Now we’re all copywriters here, right?

So we should be able to write, right?

But the truth is, even after years of slaving at the typewriter, we all could still learn a thing or two.

If you’re feeling lost with your writing…
Or your ransom notes are going unanswered…
Or people are ignoring your emails… 

In this episode, you’re going to get some tips on how to write better. How to write real words for real people.

Let’s get stuck in.

Tune in to learn:

  • How to get to know your audience
  • Understand the purpose of what you’re writing
  • Stop using big words to try and look smart
  • How to stop hating on jargon
  • Why should you stop hesitating
  • How to think about where your words are read
  • Why you shouldn’t overthink punctuation
  • How to manage your time so editing and proofing are part of your process
  • Why it’s important to be part of the world
  • Why you should just write some crap

Listen to the podcast below:

Question for the listeners:

What’s your number one write better tip?

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Thanks to middleagedmamainoz from Australia for a fantastic review of the show.

About Amanda

Amanda Van Elderen is a copywriter and author of Write Better: How To Cut The Crap And Say What You Mean. She bellyflopped into freelancing in 2016 when she chucked in a cushy job and founded WorkWords. She now writes for some of Australia’s biggest brands (and loads of the smallest). She’s on a mission to help everyday people write better, and to help big brands cut the crap and say what they mean.

Find Amanda


Kate Toon:            Hello and welcome to the Hot Copy podcast, a podcast for copywriters all about copywriting. Now, if you’re listening to this show, I’m guessing that you already are a copywriter, you’re thinking about being one, or you’re a writer of some sort, which means that we should already be able to write, right? Well, the truth is that even after years of slaving at the keyboard, we could all do with learning a thing or two.

So, perhaps, you’re feeling lost with your writing, or your ransom notes are going unanswered, or people are ignoring your emails. In this episode, you’re going to get some tips on how to write better, how to write real words for real people. Let’s get stuck in.

Hello, my name is Kate Toon. I’m a copywriter and the founder of The Clever Copywriting School, where you can find templates, courses, a directory, and membership for copywriters, and, of course, also The Recipe for SEO Success Learning Hub. And today with me is the marvellous Amanda Vanelderen. Hello, Amanda.

Amanda V:            Hello, Kate.

Kate Toon:            It’s very nice to have you here.

Amanda V:            Very nice to be here. Thank you. Hello, Hot Copy listeners.

Kate Toon:            I know. You’re a fan of the show, I believe. She said she is. Well, everyone says that because they just want to get on the show, but you’re also a member of my community and you’re somebody that helps me organise Copy-Con, the copywriting conference in Australia, so we go back a long way.

Amanda V:            Oh, looks like we do.

Kate Toon:            We do. I think we’ve only known each other for about three years, but there’s been a lot of love in that time. There has. So let me start by reading out your illustrious bio.

Apparently, you are a copywriter and author of Write Better: How to Cut the Crap and Say What You Mean. Amanda belly-flopped in to freelancing in 2016 when she chucked in a cushy job and founded WorkWords. She now writes for some of Australia’s biggest brands and lots of the smallest. She’s on a mission to help everyday people write better and to help big brands cut the crap and say what they mean.

So, there you go. You’ve written a book.

Amanda V:            I have, indeed. And, you know, that bio, the job wasn’t that cushy. It just sounds better.

Kate Toon:            It does sound better. You gave up a really appalling job that you didn’t like to do something that you prefer. So, today, we’re going to give some tips on how to write better. Now, I know that your book Write Better is largely aimed at non-writers, like almost non-copywriters, but I still think there’s a lot that copywriters can learn from it.


So you’ve given me a little list of ten ways that I can improve my writing – which I think is very rude because my writing’s fabulous – and the first one made me go a bit, like, “Duh”, because it was “Understand the purpose of what you’re writing.” So what do you mean by that?

Amanda V:            That’s not the first one. The first one’s audience.

Kate Toon:            Oh. Dude, don’t do that because now I have to … Ah, shit. Hang on. Okay. I’m going to have to make an edit note.

Amanda V:            Sorry.

Kate Toon:            Just go with the flow, man. What minute was that? Oh, I’ll have to get it transcribed now. Fuck. Okay. Okay. That’s the first one I’ve got on my list. I mustn’t have cut and pasted it properly. Okay.

Amanda V:            I’m sorry.

Kate Toon:            No, it’s okay. It’s just … Try not to do anything that we can’t keep because I’ll have to then … I should have said that at the beginning. It just makes the editing process a bloody nightmare. Okay, so I’ll start that bit again.

So, today, you’re going to give some tips on how to write better. Now, I know that your book is primarily aimed at, like, non-writers, but there’s lots there that copywriters can learn too. So you’ve got ten top tips on how to write better and number one is how to get to know your audience. So what do you mean by that?

Amanda V:            I think it’s about understanding that you might need to do a little bit of digging. You might think you know who these people are, you might even know how old they are or whatever, but get some data. Look at some testimonials, that’s a great place to find out what they’re thinking and, if you know where they hang out, go and hang out there too and listen in. Find out what they’re talking about.

Kate Toon:            Do you think that works for big brands as well as small businesses? Like, if I’m going to write some copy for a plumber … I mean, obviously, I’ve used a plumber, but like where would I go to understand their audience?

Amanda V:            Look, from the Australian perspective, I go to places like Product Review, talking about specific products. I go to places like Whirlpool, Reddit to a lesser extent, I think [inaudible 00:04:39] people use that more, but Whirlpool in Australia is a fabulous source of information on any kind of product or service.

Kate Toon:            It so is and I also think Facebook groups are a really good place, especially if you have some local community Facebook groups. They’re hilarious, for one, and [crosstalk 00:04:54]

Amanda V:            Oh, [inaudible 00:04:55] Yeah and, you know, starting with the … If you’ve got testimonials or reviews, like good things and bad things, starting with, you know, the brand that you’re actually working on, if they’ve got them, and then look at what their competitors are doing. Why are they doing better than your client? What are their customers saying and do that.

Kate Toon:            Yup. Copy. No, not copy.

Amanda V:            No [crosstalk 00:05:17]

Kate Toon:            Be inspired by … That’s what we say. Okay, so tip number two is understand the purpose of what you’re writing. What do you mean by that?

Amanda V:            Yeah and, look, that seems incredibly simple and like I’m being Captain Obvious, but so many people skim over and don’t really take it into account. So what are you actually trying to do? If you understand who the audience is, what do you want to do to them now? Do you want to persuade them of something? Do you want to say sorry about something? Are you giving them good news? Are you selling them a thing or you’re selling them an idea? Like, be really clear on what it is you want to communicate to them about, what’s the endgame.

Kate Toon:            So do you mean, as well, like … Because I think, often, brands very much focus on what they want to say, but then it’s more about, as well, also what the customer wants to hear and what’s going to persuade them to take the next step. So is it about call to action or is it more about just being really crystal clear on the message?

Amanda V:            I think it’s both. I think call to action is a really important part of it because if you don’t give people somewhere to go next, then you kind of cheat your purpose. Whether you want to reply to an email that you sent, whether you want them to click on the link and buy your thing, you’ve got to give them somewhere to go and keep the conversation going. So you can say all of this [inaudible 00:06:34] stuff and build them up to want what it is or agree with whatever your purpose is but, without that call to action and a place to go next, what’s the point?

Kate Toon:            Yeah, exactly. I get it. Now, your next tip, tip number three is something that I do all the time and it works very successfully for me, so I’m not going to stop doing it even though you’re telling me to. You’re saying that I should stop using big words to try and look smart.

Amanda V:            Yes.

Kate Toon:            Not me in particular. Not me in particular.

Amanda V:            No, no, of course not.

Kate Toon:            No.

Amanda V:            And we’re both perfect writers, obviously, and perfect humans. Look, as a rule, if you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it, but the really big caveat on that is that it’s all got to come back again to the audience and the purpose. So, maybe, you know, the audience that you’re writing to needs some big words thrown in there, you know? If you’re writing a university essay, disregard anything I’ve ever said about everything if you want to pass your degree.

But, as a rule, if you’re writing for any sort of audience, be sort of conversational. If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it. Use the smaller word if there’s an alternative and, you know, you’ll be better understood the first time people read what you’ve written.

Kate Toon:            I think what clients’ objection to that often is is that, if they write in too plain English or it’s too conversational, that their audience almost isn’t going to respect them or they’re not going to see them as knowledgeable. So how do we get clients over that hump? Like, you know, they said, “We would like to write ‘Please purchase our blah blah blah’,” and you’re like, “No, no. Just say ‘buy’ because that’s what people say in real life.” But they’re like, “No, no, no. We want to sound professional. We want to sound authoritative.” How do we persuade them that conversational copy is better?

Amanda V:            I think you’ve got to be able to show them examples and, you know, it isn’t always possible to give them a nice neat figure and say, “Well, using this and AB-testing that.” That’s not always real life, but being able to kind of back up how people are talking. You know, think back again to that getting to know the audience and the testimonials and what people are saying. How does your audience talk? And that’s a very easy thing to get examples of.

So you can back it up in that way and, sometimes, it’s a matter of just of doing that kind of first run at something and going, “Well, this is how it could sound. This is talking to your audience,” and really getting them to look up and look out, rather than staring at their bellybuttons all day.

Kate Toon:            Yes. We don’t want to do that because I don’t think I can see my bellybutton. It’s somewhere down there. Now, the next one intrigued me: why you should stop hesitating. What do you mean by that?

Amanda V:            It’s those hesitating words, like, you know … Have you ever read anything that Apple has written about themselves? It says, “Apple tries to be a technology company that blah blah blah.” “Apple aims to be a something something.” No, Apple just does. Apple just delivers. Apple just is. So, you know, those words and you say it a lot in small business, when people are kind of asking permission, in a sense, to say, “Well, you know, our brownie shop tries to make the best brownies in Brisbane.” Well, no. You don’t try. You know, what is it that Yoda says? “There is no try-”

Kate Toon:            “There is only do.”

Amanda V:            If you’re comfortable saying that you’ve got the best brownies in Brisbane, then say it. We make the best brownies in Brisbane. Impress your friends with the best brownies in Brisbane.

So, yeah, those hesitating words just take away your authority and your credibility, so just check them out.

Kate Toon:            So stop being so tentative and be a bit more … Believe in yourself.

Amanda V:            If you don’t believe in what you’re writing about your business or your client’s business, what bloody hope … Sorry. What hope [inaudible 00:10:29] got in going on that journey with you, you know?

Kate Toon:            Yeah, yeah. You’ve got to sound confident. You’ve got to walk the walk, talk the talk. I guess, again, the client objection will be, “Well, what if someone asks us to prove that we have the best brownies in Brisbane?” And I guess, thinking of it, the way I’ve always got around it – you and I have done the same thing, I think – we put a little asterisk and just put at the bottom of the page, “According to my mom.” That’s what I [crosstalk 00:10:55]

Amanda V:            Yeah, my mom wrote the first testimonial of the book, actually.

Kate Toon:            Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I think I’ve even got that on my … Have I got that on my back, as well? It’s a classic. It’s a classic. Asterisk, “According to my mom.” No one can get past that.

Now, the next tip, tip number six is how to think … How to think about where your words are read. So what do you mean?

Amanda V:            Well, look, print isn’t dead but most people, obviously, are reading on screens and, if you break that down again, a lot of people are going reading on a phone screen. So think about what that means in terms of, you know, you don’t want your readers to end up with thumb ache from scrolling through things. You want things to be optimised. I mean, that’s another conversation as well, optimising the design for mobile. But, you know, think about does that heading need to be shorter? Am I saying too much on this page? You know, all that kind of stuff. What do people actually want to see on their phone? Make it clear, again, what you want them to do next.

Kate Toon:            Yeah.

Amanda V:            Have that button that they click that lets them do the thing that you want them to do. Just to make [inaudible 00:12:02] clear and not scrolling for days because that’s boring.

Kate Toon:            I think it was in your group or somewhere where you’ve posted a picture of, like, what happens when words get wrapped because they get wrapped a lot on mobile phones. So the words, you know, it looks great on a screen because the sentence runs the whole way across but, on a mobile, it breaks in a funny place and changes the whole meaning of the sentence. So I think, often, as copywriters, we don’t have control over the copy once it’s placed in the design but, as you said, shorter sentences, shorter subheaders.

I think, you know, mobile, as we know, mobile is now the primary source for Google’s indexing and, you know, most especially location search is … Something about 80% of location searches are done on a phone. Just more people are using their mobiles. I look at my own stats and, now, it’s up to 60, 70% of people are looking at my site from a mobile device. So it’s less copy. People don’t read our copy anyway. They read it even less on a mobile.

Amanda V:            You know, some people will say, “Oh, well, that’s less words. Less work for the copywriter.” That’s a [crosstalk 00:13:04]

Kate Toon:            Oh. It’s more words!

Amanda V:            As anyone who’s ever tried to write anything will know. Less words, harder to get the message across succinctly, but when you do, it’s amazing, you know? [crosstalk 00:13:19]

Kate Toon:            There’s so much pleasure in going through a paragraph you’ve written and chopping words out and  … Yeah.

Amanda V:            I love a good edit. I’m a ruthless editor.

Kate Toon:            I am with other people’s work, but not of my own. Yes.

So the next point that you had is why you shouldn’t overthink punctuation. I like this one. I like this one.

Amanda V:            There are a very few people having mini-cardiac arrests into their chamomile teas do talk about this one. Yeah, just don’t overthink your punctuation. You know, it doesn’t matter if you use an Oxford comma or you don’t or whether you don’t even really know what it is, as long as you’re consistent. There’s a secret for you. Consistency covers up all manner of not knowing stuff.

If someone put me on the spot and gave me a quiz on grammar and punctuation, I would fail miserably. I wouldn’t care, as long as I was consistent. That said, you know, the adjunct to that is that if you have a style guide that you’re working to for the brand then, obviously, go with what they like to use, but if you’re just going full pelt for your own, don’t worry about it. If you hyphenate overthinking, hyphenate it every time that you write it.

Kate Toon:            Yeah. I think there will be people listening to this going, “How dare you say that!” We’ve got a lot of kind of people who are very precise on their punctuation, but I’ll be perfectly honest. It’s never been something that I’ve had a very good grasp on. When I went to school, they taught, like, italic writing and Indian dancing. We didn’t actually learn how to use semicolons. I wouldn’t know … I just occasionally put a semicolon in so that I look like I’m a copywriter. I don’t know why, you know? And if I’m confused, I just make short sentences so I can put a full stop in instead.

Amanda V:            It’s audience, again. Like, if they don’t really know what a semicolon’s for, they’re likely to be able to understand what you’re trying to do when you use it.

Kate Toon:            Yeah, it’s funny because [crosstalk 00:15:19]

Amanda V:            [inaudible 00:15:19] really know if it’s in the right spot or not.

Kate Toon:            That’s it. Well, you know, obviously, most of my clients when I was a full-time copywriter were small businesses who wouldn’t know a semicolon if it bit them on the bottom. Now that I run copywriting communities, my anxiousness about punctuation and grammar has gone right up because every post I post in the group, I’m like, “There’s 17 typos and I didn’t use the right …”

Amanda V:            I would argue that, you know, so much of us are concentrating on our online content and things like that these days that there’s less and less use for the semicolon anyway.

Kate Toon:            Yeah. Let’s just kill it. Death to the semicolon. That’s going to be the meme for this episode.

Amanda V:            I think I used [inaudible 00:15:53] client article that I wrote this morning, but [crosstalk 00:15:56]

Kate Toon:            Did you?

Amanda V:            It was a fancy, like, “We know everything about finance” article.

Kate Toon:            Oh, there you go. You need to use it, then. I think you should, like, have a Malteaser every time you manage to use a semicolon. Like, as a little incentive for you.

Amanda V:            That could work.

Kate Toon:            That could work. That could work.

So the next tip is how to manage your time … Well, it’s not a tip. This is the sentence that we’ve got written down here. How to manage your time so editing and proofing are part of your process. Ew, no.

Now, if you’re listening to this, you’ll maybe have listened to the episode previous to this which is all about proofreading and you’ll know that Belinda and I do not do our own proofreading or editing. We outsource it. I think it’s impossible to proofread your own work. Do you think it’s doable?

Amanda V:            It’s doable but it’s not ideal. My mom is my proofreader.

Kate Toon:            My dad is my proofreader! Yay, parents!

Amanda V:            I’m a control freak. It’s doable if you can let it sit for a little while. Ideally, overnight. If you’ve got the time to let it sit there and then go back then, yes, it is doable. But if you’ve just, hypothetically, if you’re close to missing your deadline and you based out a 600-word article in, you know, 57 minutes, hypothetically, then you’re not going to pick up the little bits here and there that aren’t working. And it might not be anything that you can pick up in spell check. That’s the whole reason why we need proofreaders. [crosstalk 00:17:24]

Kate Toon:            So how do you manage your time so that it can … You need to give yourself an overnight, is that what you’re saying? Or …

Amanda V:            In a perfect world. When I become a perfect copywriter, I’ll confirm for you exactly how that’s done. And, don’t get me wrong, there is a little bit of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Kate Toon:            Yeah, so in your book, that page is actually just blank because you don’t know.

Amanda V:            “Write down some ideas here on how you manage your week.”

Kate Toon:            “And then send them to me for the next book.” Yeah, totally.

Amanda V:            I think part of it is just building it into the process from the start, just having that awareness that, you know, if I don’t get it done by this certain time, I’m not going to have time to edit it. And, also, just have a look at a piece of writing you’ve done and that you haven’t had time to edit and think, “Is that really your best work?” Because even something that you can just churn out, that doesn’t seem like it’s too complicated or what have you, if you go back to it again, even if you can only leave it for an hour-

Kate Toon:            I know.

Amanda V:            Ideally, overnight is perfect and, yeah, I’m all for getting other people to edit and proofread your work. One of the absolute joys of writing a book was having someone else [inaudible 00:18:38] It was fantastic. Painful, but fantastic.

Kate Toon:            Yeah, I got to the point when I was writing my book of just accepting all changes. I just couldn’t take the criticism anymore.

Amanda V:            Right before we went to print, I was on the phone with my fabulous designer, Kelly, and we were in a tizz about where this apostrophe went, so I just cut the sentence.

Kate Toon:            Yeah. Like, “Get rid of it!” Rip the page out. But that’s the problem. You know, it’s actually the reason why I’ve never actually reread my book because, if I did, I would see all its flaws. It’s like why you should never go back to look at copy that you wrote two years ago because it will make you cry. Just, once that copy has left the building, you never look at it again because you will just find-

Amanda V:            That’s the good part of having pictures because I can look like I’m flicking through the book but, really, I’m just looking at the pictures. I don’t want to read those words again.

Kate Toon:            Looking at the pictures. Yeah, yeah.

Amanda V:            I spent so much time with them already. It’s time to set them free into the world.

Kate Toon:            Yeah, let them go wherever they go. And that leads us very nicely to the next bullet point, which is why it’s important to be part of the world. What do you mean?

Amanda V:            This one’s a little, like-

Kate Toon:            It’s a bit woo-woo.

Amanda V:            A little bit, but it’s also … There’s a practical element to it. Yeah, you have to be part of the world. For me, that means, you know, reading. You know, sitting on your own in the lounge reading a book doesn’t sound much like being part of the world, but getting your head out of the actual writing space. Like, for me, reading is a huge part of that and my other huge kind of secret weapon in writing is music. I get ideas all the time from music and, like, just pop culture and just some crap that you read online in The Daily Mail or something terrible like that.

Everything contributes to your worldview and sort of knowing what sort of language people are using and just getting inspired and, you know, take a break. And I know you took a lunch break this week. [crosstalk 00:20:35]

Kate Toon:            Who even am I? But, no, I so agree. For me, it’s … You know, I watch an awful lot of telly and movies which I know probably doesn’t sound like a great thing to do, but it is. I read an awful lot and I’m also a big listener into conversations. That sounds really bad. What a weirdo. But when I was … Sorry?

Amanda V:            The library is fabulous for that.

Kate Toon:            Oh, yeah. But when I was writing a lot of plays and doing a lot of play scripts, listening to conversations and how people construct conversations, you just can’t learn that sitting at a typewriter. You have to listen to people. And I still find, even now, little phrases will come into my brain, little idioms, little snippets, and it’s from a book I maybe read when I was 15 or from a movie I saw and, you know, I love that. You need that creative juices to flow in, otherwise you can’t … It’s that whole “You can’t pull from an empty bucket.” You will drain yourself of creativity and you need to kind of top the stocks back up.

Amanda V:            Finding it wherever you can. Like I always say, you know, I read everything. I read all my junk mail. I read the back of the cereal box when I’m sitting at the breakfast table. I’ve always been that reader of everything and you can learn a lot from how to write, but you can also learn things that you don’t like and how you do things better and … You know, forget the urge to get a red pen and just go around the world correcting phrases that you see and making them better. I’m not saying, “Go for it.” Or am I?

Kate Toon:            Or are you? That’s your secret [weapon 00:22:03]. But, yeah, reading the back of packaging, reading menus, reading shop signs. I love when people have written little signs that they put up in the window of their shop. It’s like gold. You’re like, “Police! Major typo.” And also, where I live, people are forever putting signs up saying, “Items lost,” and it’s the weirdest items, like why did you even have that item? Like, why? And they’ve put a poster up saying you’ve lost it with little rip-off tabs. You weirdo. So I love stuff like that. There’s so much juice in that, you know?

Amanda V:            You could write a book about that.

Kate Toon:            I could. Maybe I will. That will be the sequel to Write Better.

So the final point that we had today doesn’t make sense because you’re telling me that I need to cut the crap, but your last point is that we should write crap.

Amanda V:            I often don’t make sense. Yeah, just don’t be afraid to write some crap because if you think about getting stuff down on a page and that first draught kind of process … You know, a first draught is about getting it done, you know? Get some crap down on the page. Get all the points you can think of down on there and then make it better. That’s the whole point of writing. If everything came out perfectly formed as I sat and typed at the computer, then I’d work for about 43 minutes a day and be rolling in money, Scrooge McDuck-style. But I don’t. I write some crap on the page to get myself going and then, in a perfect world, have some time to think about it and come back and make it better. In a more realistic world, then just go back to the start of the document and start again.

Kate Toon:            Now, I’d just like to point out here that I do only write 43 minutes a day and I am rolling in money like Scrooge McDuck.

Amanda V:            [inaudible 00:23:43]

Kate Toon:            Yeah. There you go. And that’s it though. It’s very different writing for yourself than writing for other people. You know, I can edit as I go because it’s my own brain and I’m writing what I want but, yeah, you know, you can’t edit a blank page. You really just got to give it a pop and get stuck in.

Well, look, Amanda, I’m very excited about your new book. I have a copy of it right here. I was very lucky enough to get a proof version of the book and, also, my quote is on the back! So famous. So I will include details of how to grab Amanda’s book in the show notes.

Now, I think, as well, it’s the kind of book that would make a great gift for your clients, to make them understand how to appreciate everything that you’re doing, so and it’s [crosstalk 00:24:30]

Amanda V:            Why not? If you want to be passive aggressive.

Kate Toon:            Yeah. That’s cool. Yeah, I like that. But, also, I’m kind of selling your book here and I’m not meant to, but it’s kind of a cute shape. It’s like one of those Christmas … It’s square and little and it’s like one of those books that you get for Christmas. Do you know what I mean? That’s why I like that.

Anyway, thank you very much, Amanda Vanelderen. It’s always a joy to talk to you.

Amanda V:            You too.

Kate Toon:            Thank you. So we will see you soon. Now, regular listeners will know that, at this time, we read out a review of the show and, today, we actually have one. Hi! Thank you very much to Middle-Aged Mama in Oz. She says, “I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes and I’m hooked. These people speak my language. Already, I picked up so many valuable tips on how to run my copywriting business, rather than having to learn the hard way. Thanks, guys.”

Thanks to you, Middle-Aged Mama, and thanks to you for listening. If you like the show, don’t forget to subscribe. Leave a rating and review on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you found this pod. Your review will help others find us and we will give you a shout-out on the show. You can also head to and leave your comment on the blog post for this episode, as well as finding links to all Amanda’s various bits and bobs.

So that’s it for this week. Thanks for listening and until next time. Happy writing.



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