” he says.
  4. Created or led three ground-breaking coalitions that have helped shape the sustainability agenda
  5. Ceres 1996
  6. Global Reporting Initiative, the leader in sustainability reporting 1997
  7. Investor Network on Climate Risk 1998
  8. Currently developing the New Economy Coalition (NEC)
  9. Al Gore says Bob Massie is a man who has ‘combined foresight, passion, and skill to create lasting change in the US and around the world’.

It pays to make time at the beginning of the drafting stage listing, organising and shaping the parts that make up the narrative structure. You not only ensure solid textual architecture, you also save a lot of post-draft time editing, revising, and rewriting.

Here’s the final draft of the Life After Fossil Fuels: Toward a Low Carbon Economy from one of my 2015 Copywriting in Action courses:

copywriting

Meanwhile, my online copywriting course’s latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now. It’s the one copywriting course that puts you to work on all types of writing.

 


¹ The Ten Principles of Clear Writing:

Keep sentences tight
Prefer the simple to the complex
Prefer the familiar word
Avoid unnecessary words
Put action in your verbs
Write like you talk
Use terms your reader can picture
Tie in with your reader’s experience
Make full use of variety
Write to express, not impress

² The Psychology of Hospitality, Anneli Rufus, Pyschology Today, November 10, 2009

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *