Close up of pencil and open pad, one screwed up piece of paper

Copywriting tip 9: Learn when not to write

Open pad, pencil and screwed up paper - trimmed

This is the hardest lesson I ever had to learn as a copywriter.

When not to write.

‘Hey,’ I thought in my early years. ‘I’m a writer. I’m paid to, well, write. I’d better fill the page.’


Instead of filling the page, let the reader fill in the blanks.

Here are a couple of lovely examples where it must have been soooo tempting to have loads of copy.

How about this, for McDonald’s, promoting their free wifi:

McDonald's free wifi ad, with fries as wifi symbol

Where’s the copy saying ‘Now available at these locations’, and a list of suburbs?

Or the splash across the corner saying ‘Try our new delicious McMaxim burger’?

No. They’ve kept the message clear and simple.

How about this ad for a South African hair gel.

The positioning line says: ‘Tames the wildest hair’ …

South African hair gel ad

What? No two columns of type talking about the new formula? A quote from a famous hair stylist? ‘Now available at’, and a list of outlets?

Or this, a French ad for Sensodyne: with the message of ‘Protects’ …

Sensodyne hard hats as teeth ad

I can imagine the product manager at the concept presentation.

‘Great job, team. When do I get to see the copy?’.

Just because you can fill the page doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Great designers and art directors know the power of white space.

As a writer, you need to do the verbal equivalent.


The lack of copy.

Give the reader time to breath. To think for themselves. Treat them with intelligence.

Now, I’m sure you’re already smart enough to know when not to write.

It took me years and years.

But I hope I just saved you some time.


This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


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Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.