How Does Your Copy Sound?

EASY to write hard to read
Robert Louis Stevenson

Did you know you can make your writing sound more or less powerful just by using the right (or wrong) letters?

It’s true.

In an article he wrote around 90 years ago, G.W. Freeman concluded that the letter ‘S’ can make your copy sound ‘faster’. The letter ‘P’ can give your copy power.

And the letter ‘H’ can give your copy ‘force’.

I’ve always had a preference for names that begin with particular letters. Conversely, I’m put off by names starting with certain letters.

So maybe there’s something to what he had to say.

Take a look at his article and let me know what you think.

The Tone Of Voice In Copy

By G. W. Freeman

“EASY to write, hard to read,” was declared by Robert Louis Stevenson to be an axiom of the scriveners’ art . . . and advertising writing cannot escape the laws that govern the creation of all effective copy.

Two people utter identical phrases, and one repels by his truculent gruffness, whereas the other with soft and pleasing tones, charms.

That is a matter of tone of voice.

The printed word offers few mechanical devices for indicating stress and manner, and so the advertising writer must employ words as tools for modifying stress and tone, and by his literary style develop a pleasing tone of voice in his copy.

The pictorial side gets painful thought so as to make the advertisement appeal.

And then the one element that can really appeal to the mind and to the imagination is dismissed with Make it brief or Just talk naturally.

Natural copy is the hardest to write. It takes most labour, that is, if it seems natural

For most copy that is written just like you talk reads like nothing under heaven.

Here is a piece of copy written naturally by an engineer for a manufacturer of rubber belts:

. . . the present day farmer will buy only the best, regardless of initial cost, for experience has taught him that low first costs invariably mean higher ultimate costs.

That’s natural writing.

But does it sound as natural as this: Did you ever buy a likely looking scrub cow only to find that she never gave enough milk to pay for her feed? If you have, you’ve learned that low first cost does not always pay best. There are scrubs among farm belts, and there are pure-breds, and you know which kind will give you satisfaction.

Professional rhetoricians bid us avoid alliteration’s artful aid.

And yet there is a valid reason why we, as copywriters, should employ it.

Alliteration formed the basis of the early poetry of our race, and that early influence is persistent.

Our forefathers, sitting through long cold evenings in their draughty halls, drank and sang in unison, eagerly beating time to the alliterative syllables of the song.

Consider this stanza from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (937 A.D.):

Her Aethelstan cynig,
eorla drighten beorna beahgifa,
and his brothor eac Eadmund Aethling,
ealdor laugne tir ge slogan aet Saecce,
suorda ecgum.

Vowels alliterated with any other vowels, as in the first and third lines. See how the b’s beat through the second line and the s’s through the fourth.

Alliteration is valuable in headlines

Montreal or Miami, its all the same to a Marmon, is more effective than Palm Beach or Quebec, its all the same to a Marmon.

The value of the alliteration is in its swing and tinkle.

But alliteration is attractive and useful only in headlines. In body text, it gives an effect of insincerity.

Consider this bit of copy which appeared in a booklet issued years ago by an advertising agency: We produce copy that causes prospects to pause, ponder and purchase.

That not only sounds strained, it bears the earmarks of the smart alec.

RHYME is always to be avoided in headlines, just as every copywriter shuns accidental rhymes in the body of his text

And yet, while rhymed headlines and rhymed text are anathemas, rhymed slogans are worth their weight in platinum because they jingle around in the brain like an unforgettable tune:

The Wilson Label Protects Your Table.

Read and Write by Emeralite.

These belong right along with

Thirty days hath September


Punch, brothers, punch with care, punch in the presence of the passengaire.

And for the same good reason—we can’t forget the rhyme.

We all know that words suggest related ideas—connotation. The more pleasing the connotation, the more pleasing the effect of the word.

The classic horrible example once quoted by an otherwise intelligent advertising man was Make the old home into a new house. And I personally dont believe that any advertising man, not even the boss’s younger brother, ever wrote that!

But aside from their connotation, are there any pleasing words—or unpleasing ones?

In and of themselves, pleasant or unpleasant?

THUS there is a displeasing sequence: The liquids, 1 and r, are closely related in sound, and like people that are closely related, they do not get along well together.

Consider this sentence from a recent Sunmaid Raisin page advertisement in the Post:

If you like delicious, wholesome, full fruited raisin bread.

I defy anyone to read that the first time and not say, delicious, wholesome, full fluited raisin bread, or at least Full fruited laisin bled.

It’s like that classic tongue twister, The rat ran over the roof with a lump of raw liver in its mouth.

Discordant sounds have their use; however, for the skillful copywriter will employ them when he touches lightly on those conditions which he wishes to appear unpleasant.

Thus a Weed Chain advertisement, which described the smug content of the foolish driver who left his chains back in the garage.

But on the positive side of the subject, are there pleasing words?

Who does not roll such words as these under his tongue?

  • Power
  • Purple
  • Promise
  • Progress
  • Proven
  • Providence

And as for profit—the greatest of these is Profit.

Closely allied to v is f, and r-p-f is almost as pleasing at r-p-v.

Consider these trade names:

  • Paramount Pictures
  • Packard
  • Peerless
  • Pierce Arrow


  • Ivory Soap

See how they are charged with rs and ps.

Contrast these two pieces of copy —one full of rs with one f and one p and the other a succession of k sounds:

She will be beautiful of course in the rosy future pictured by a mothers dream.

Wash your hair becomingly, always have it beautifully clean and well kept and it will add more than anything else to your attractiveness.

Now examine this from a recent Jordon offering:

Nimble, snug and hammock swung close to the skimming road, this fascinating car glides lightly on its way.

Count the ss.

That’s the secret of its speed and action. For s is the symbol of the present active verb.

It denotes action.

To speed copy use short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Words filled with ss.

But speed isn’t always what we are after.

Sometimes a client prefers that we obtain results—and that often calls for emphasis. To give weight to any point use, a few more words.

Every drill is inspected 50 times may be just as true as Every drill is inspected time and again, thoroughly, painstakingly, and must meet no less than 50 separate tests, but it carries less weight than the longer sentence.

Don’t be obsessed by the short-word, mania. If you want weight, and even if you need a long word for beauty, don’t balk at a polysyllable.

Short words aren’t necessarily good old Anglo-Saxon. Latin has given us mob and vest and togs.

If you want force, I suggest that you try out a few words with initial H.

H is a forceful letter.

Just open your mouth and let out a whoop or a holler and you’ll see why.

The Greeks called the H-sound a rough breathing.

Just listen a moment to this list:

  • Ha
  • Halt
  • Hold on
  • Hump
  • Hey you
  • Hark
  • Hand it
  • Here
  • Hack
  • Hit
  • Hate
  • Hell

That gives us a clue to the strength that has been injected into this headline – The Blue Heart guarantees excess rope strength – “The Blue Heart” sounds stronger than the word “strength”.


P.S. New to copywriting? I suggest John Carlton’s program. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but it’s all you’ll need to get good – John Carlton’s Simple Writing System

P.P.S. Already writing decent quality copy, but want to get better? Then get your hands on everything by Drayton Bird. It’ll change the way you write copy for the better – All Products by Drayton Bird



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