I was having a chat with a friend of mine (who’s also a writer) and after a little while, the conversation came around to the topic of syntax, and context in writing.
(yeah, I guess that probably makes us a couple of nerds. But this is the kind of stuff we’re interested in. So it’s not that weird for us to talk about advertising and copywriting)
Anyway, I thought I’d share the highlights of our conversation with you.
If you’re interested… then read on.
If you’re not interested… then I guess you can go nerd out somewhere else?
First, let’s start with a quick definition of syntax, just to get the ball rolling…
Basically, “syntax” in writing refers to the order of the words you use.
By using the same words, in a different order, we can completely change the meaning of the message.
Take this next sentence for example (Warning: cheesy example coming up…)
“The dog bit the boy”
Now, let’s change the order of the words…
“The boy bit the dog”
See how that works?
Same words, but the sentence now has a completely different meaning. Especially for the boy (and the dog)
So how can this syntax thing help you with your copywriting?
Let’s say you have a bonus offer with your product, and you want to add a touch of scarcity to your call to action.
The way you word it can have a huge impact on how it’s perceived by your audience.
Take this next example…
“You can only get this bonus if you order right now”
“ If you order right now you can only get this bonus”
Can you see the difference?
The first one says to get the bonus, you need to order now (a touch of scarcity).
The second one sounds like, if you order now you only get this one bonus. (you don’t get the option of anything else) Also, the second one almost sounds like improper English, which can hurt your credibility in the eyes of your reader.
Alright, I can already hear some of you saying “those are pretty lame examples.”
And you’re right… they are.
But I often use extreme or simple examples when I’m writing a post like this, because I need to emphasize the point quickly. This is not a full length book, or a full course on copywriting, so I need to make the point as easy as possible to comprehend.
That way you can (hopefully) grasp the concept, and run with it from there.
Now let’s continue with the topic of “context” in our copywriting.
Context simply means the situational concept that surrounds and encompasses the entirety of the message.
(wow, there’s a couple big words in that last sentence. So what do you say we simplify it, with an example of what we’re talking about. OK?)…
Just to keep it simple, we’ll use the same example of “The boy bit the dog.”
Depending on the context of that sentence, it can have very different meanings.
Say we’re at a pet store, (or animal shelter)…
“The boy bit the dog” kinda makes that little brat sound like an animal abuser.
But if the dog bit him first, and then “the boy bit the dog,” – our child was merely reacting to being attacked. (maybe not in the most appropriate way? But hey, he’s just a kid… so let’s cut him some slack)
Same words (same action)… slightly different context. In the first one, the kid is a jerk. In the second one, the kid was just defending himself.
See how that works?
Let’s try one more, just to emphasize the point. OK?
How about we go to the circus…
A dad buy his son a hotdog. (can you already see where this one’s going?)
Now, “the boy bit the dog” takes on an entirely different meaning.
And other than the fact that he just shoved mystery meat and nitrates, into his mouth… there’s really nothing abusive or vicious about the action.
That’s context folks… and it makes all the difference in the world, in how your written words are perceived!
So what does this mean for your copywriting?
Well, it simply means we need to set the scene in your readers mind, for what our story is about…
Now, this post is already getting a bit lengthy, so I’m just going to finish up here with a goofy example for you. (Hopefully it gets you thinking in the right direction, so you can think about “context” when you’re writing anything)…
Question: What do you think of when I say “lose the excess baggage?”
Answer: It all depends on the context!
If we’re talking about weight loss, it has one meaning.
If we’re talking about how much luggage to bring on a trip, it has a different meaning.
It also has a different meaning if we’re referring to unwanted emotions, from past experiences.
And it means something completely different, if we’re telling a friend to break up with their spouse.
I guess the main thing I’m trying to say about context in copywriting, is this…
Think about what you’re saying, and try to decide if it can be taken more than one way.
If it can… then make sure the overall concept of your message, pre-frames the context of your words, so they’re understood the way you intended them to be.
It sounds trickier than it is. And once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it’s really, pretty basic stuff.
So when you’re writing your next piece, remember to think about the syntax and context of your words. Because these two things can have a huge impact on the clarity of your message.
Well, I gotta get back to work. So that’s it for this round.
Until next time,
Here’s to writing better copy, with more clarity… more often.
All the best,
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