This is an excerpt from the 43rd edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter about writing, editing and proofreading, content marketing and good editorial practices for business, from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.
As writers we often pay a lot of attention to how we start something. We’re desperate to make sure those opening lines grab the reader’s attention, so we put all our energy into crafting the perfect sentence to suck the audience in.
But how much attention are we paying to the way we end whatever we’re writing?
The answer, most probably, is nowhere near enough. While we wince and worry about the first impression we’re making, we give scant thought to the last impression we make. Many articles just dribble towards the final full stop. Yet that last impression is the one your audience walks away with, and it dictates how they’ll feel about your content when they think about it later (or if they think about it).
Make a great last impression and maybe your reader clicks that “buy now” button, shares your link or picks up the telephone to get that obligation-free quote. Leave a bad last impression and not only will your call to action go unheeded, your reader might never return and never engage with your brand again.
(I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true: there are a lot of Game of Thrones fans out there who are never buying the box set because that thing ended so damn badly.)
So, how do you end a piece of writing well? Generally, a good ending is one that leaves the reader feeling a sense of satisfaction – like they’ve been on a journey with you and they’ve been rewarded. You want to give them a short, sharp burst of endorphins. The best way to do this is by crafting a piece of writing that makes the reader laugh, feel clever, or both.
And the best way to do that is by using a copywriting technique for writing commercials I learned back in radio school, but it has served me well for all kinds of writing. It involves the deliberate crafting of your copy towards a “kicker” — or what you might call a pay-off, or a punchline.
A kicker is something you’re leading the audience towards the whole time they’re listening, reading or watching. It doesn’t have to be funny; it can be clever or unexpected. It’s designed to leave the reader feeling surprised, impressed, validated, smart — whatever positive reaction you’re going for. It should feel like a reward for paying attention all the way to the end.
One of the most straightforward methods for achieving this is a simple top-and-tail technique, whereby you open with a statement and then come back to it at the end. For example, here’s a straightforward top and tail for an article about a really crazy Audi concept car:
Intro: Let’s get the wildest part out of the way first: it has drones instead of headlights.
In the body copy are some 500 words about how whacked out this vehicle’s design is. But in the kicker, the writer comes back to the headlights.
Kicker: You have to admit it: drone headlights are totally cool.
This method also works well with questions, where you pose a question in the intro and answer it in the kicker.
If your brand voice allows it, one great way to leave a great last impression is to follow the old speechwriters’ maxim and end on a joke. The goal here is to elicit laughter, giving the reader a shot of endorphins and creating a positive association with your content or brand.
This can easily go wrong though, so a word of warning: If you do this, make sure the joke is on brand, relatively universal and not offensive. And it shouldn’t be a random joke. You can’t just suddenly throw in an animal pun, out of nowhere. But if you’ve been using animal puns all the way through, then end with your cleverest, highest koala-ty pun.
(Don’t like my animal pun? Alpaca my bags.)
The trick is to plan your ending from the start. It really helps to know where you’re going. It allows you to build a case. Or, if you think of a clever kicker during the writing process, then you can go back up the top and weave in whatever magic you need to, to make the ending work. And you can hone it and make it cleverer or funnier as you go.
Try it next time you’re writing something. Pay as much attention to crafting your ending as you do your beginning. See if you can create a kicker that really rounds out your copy, and leaves the reader feeling satisfied and rewarded – because you may never get a second chance to make a good last impression.
12 May 2021
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