Reading other people’s copy is like driving in an unfamiliar city: maybe you know where you’re trying to go, but you have no idea how you’re gonna get there. Writing good copy is hard because, unlike navigating a city, people can quit reading (without penalty) the moment they get lost or lose interest.
In both cases, good navigation is what makes the experience comfortable. But what form does “good navigation” take for copywriting?
Today, we’ll teach you two quick techniques for making sure your readers always know where you’re going. Fortunately, the names help them stick!
Roadmapping is where you summarize the whole “journey to come” for your readers; the headline and the previous paragraph are jointly serving that purpose here. In the classic formula of “tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, then tell ’em,” the roadmap is the former. (Zooming out for a sec: notice that we also roadmap each email at the top and then signpost each piece of content within the email, if with some creative liberties.)
For most long-form digital-business copy, like blog and email content, the “roadmap” is essentially an outline in quick, conversational form. Short-form and journalism have another version; a typical news story will start by summarizing the whole piece of news concisely (the “tip of the pyramid”) and then unpack the details below it.
Signposting is where you clearly indicate transitions between sections of copy, whether by providing a definitive end to one section or clearly denoting the beginning of the next (or both). Signposting is helpful for readers whether you’re following a strict outline or ranting aimlessly—but signposting is easier to do and more effective for readers if you’ve roadmapped clearly.
There are all kinds of ways to signpost, some explicit and some implicit; it’s usually best to employ a mixture. Notice, for example, that we’ve signposted here with a combination of formatting (bold font) and clear topic sentences to start each section.
How will I know if my copy is navigable? Simple: ask someone who hasn’t been involved to read it. Even if your industry or topic is gibberish to that person, they’ll be able to tell you whether it flows well enough to follow.