20 Common Mistakes New Copywriters Should Take Care Not To Make

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Whether they are recent graduates from communications, marketing or related degree programs or job seekers entering the field midcareer, rookie communications pros often possess a limited understanding of their role, responsibilities and best practices to follow when they’re working on certain projects. Copywriting is a task that may be assigned to new comms team members, for instance, but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple one. Thankfully, learning the do’s and don’ts of writing copy from more experienced peers can reduce their learning curve.

The best copywriters have taken years to hone their craft, and new comms team members who are lucky enough to have a mentor in this practice area can greatly benefit from their guidance. As the members of Forbes Communications Council know, it takes time to absorb all of the critical information and knowledge a newcomer needs to succeed in the industry. Below, 20 members share common copywriting mistakes they would proactively warn new team members not to make if they were serving as a mentor.

1. Writing For Everyone

New copywriters need to avoid writing for everyone. Have a very specific audience in mind. Narrow it down to a single person if possible. What’s their role or title? What problems do they have? What mission are they inspired by? Download a stock photo that you think represents this person, and give them a name. You’re not writing for everyone or a “persona”—this is who you are writing for. – Scott Sanchez, Harness

2. Letting AI Steal Your Voice

In this age of artificial intelligence, embrace generative AI, but don’t let it steal your voice. Yes, adopt ChatGPT as your new writing tool. Use it to test ideas and messaging, then layer in the wit and wisdom that is uniquely yours. – Anna Luo, Jivox

3. Using Certain Qualifiers And ‘-ing’ Words

My college journalism teacher advised us to avoid using these words: “very,” “little,” “really,” “pretty,” “just,” “quite” and “rather.” Also, avoid using “-ing” words whenever possible. These tips will make your writing strong, crisp and clean. – Joan P. Hammel, Comcast

4. Not Backing Up Stats, Facts And Claims

Don’t forget to be careful with the statistics and facts you use and any claims you make. These need citations. This practice will also help you remember to use credible sources that are the most up-to-date ones available. – Kristi Harrington, FieldRoutes

5. Getting Lost In Company Jargon

Don’t get lost in company jargon. It’s easy to forget how second-nature your brand’s verbiage can be for you, yet how new it might be for your audience or customers. Strive for an approachable, relatable and accessible tone in your copywriting to authentically connect with your audience rather than overwhelm them with terminology that could confuse them. – Yvethe Tyszka, Zesty Paws

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

6. Using Big Words And Complicated Sentences

There is often a temptation for new copywriters to “prove” their worth by using big words and complicated sentences. The goal should be clarity, not complexity. I would warn them not to reach for an obscure or fancy vocabulary term when a clearer and simpler alternative is available. – Everett Millman, Gainesville Coins, LLC

7. Making Declarative Statements

Whenever you feel the urge to make declarative statements—even if you think you’re stating an accepted fact—take a step back and evaluate other ways of getting your point across. If you must be declarative, you owe it to your audience (even the ones who already share your point of view) to offer a rationale for your thinking. Any opinion should have a basis. – John Steinert, TechTarget

8. Using Exclusionary Language

Avoid falling into the trap of using exclusionary language. Skip terms such as “falling on deaf ears,” “flying blind,” “blacklist,” “lame,” “crazy,” “manpower” and so on. Instead, be an active student of inclusive language. When you write with sensitivity and awareness, your message comes across clearly to a wider audience. No matter your own preferences, keeping diversity, equity and inclusion in mind is essential for most brands. – Yael Klass, Similarweb Ltd.

9. Not Writing In The Brand Voice

One mistake you might see a new comms pro make is writing how they’ve been taught to write in school or at a previous job instead of writing in the brand voice. I always go over examples of comms pieces with a strong brand voice to give them a sense of what the writing style should be like. – Melissa Kandel, little word studio

10. Forgetting About Storytelling

It is great to focus on data and facts, but at the same time, do not forget about storytelling. At the end of the day, people want to read an interesting piece of content and not just data and facts. – Anthony Wong, Attensi

11. Not Having Your Work Proofread

Proofreading your work is essential, especially as a copywriter. It is easy to miss your own mistakes, so having a second set of eyes review your content is worthwhile for important pieces. – Layla Kasha, Grocery Outlet

12. Creating Boring Headlines

The headline sets the tone for a piece of content; it can lead to interest, clicks and reads or it can be totally ignored. Comms pros need to strike a balance between letting the audience know what to expect and making it interesting, unique or fun. Worry less about headline grammar and more about enticing the audience to dig into your article, video or guide. – Tom Treanor, Snipp Interactive

13. Neglecting Your Target Audience

One crucial piece of advice for copywriters is to never neglect your target audience. Tailoring your copy to their specific needs, interests and preferences is essential for making it relatable and compelling. Take the time to thoroughly understand your audience by researching their demographics, behaviors, motivations and pain points. – Jawaher Al-Khuzaei, GWC

14. Being Inconsistent In Your Writing

Avoid inconsistency. In reviewing copy, I often see writers shift from speaking about their organization in the first person to third person within the same communications deliverable. Shifting between speaking directly to the reader and speaking about the reader is another common inconsistency. Finally, watch out for the inconsistent use of punctuation, such as Oxford commas, bullets and hyphens. – Gina Katzmark, TimelyCare

15. Being Too Wordy

Avoid wordiness. One of the best tips I’ve gotten is that if you start a sentence with “There is,” then there is a more concise way to write the sentence. Clunky, overwritten copy makes it much harder to get your brand’s point across—so be ruthless about eliminating it. – Robert Neely, Lima One Capital

16. Trying Too Hard To Be Cute Or Funny

If it’s not natural to your brand, don’t do it. Be “present” for your customers by using a relatable tone that speaks to them and who they are. Attempting to be witty or entertaining can fall really flat—or worse, it can annoy your most loyal customers and cause them to roll their eyes. Let’s face it, if you aren’t managing Wendy’s Twitter account, don’t even try sarcasm! – Kathleen Stockham, South College

17. Using Poor Grammar

Nothing deflates a room, or leaves a stain on a brand, like someone using poor grammar—especially in copy. Shoddy or loose language can threaten a brand’s credibility and weaken its reputation. New comms pros can strengthen grammar skills by reading for craft. Follow solid media outlets and good authors. Pick up on their qualities and work to emulate them. This is a great way to hone a lifelong skill. – Monica Kumar, Hitachi Vantara

18. Using Emojis In Copy

My advice to beginners is to refrain from using emojis in copy. Although emojis can be lighthearted and generate engagement, communications pros are typically either speaking on behalf of the company they work for or are the voice of the company. They should make sure their word choices and sentence structures convey a succinct message, rather than relying on emojis to do it for them. – Jennifer Haas, OncoHealth

19. Providing A Lot Of Information As Quickly As Possible

When I was new to communications, I made the mistake of thinking that the audience wanted a lot of information as quickly as possible. I have since learned that readers and viewers want an entertaining, digestible and memorable amount of information. Honing our message and content to be clean and gripping is key to effective communication. – Colin Jeffries, BrightView Health

20. Using The Passive Voice

Get rid of the passive voice and use the active voice instead. It connects action with the subject, requires fewer words and reads more clearly. “The employees were given instructions by their HR business partners” versus “The HR business partners gave the employees instructions” illustrates this concept clearly. I tell my teams and clients that this simple fix can eliminate 10% to 15% of unneeded words. – Mark Dollins, North Star Communications Consulting

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