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Divine Write Copywriting Forum • View topic - What, technically, is wrong with this?
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 Post subject: What, technically, is wrong with this?
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2007 5:24 pm 
I am trying to get a handle on what is wrong/unappealing about this copy .. what are the technical reasons? Is it passive voice or second person or something?

"Built over two levels with water views toward Tomaree Headlands from the upper level. Situated 150 yards from Shoal Bay Beach this 3rd floor split level executive style apartment features lift access, two tiled light and airy living areas, gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances, huge rear deck overlooking leafy reserve with shade cloth retractable covering, outdoor setting and gas bbq, three bedrooms each with their own stylish ensuite, two communal lock up car spaces, tastefully furnished for you to walk in & start enjoying your holiday."

Apart from the second sentence being too long, I just don't find it compelling.

Why is that ? Can that be explained in technical terms?

What do you call it when the subject is omitted and we start with a verb
like "Built over..". Then we have another sentence "Situated over .."


Later on in the same ad, we have

"Nestled quietly next to Nelson Bay is Shoal Bay, which overlooks the magnificent Tomaree and Yacaaba headlands, forming the impressive entrance to Port Stephens. Shoal Bay is surrounded by National Park, providing excellent bush tracks leading to different beaches."

Again, my intuition is that it could be more elegantly written, but I lack the technical/grammatical knowledge to say why and how. A critique would be most welcome.



A small shopping villa along with other Shoal Bay attractions, are located directly across from the water. The shopping villa provides a few exquisite restaurants.

Nelson Bay is most famous for the freashest seafood you will ever taste. Here is the local marina, located in the heart of Nelson Bay.


OK, apart from the spelling error, some punctuation and grammatical errors, and something of a non-sequitur what, technically, is wrong with this.

Or, more to the point why do I find the copy unappealing.. is there an explanation in technical terms?

I am trying to advance my understanding beyond the gut feel level, and any help would be appreciated.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 9:33 am 
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Hi Mutley2003. Thanks for your post.

Some other members may disagree, but I don't think that the technical is the problem here. While I'm sure there are some technical errors, I think the real problem is just the overall feel. Seems a little like the writer was on auto-pilot when they wrote it. When I read it, it sounds - in my head - like it's being read out loud by someone like the ABC's Sandman or Elliot Goblet (don't know if anyone knows them, but think monotone, and you're half way there).

To me, this is a classic case of 'Is it worth critiquing...?'. I've outsourced work in the past that has come back like this, and it's always left me in that bind. I could spend an hour finding every technical error and suggesting different ways to write things, but then I would have spent more time than I'd have spent writing it myself to begin with. These days, I don't bother. I just throw it away and start again myself.

But for what it's worth, here are a few of the main problems as I see them:

1) There's nothing placing the reader in the scene. The writer is simply describing the property, they're not inviting readers to picture themselves in the property, taking a look around, immersing themselves in the view, the smells, the tastes, the sounds, the colours. IMHO, property descriptions should be either short, sharp bulleted lists of features, or a narrative that transports the reader to the property and conveys what it'd be like to live there (i.e. to live the ideal life there). This piece is neither.

2) The first sentence "Built over two levels..." is not technically a complete sentence. It's more a note style of writing.

3) Sometimes it works to start two consecutive sentences with the same construction, but I don't think it works in the first paragraph you've cited. i.e. "Built over two levels..." followed by "Situated 150 yards from..." That's what struck me as 'copywriting by numbers'. This can be an effective way to start sentences because it's not the same old, same old, but if you overdo it, it becomes the same old, same old. Easy trap to fall into, though.

4) As you said, the second sentence is way too long. I'd try grouping property features around the lifestyle they enable (or I'd bullet list them as discussed above).

5) Not enough short sentences (in addition to being easier to read, they can make things sound a little more profound).

6) The sentence beginning "Nestled quietly next to..." is not technically a complete sentence because, once again, there is no subject, so it's more note style.

7) "... providing excellent bush tracks leading to different beaches" - boring. I'd never use "excellent" as an adjective to describe bush tracks. What about rugged or scenic or leafy or idyllic... And what's different about the beaches? Or does the writer mean a variety of beaches? What's more, why not discuss the benefit of the bush tracks and the variety of beaches? Secluded bushwalks and picnics on the beach? Fitness? Fun hikes with friends? Walking the dog? Taking the kids for a walk to the beach? These are the things that people will want to do (depending on your audience, of course), so why not discuss them. This is what I meant by transporting the reader to the scene.

8 ) Not sure that the sentence beginning, "A small shopping villa..." is grammatically correct. Because the writer has used "along with", they've qualified the subject, they haven't added additional subjects. So I THINK your writer should have used "IS located" instead of "ARE located". If they'd said "... shopping villa AND a variety of other attractions..." then they could have used "are". Either way, once again, it's a pretty dry description.

9) "Here is the local marina..." What's the point of this sentence? It doesn't really offer any value.

I'm sure there's a lot more that could be said about this piece. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to offer any more.

Perhaps some other members have some critique?

Cheers.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 4:47 pm 
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I'm not so sure of this being a technical problem, as much as a stylistic problem. Personally I find the whole thing a bit clunky - the narrative doesn't really flow, so reading it is a bit of a challenge.

I also agree with the comments made in the previous post about it not engaging the reader; it's kind of like going to a restaurant and reading a list of ingredients to describe a meal, rather than a sumptuous picture painted in words to get your taste-buds geared up and salivating! Yes - the copy gives you the details, but it offers nothing to make it stand alone from any other similar holiday apartment complex.

Bearing that in mind, the most successful advertisments aren't necessarily those which provide the most information, but rather those which make an emotional connection with the audience. If YOU were the end consumer, what advantages and life-style qualities would you be looking for? Does this copy provide it?

Hope that gives you another angle to consider.


Cheers,
Anna


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 5:06 pm 
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'Morning -

Is this web or brochure copy?

Yours, not at all grabbed ...

... emotionally ...

by the description of somewhere I'd otherwise kill to stay at.

(Oops - end-of-sentence preposition there. Looks like I'll be hearing from the Grammar Police.)


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 10:46 pm 
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"Built over two levels with water views toward Tomaree Headlands from the upper level."

When I read this sentence I felt that after I had finished it, it didn't really encourage me to read further OR lead me into the remaining information about the resort.

I didn't have any trouble reading the second paragraph, and in my humble opinion I didn't think that the length was that bad considering what you were writing about. However, I would have stopped after "car spaces" and elaborated more from "tastefullly furnished" onwards by placing it in a new paragraph.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 9:12 am 
Thanks for the feedback .. it does seem that it is rather hard to pin down what is wrong with a piece of copy other than in abstract terms .. eg "doesn't flow", "doesn't connect", "doesn't communicate benefits/lifestyle advantages/outcomes", "doesn't place YOU in the picture".

Those are all valuable insights, but I don't know that they tell me

a) what is technically wrong with the copy (if 'technical correctness' is a meaningful idea - maybe it is not - although Glenn drew my attention to the concept of "proper sentences"), or

b) what I could do with it to fix it up (apart perhaps from shortening sentences, presenting them in point form, changing some adjectives, avoiding cliches), and maybe "fixing up" is again not a meaningful concept.. certainly my gut feel would be to do a rewrite as "a narrative that transports the reader to the property and conveys what it'd be like to live there" (thanks Glenn)


Is there an issue with a preponderance of "present tense" ? .. lots of "is" and "are"

Is it written in a "passive" voice?

What does one say about "Nestled" and ""overlooks" and "Surrounded" .. it seems to me that these have the effect of personifying the thing (Shoal Bay), and that the effect is weak/unconvincing and I wonder if this is a recognized and named phenomenon.

Anyway, thanks for the help and insights


PS .. I came across this article which mentions a thing called an "expository style". I cannot give the URL here (because the robot says I have to have done 10 posts first), but if you google for "How To Write an Article" by Tom Adelstein at lxer dot com , you should find it

Which raises the question ..are there other known "styles", with accepted and codified rules/guidelines?


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 9:29 am 
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Unfortunately, in my experience, most 'poor' copy doesn't usually come down to technicalities. So in most cases, it can't be 'fixed' to your satisfaction just by identifying and fixing technical errors. In many cases, the fundamentals are so bad that it can't be fixed at all.

I know it sounds a bit pretentious, but in that respect copy really is an art. It's like trying to fix the problems in a painting by Average Joe in an attempt to make it a masterpiece. (Yeah, I know it's a long bow to draw, and I'm not suggesting that my copy - or any copy - is a masterpiece, but I think you get the idea.) You might prefer to think of it as trying to build a mansion on the failing foundations of a beach shack...

That's why I'm very careful when quoting editing work (and, as mentioned previously, when outsourcing). When quoting, clients often expect that a fix-up is an editing job, and they expect it will cost a fraction of what a rewrite would cost. In practice, some fix-ups take longer than would a complete rewrite of the same subject matter, for a much inferior result.

Cheers.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 12:07 pm 
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I used to be a property writer back in the day and my pet hates were starting the description with "this" and using the word "enjoys" when referring to the home e.g. "This three bedroom home enjoys views of Port Stephens..." So at least you didn't to that.

If you want to improve any piece of copy I would make sure you have:
1. Identified the benefits that are most important to the target market.
2. Dramatised those benefits to create emotional appeal.

So, for example, instead of writing "150 yards from Shoal Bay Beach" you might say, "three minutes level stroll to Shoal Bay Beach".

In my opinion a property ad should be more than a collection of facts about the home; it should give the reader a feeling of what it wold be like to live there.

Hope that helps.

Charles


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 12:58 pm 
ok folks .. to paraphrase Glenn, "if it is broke, you can't fix it"

Charles, I did not even know there was such a profession as "property writer"... well, the depths of my ignorance are unfathomed.

I didn't write that copy, I was just using it so that I could get a better handle on what works and what doesn't, and - more importantly, for me - why. I don't just want to write good copy intuitively and naturally, I want to understand the procedures and recipes for doing so.

To take an example .. in some part of my life I am a computer programmer. I can certainly look at some code and say that is elegant or not, but I can ALSO say .. ok, the general guidelines to writing elegant code that is appropriate to this situation are .. .. I would know, roughly, where to start and how to build my intellectual constructs and how they would fit together. This is a lot more than avoiding egregious errors, it is about design and a philosophy and theory of design.

There is an area in software design called "Design Patterns" which comes down to recognizing that many problems can be classified, or initially treated as, one of a smallish number ( a dozen or so) of sets of requirements, constraints and objectives.

I guess this is what I am looking for .. some sort of framework or theory as to the "types of stories", how to write relevant and interesting and efficient and appropriate code (oops, copy).

So, I have some insights from this correspondence, thank you everyone : more, if this is a sensible topic to pursue, would be welcome also.

thanks


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