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How To Determine Your Proper Copy "Tone"
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By Robert Bly

"Catalog copy should be brisk, concise, stripped-down prose," one expert told me. "Cram as many facts as you can. Use bullets, sentence fragments, word lists. Don't waste time with fancy sales talk; just pile on the description."

"Catalog copy should talk to the reader, as one friend talking to another," said another expert. "Use conversational copy to build sales arguments that compel the reader to buy the product. The sales pitch--not a pile of technical specifications--is what counts."

Should catalog copy be in prose form or bullet form? Should it be clipped and concise or leisurely and conversational? Crammed with facts or written to entertain as well as educate? Though no two experts agree, here are some factors to help you determine the tone and style of your catalog copy:

1. Space is obviously the greatest limitation. If you have only one column-inch per item, you've got to write lean, bare-bones, telegraphic copy. Write the basic facts, and nothing more. If you have a full-page per item, you have the luxury of writing a conversational, ad-style sales pitch on each product. Keep in mind, however, that length alone does not make copy better. Waffling on and saying nothing is not good selling copy. Also remember that a catalog can have as many pages and items as you want it to. So, if the product can't be adequately described in the space available, you should consider adding more pages.

2. The product. The copy style varies according to the type of product being sold. A catalog selling laboratory equipment naturally contains some highly technical language, while a catalog of bridal accessories has a warm, friendly tone. The complexity of the product also affects the length of the copy; you can say more about a microprocessor than you can about a stick of chewing gum.


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