Great Copy Ranges From the Specific to the Precise

The kiss of death when it comes to marketing communications is copy filled with general statements that fail to communicate anything meaningful. Non-specific copy is a red flag that signals puffery and a lack of substance, and yet it’s all too common. Dan Santow of Word Wise gives two great examples of common phrases that are employed to impress, but end up leaving the reader with little to work with.

Dan’s first example is “ranging from,” as in “Bamboo leaf extract Finds Its Way Into Products Ranging From Shampoo to Cosmetics to Candles.”

Does this mean there’s bamboo leaf extract in fruit juice and plant fertilizer?… A range should have some sort of continuum—a sequence or progression—such as “the restaurant serves everything from hors d’oeuvres to dessert.” We understand this to mean it serves every course.

Another common culprit is “everything from,” as in “a new store offers everything from clothing to toys to computers.”

Does the store sell boogie boards and foie gras, too? … [W]hen we use the phrase “everything from,” it excludes nothing. So though “everything from” works fine when used with a true range, as in the restaurant example, it doesn’t work in the case of the store that “sells everything from clothing to toys to computers.” If that was true, the store would offer at least one of everything in the world (talk about a superstore), and I’m not even sure our pals at Wal-Mart could claim that.

As Dan points out, these are two common examples of lazy writing. When you don’t take the time to be specific and precise with your words, readers don’t trust you and tend to tune you out. At a minimum, you’re not effectively communicating what you have to offer, which means you’re likely wasting your time and money.

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  1. Do you think Dan is really friends with the Walton family that runs Wal-Mart?

  2. Thanks for pointing this out, really makes sense when you think about it. I’ll be sure to make an effort to be specific in the future.

  3. Am I the only one who thinks “Great Copy Ranges From the Specific to the Precise” sounds strange next to “10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work” and “5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post With a Bang”? :-)

  4. How so?

  5. Great post! I just wanted to drop a line and say that at my site, , I’ve been publishing parts of a document we use to educate our print copywriters on how to write for the web, including SEO. Keep up the good work!

  6. @ Brian – I have no idea why but when I first read the title I thought it said “Great copy ranges from the specific to the general”. I guess my brain is pre-programmed to misread it as such when a phrase “ranges from” was used.

  7. No worries… in fact that’s a fairly common psychological practice… we fill in the blanks based on past experience.

    Judgemental heuristics.

  8. Being specific is one of the most important copywriting skills from writing headlines to opening lines, bullets and more.

    Specific language can help you tightly target your prospect, add interest and colour to your copy and more.

    One of the most valuable things you can do when you write a sales letter is to go back and edit your copy to be as specific as possible.

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  9. Very interesting observation, Brian. It’s hard for our minds to visualize what would come between the items so we end up with a jumbled mess. Jumbled mess = no sale.

  10. I can hardly disagree on that point: the more detail you provide, the more believable your story tends to be. In fact, the more it helps you as a writer to delve into what you’re writing about. Be careful to not go overboard with details, though.

  11. Mark Vladir :

    I cringe every time I see the words “solutions” or similar meaningless words in marketing messages.

    You’re offering “IT Solutions”? Does that mean you’ll fix my graphing calculator or stress test my server?