It’s obvious when naughty amateurs desperately need help from a freelance copywriter. Their apologetic copy screams “I haven’t done my homework” because they’ve skipped the critical research and planning process that should always precede your copywriting.

Here are two lazy errors that I often see when someone asks me to review and improve their copy:

Why not … [buy/book/do something etc.]?

What better way to [buy/book/do something etc.]?

These are both hallmarks of copywriting that started out with good intentions but the writer soon ran out of things to say. And it happens because homeless questions that should live in the research and planning phase come back to squat in their copy. Critical questions that any decent freelance copywriter would ask, like:

  • What is it you’re trying to say?
  • How do you want the reader to feel after they’ve read your copy?
  • What problem does this product solve?

That isn’t an exhaustive list of course, but they’re powerful cues for planning any convincing piece of copywriting.

When a copywriter should ask questions

If you’re a copywriter too, no doubt you’re ready to argue in favour of questions in your copy. And you’re right, there is a place for questions. But not open-ended generic ones that leave your copy open to a million obvious and sensible responses that the reader already has prepared.

Readers have good reasons why they shouldn’t part with their hard-earned cash or expose their personal details. That’s their default position when they begin reading your copy. So it’s our job as copywriters to respond to their objections with fair and honest pre-emptive counterstrikes. You do that with sincere empathy and stories of a brighter future that fulfil their existing desires.

Good questions to ask are ones which don’t interrupt the flow of your copy. Questions that are non-intrusive, rhetorical and enhance the conversational tone of your narrative. Take this example from some copy I wrote for my wedding photography page:

Nowadays honest brides and grooms are expected to hand over thousands of pounds for artificial wedding photos of staged poses that didn’t really happen. What about sensible couples like you? With realistic expectations and budgets to match.

I’m sure that most people would agree that two grand is expensive for posed photos of couples sat awkwardly on a swing.

In the example, notice how the question is threaded into the goal of the copy. It’s a closed-question truism that’s based on a researched understanding of the reader’s problem. And it’s integral to showing empathy. It certainly isn’t a pointless catch-all that says “oh well, I couldn’t be bothered taking time to understand your situation so I’ll let you fill in the blanks instead.”

If you find yourself straying into “what better way to…” or “why not…” territory then stop. Because you probably haven’t put enough effort into the crucial analysis phase before you write your copy.

The most likely conceivable replies to any questions that you pose to readers should already be taken care of in your copywriting plan. Because these are the concerns, objections and characteristics of the people you should know intimately before you start writing your copy.