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Dash your way to copywriting success


SharePickup Sticks
pick up sticks game from flickr

Em dashes are the make-or-break of copywriting success — particularly if you write traditional direct marketing, Web 2.0 or any interactive marketing or advertising. Why? It’s like the game of pickup sticks. Each player removes one stick at a time without upsetting the randomly scattered pile. The player with the most sticks wins.

Aha! says the direct response copywriter — and the marketers and clients who hire them. If I use em dashes correctly, I can insert key copy points to engage readers, build interest, and increase response?

Bingo! Em dashes balance information and provide visual rhetoric

Now, the mastery of em dashes is harder than you might think. Over and over, I see them applied weakly or downright incorrectly based on rules of grammar and punctuation.

So here’s the big secret: Em dashes insert one new thought without disturbing the main copy point.

Even more, em dashes enhance the discussion of these critical copy points. So throw away your parentheses and don’t even touch that semicolon key if you want to win your way to copywriting success — your clients will thank you for it.

Here are three tips for using em dashes when you write ad copy:

  • To add incentives.This works very well at the end of sentences. This works very well to feature an incentive of time or price. Infomercials do this verbally all the time. Think how this would look on page:  ” — plus an additional 00% off if you act by 00/00/00.”.
    • What’s happening here? You’re building a sense of urgency in your message, engaging the reader, and gaining a passive, but critical opt-in to read the next sentence. Very simply, you’re taking AIDA to the next level.
  • To introduce benefits and added details.This works very well in the middle of the sentence. You begin with a key feature then add a benefit or additional detail with an em dash before or after.
    • What’s happening? The reader’s eyes absorb the information automatically, skimming as it were. Alternately, the dashes frame the information. Readers who scan first will pick up the info within the dash. If it’s interesting or worthwhile, then they might slow down and read more.
  • To increase engagement and personalization. Be careful here — use this only if you’re a senior writer or your copy calls for micro personalization. Acknowledging a personal connection with a “dashed” thought can help build engagement, acknowledge existing relationships, or strengthen a bond.

Oh yes, an em dash looks like this

You can easily set your Word preferences to automatically convert your double-hyphens to em dashes. You can also format your dashes with a space before/after or “solid” (no space).

What tips do you have to offer? What questions do you have? Please post here, bookmark or share this article with a friend. Your portfolio will thank you.


Originally uploaded by Thunder Lungs / Luna Nera Photography

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