Four ways to improve your copywriting vocabulary

Last updated: July 2019

Someone using a dictionary

To write copy that sells, do you need a good vocabulary?

Some people say you don’t. They say that good writing uses words that are simple, and everyone knows all the simple words.

There are indeed many obscure words like furnish that can almost always be replaced with simpler words like give. In fact, in the 12 best resources for improving your writing, we recommended a useful guide called The A–Z of Alternative Words, which helps you replace pompous words (like ameliorate) with simple words (like improve).

But that’s not the whole story.

You see, you have two types of vocabulary: an active one and a passive one.

  1. Your active vocabulary contains the words you use.
  2. Your passive vocabulary contains the words you never use but understand if you read or hear them.

The average adult’s passive vocabulary is much larger (some say ten times larger) than their active one. Which means that your active vocabulary is likely to be missing many powerful words and phrases that everyone understands.

So even though you have no trouble understanding the following sentence…

Hurry! These places are first-come-first-served, so seize the opportunity while it’s still fresh in your mind.”

…you may have never written some of those italicized words.

You should practice moving good copywriting words from your passive vocabulary to your active vocabulary. Here are several ways to do it:

  1. When you read good copy, be mindful of the words, and ask yourself whether you would have used them.
  2. Create a blank document called “Active vocabulary” and use it to store useful words—and phrases—as you come across them. For example, we recently added “Busy?” to ours. Clearly, we already knew the word busy, but we noticed that it was powerful when used at the start of a call to action, such as “Busy? Call our experts for free advice.” Those five characters do a lot of work.
  3. Immerse yourself in good copywriting. Persuasive copy is a language, and you learn it the same way you learn any language—by immersion. Read landing pages, ads, and anything you can find that was written by copywriters who A/B tested what they created.
  4. Learn the language of your customers (using these research techniques), rather than the language of your industry. We regularly increase our clients’ sales by replacing their industry terminology with the words that their customers use.

Do those four things and your copy will ameliorate like crazy.

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