Copy tips 002: The power of the specific

All writing – especially in digital copy – becomes more engaging when it’s specific and concrete, and less effective when it’s abstract, generic or vague.

 Copy tips 002: The power of the specific

Readers are suspicious about sweeping marketing claims that are short on facts or figures, for instance, and find it hard to process statements that lack examples or real detail.

Adding some specificity to your writing is an easy way to ramp up its effectiveness, and there are lots of ways you can do it.

Here are just a few:

  • Use tabloid units of measurement – double-decker buses, football pitches etc - to quantify complex amounts. GE talks about reducing its water footprint in terms of Olympic-sized swimming pools, for instance, while charities have found that donations increase when they translate monetary amounts into tangible benefits, eg ‘£5 pays for a cataract operation’. 
  • When describing a range of items, give examples from each end of the spectrum. So don’t just say, ‘Whatever your holiday needs, we’ve got it covered with a wide range of travel options’. Say: ‘From ski tours to Caribbean honeymoon packages to dive cruises…'
  • Include testimonials and brief case studies. Even unattributed first-person quotes – ie real quotes, but unattributed – have been found to have a powerful effect.
  • Include pictures of real people – users hate staged model shots of call-centre staff, but respond positively to images of ordinary people – people we could imagine might actually work for you.
  • Look for a telling detail or reason to care – the one single fact or statement that eloquently sums up a whole topic. So GE on its shareholder page leads with a single line that speaks volumes: “GE was listed in the top 100 of the original Standard & Poor’s 50 listing in 1959, and is the only company still listed there today”. There are no vague superlatives or marketing claims in this statement, just a cleverly selected fact that tells you all you need to know.