This is part three in our Copy Matters series.
It can be hard to write when you don’t know what you’re writing. But sometimes that happens when you need a blurb for the bulletin right now and suddenly copy is flowing. Or someone else offered to make your job easier and write the copy for you, but they just wrote what they thought and didn’t answer the important questions.
Before anyone sits down to write they have to answer some vital questions. Here are a few:
What’s the Purpose?
What’s the point of what you’re writing? An announcement about the business meeting is very different from a youth devotional or an invitation to a new member. They have different needs, different audiences, different styles. The purpose is big picture. It’s what you’re talking about and what you’re hoping to do. It needs to be specific, but not too specific (we’ll get more specific with the call to action). Are you promoting small groups, encouraging people to join one, trying to start new ones or proving content for small groups?
It almost sounds too simplistic, but too often people throw demands at writers and don’t even flesh out the basics. Make sure you have the basics. You can’t do anything without knowing the purpose.
Who’s the Audience?
Who is going to be reading this? Writing for teens is very different from writing for their parents. Writing for the small group Bible study curriculum is probably going to be different than the announcement about the Easter outreach for the local newspaper. Know who your audience is and write for them. You probably don’t want to use the word transubstantiation in the Easter outreach ad, but it’s probably just fine in a small group curriculum.
What’s the Style and Tone?
Knowing your audience will go a long way towards deciding your style and tone, but even among the same audience you can use very different styles. An annual report might have a more serious tone while the monthly pastor’s letter might be more friendly, even though both have the same audience. Think about your style ahead of time so it can be consistent throughout your writing. There’s nothing weirder than shifting back and forth between friendly and confrontational in the same piece.
What’s the Call to Action?
This is a big one. What do you want people to do? Too often we write about something but we never tell people what we actually want them to do. You can’t assume they’ll figure it out. Tell them. Are they supposed to come to the Pancake Supper? Sign up for it? Offer to help? Tell their friends about it? Pick one, then make it clear, simple and easy. Remember that the purpose is about big picture, but the call to action needs to be specific.
There are probably other important questions to ask, but these should help get you started.