You probably don’t think of writing as having a musical dimension to it but rhythm plays a critical role in your copywriting. Rhythm is important to your copy because it captures your audience’s attention and keeps them reading down the page.
I don’t see many copywriters talking or teaching about rhythm because we’re all so focused on things that can be measured, like conversions. But your copy will never convert if your readers peace out after the first paragraph.
Here are 6 ways to add rhythm to your copywriting for more engaging content.
(And scroll to the bottom to see how I incorporate these tips in a before-and-after copy rewrite!)
Vary cadence with sentence length
Cadence is the speed and flow of your words—basically a verbal Tango. (A Tango rhythm goes slow, slow, QUICK!, QUICK!, slow.) Cadence is made up of many elements (all listed below) but the most common is sentence length.
Short sentences can create impact and emphasis whereas long sentences give you a runway for a flow of ideas (like when you’re writing out your audience’s “problems” on a sales or offer page.) Balancing short and long sentences creates rhythm.
Why varying cadence works is that we’re all overgrown babies who can be lulled to sleep by a sing-songy pattern. But when you change your cadence, you interrupt that pattern and wake your readers back up.
🎶 DO THIS → Tune your ear by reading this insane poem snippet (stay with me, I promise, you’ll get it) called “Night Mail” by W.H. Auden.
(Bonus points for reading it out loud––it helps you catch the rhythm.)
This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.
As the poem continues, the rhythm gets faster, and faster, until you realize you sound like the chug-chug-puff-puff of a mail train barrelling down the tracks.
Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers’ declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
Like, okay, pop-off, Auden! The original 19th-century rap artist, formally known as Wynstan Hugh.
In this second section, the lines are shorter than the first section-y bit, and the words bop back and forth between single and multi-syllables.
If the poem kept the same rhythm all the way through I definitely would have dozed off in Mrs. Doe’s 11th-grade English class.
Speaking of syllables…
Mind your syllables
If you have too many single-syllable words together in one sentence you’ll sound like a robot. (Example: “Dick and Jane went to the store. Then they went to the park. It was fun.”)
Read your writing out loud to catch where you start to sound mechanical and swap out shorter words for longer synonyms.
It’s also possible to have too many multisyllabic words in your sentences, which tends to make them sound overly complex and bloated. SaaS copywriting and corporate communications are frequent offenders of trying to cram too many fancy-pants words into one sentence when fewer, simpler words would deliver their message with a lot more clarity.
Ask a question
You don’t want to end every sentence with a question, but if your brand voice and tone are more conversational, you can break that “4th wall” between you and your audience and address them directly. (See this in action by checking out my before-and-after copy rewrite below.)
Why this works is, your voice goes up at the end of a question. (Example: “Who wants to spend a week creating content when you could write once and repurpose it over the whole month?”)
Alliteration is when you use the same letter or sound at the beginning of sequential words. (Example: “Good copy communicates. Great copy converts.”)
Alliteration makes your copy punchy and is super effective when creating shorter copy elements, like taglines, headlines, and ad copy. Alliteration works because it creates memorable little earworms that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Use repetitive anaphoras
Ana-what? Don’t stress, we all know them and love them: “Go big or go home” or “Open heart, open mind” and “Give freely, give often.”
Anaphoras are figures of speech that use the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause. Like alliteration, they can help punctuate a point you want your audience to remember by turning your attention to the beat of the phrase.
Use punctuation strategically
Let’s reframe the role of punctuation in your writing for anyone with high school PTSD. When you’re writing for an online audience, punctuation isn’t prescriptive—it’s not necessarily about the right and wrong way to write something. Punctuation can also be about readability, tone, and emphasis. You can enhance the musicality of your writing with pauses, dashes, ellipses (…), questions, and exclamations.
How you use punctuation depends on your audience and the outlet. A more formal or technical audience expects textbook grammar in your website’s body copy, but you can probably break clauses and forgo commas in your website headers and ad copy. This makes your copy shorter, easier to digest, and punchier.
Sometimes you need to add a comma, exclamation, sentence break, or question mark to add interest to your writing or make it sound more lyrical or conversational.
Here at Big Picture, I use the em dash with abandon because it adds voice and highlights two connecting thoughts visually—whereas a comma is easier to glance over. It also lets my reader breathe for a hot second before digesting my epically long sentences. (It’s my blog so I don’t have to be brief if I don’t want to. 😛 )
At the end of the day, you want your copy to sound on-brand and recognizable, but rhythm can enhance your copywriting by making it more engaging (and thus a higher likelihood of converting.) If you’re a yoga studio, your copy is probably a little more lyrical with softer-sounding word choices that will need to be punctuated by shorter, uplifting calls to action. Whereas, a business coach is going to read to a more staccato, snappy rhythm that will need some longer, more empathetic sentences to break up the intensity of the copy.
When in doubt, here’s a summary of all the ways to add rhythm to your writing and make your copy *sound* as good as it reads.
- Vary your sentence lengths
- Vary your cadence
- Mind your syllables
- Ask a question/Break the 4th wall
- Use alliteration
- Use repetitive anaphoras/figures of speech
- Use punctuation strategically
Before-And-After Copy Rewrite: Rhythm
Let’s say you are a laid-back wellness platform targeting busy millennial and GenZ professionals, and looking to build your audience via a free weekly newsletter.
You’d love to incorporate more wellness practices into your day but you’re a busy millennial professional. Subscribe to Daily Intent. Daily Intent is a newsletter from Wellspring. Every day you’ll receive a five-minute meditation and practices that fit your busy schedule. Hit play, meditate, and then go about your day.
🙅🏼♀️WHY IT STINKS: The rhythm sounds stilted like someone took a bunch of bullet points and slammed them together into a paragraph format. Let’s try that again…
You’d love to eat, pray, love your way to better wellness, but who has that kind of time?
Start your day with Daily Intent, the newsletter from Wellspring that delivers five-minute micro-meditations and daily practices tailored to the modern professional. No matter what multi-colored chaos your calendar holds, ground yourself with intent.
Breathe in. Be well. Be on your way.
👍 WHY IT WORKS:
The sentence lengths vary (medium, long, medium, short, short, short) and the ending sentences are memorable little sound bites. But there’s more—I changed the word choice from “busy millennial” to “modern professional” to elevate the language (like how we change “cook” to “chef”) and I brought in some brand voice and personality by imitating the way my young professional audience speaks. (Eat, pray, love your way to better wellness, multi-colored chaos <– also alliterative.) I ended a sentence with a conversational question to alter the tone and punctuated the whole thing with three on-brand, memorable sound bites (that I should totally use throughout my marketing.)
P.S Formatting also helps pull your reader along. Be sure to check out 6 Copywriting Tips That Have Nothing To Do With Words.
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