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Know the Mechanics of Good Copy

Effective direct mail copy begins with mastery of the mechanics or rules. The mechanics serve as a foundation to which you can apply your creativity and experience to craft a compelling message. How well do you know the mechanics of good direct mail copy?

Test your knowledge by answering the following questions:

What percentage of your document should consist of words that are 5 letters or fewer?

a. 80% c. 50%

b. 90% d. 40%

2. For what grade level should you be writing?

a. 4th c. 8th

b. 6th d. 10th

3. The sentence length should be an average of …

a. as long as you need c. 15-20 words

b. 10-15 words d. 20-25 words

4. You should aim for a maximum headline length of …

a. as long as you need c. 7 words

b. 5 words d. 10 words

5. We all know you should use you in your writing. For every “I” or “we” used in your document, how many “you” or “yours” should there be?

a. 1 “I/we” for every 2 “you/yours”

b. 1 “I/we” for every 4 “you/yours”

c. 1 “I/we” for every 6 “you/yours”

d. 1 “I/we” for every 8 “you/yours”

6. No paragraph should be more than ____ lines long.

a. 6 c. 10

b. 8 d. 12

7. The first and last sentence should be a maximum of ___ words.

a. 5 c. 10

b. 8 d. 15

8. When using a bulleted list, ideally how many items should you list?

a. 1 or 2 c. 3 or 5

b. 2 or 4 d. 6 or more

9. After the headline, what is the second most read item in a letter?

a. first paragraph c. signature

b. photo d. P.S.

10. The most powerful word in direct mail is:

a. new c. free

b. attention d. urgent

Here are the answers:

1. A. Eighty percent of your document should consist of words that have five letters or fewer. Don’t confuse a complicated product with a need for complicated language. Actually, the more complicated the product, the more reason to write simply.

2. B. Write for the sixth-grade level. Everyone is busy. You’re not insulting the reader by writing in a simple style. Simple style doesn’t mean all sentences are subject-verb-object. It means that you have one thought per sentence. More than likely, you’re introducing new material to your reader. Make sure it’s easy to understand.

3. C. Sentence length should average around 15-20 words. This is an average. If it takes 35 words to explain something, so be it. Let that be the exception, however. Short sentences with a single thought help the reader grasp the meaning one step at a time as you tell your story and lead to the close.

4. C. You should aim for a maximum length of seven words. This forces you to focus on the single most important point and make each word count. Spend time on your headlines. They draw the reader in and tell your story to skimmers.

5. B. You cannot use “you” too much. It directly addresses your readers and gets their attention. The rule of thumb is for every I/we/our, use four you/yours.

6. A. No paragraph should exceed six lines. It is easier to digest and looks less intimidating.

7. D. Grab the reader’s attention with a short, concise sentence of no more than 15 words. As you move to your close, quicken the pace with short sentences of around 15 words or less.

8. C. When it comes to items in a series, there’s a natural rhythm to three or five items vs. two or four.

9. D. Only headlines are read more than a P.S. Use it to reinforce the main benefit, offer and call to action. Don’t introduce anything new, and use a second P.S. (written P.P.S.) sparingly.

10. C. While you may get tired of using it, your reader doesn’t get tired of seeing it. “Free” is still the most powerful word in direct mail. An offer can be free information, free gift, easy payment terms or a free trial. n

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