A confession: I can’t diagram a sentence.
I mean, I could once. In seventh grade, I was a master. But now…participles, gerunds, modifiers? I’ve got no fricking idea.
Here’s the thing about rules of English—which is pretty much the same for any set of rules, really—it’s important to understand them so that you can intelligently break them.
Unless you’re teaching English or writing academic papers, the logistics of gerunds (et al) don’t really come into play all that often. People don’t speak in perfect English and, in most people’s day to day lives, they don’t write in perfect English, either.
And that carries through to copywriting, as well. For most kinds of clients, you’re going to be writing closer to the way people actually speak—and less like the perfect English you were taught in school.
You’ll use phrases.
Maybe a lot of them.
You might need to dangle modifiers for things you’re referring to.
You can start sentences…
And finish them in the next paragraph.
And you’ll sometimes start sentences with “and.”
Copywriting is not perfect language; copywriting is language that sounds like the client and sounds like the target audience. It’s language that the target audience can relate to.
So, no, you don’t have to be perfect at grammar and punctuation to succeed as a copywriter.
You also need to have an understanding of the basics and, maybe more importantly, you need to have an ear for what works and what doesn’t.
There’s a natural cadence with sentences and lines and you have to adhere to that. It’s a little like poetry; some lines just need to be shorter or longer to sound right.
Here’s an example:
We’re Your Trusted Partners in International Shipping. And Processing Returns.
Now, it’s out of context but…something just doesn’t feel right about that second line, right? It’s not just that it’s a phrase (like I said, that can be fine), but it just doesn’t balance with the first line. It feels awkward and reads awkwardly.
This feel for cadence and rhythm can be honed but, likely, if you love to read, you’ve already got it in you.
If, like me, you love words and you’ve been a reader all your life, you’ve probably developed that skill without even realizing it. The more words you consume, the better able you’ll be to produce them—and produce them well.
(So keep reading! Here’s your excuse to read more of anything: It’s for your career!)
Now, at the same time, if you find yourself making the most common grammar or punctuation mistakes, you can’t let those slide. You can’t turn in work to a client that has typos or mistakes.
So…learn those rules! There aren’t really all that many will come up on a regular basis in your copywriting. Issues like their/there/they’re, its/it’s, using apostrophes to make plurals, capitalizing words in sentences that shouldn’t be, etc.— you can learn to fix all of those!
Make a list of things you commonly mess up and the right way to use/write them and post them somewhere near your computer so they’re always handy.
Your skill and value as a copywriter come from crafting wording that effectively conveys your client’s message and that resonates with the target audience.
While the most fundamental rules of grammar and punctuation (“She are going to the store” or “It grew on it’s own” won’t fly) are important, you don’t need to bust out your seventh-grade textbooks. In fact, you’d be much better served to bust out any other kinds of books you’ll enjoy reading—and, of course, to keep reading and analyzing the copy you see around you.
Your turn! Do remember what gerund is? 🙂 Have you been worried your sentence-diagramming skills aren’t up to snuff for copywriting? Let me know in the comments below.