From websites to magazine adverts, people from the world of business are always trying to sell things with words. The advertising industry understands the power of the right words in the right order – and that’s a power that can be very useful in putting your personal statement together.
To get you started, here are a few useful ideas for your personal statement that copywriters and marketing experts are using to engage, inform and persuade people every day.
Advertising revolutionary David Ogilvy once said:
Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
What he meant is simple: you need to get attention from the outset.
But that’s not easy when someone is reading dozens of personal statements one after the other. While you won’t have a headline to work with, your first sentence needs to pique some interest. You could get there through humour or a clever play on words but one of the most effective techniques is simply to be personal.
You’re already unique and one-of- a-kind – so be sure to highlight that immediately, whether it’s the personal story of why you’re so passionate about your chosen subject, or mentioning a specific area of interest that you’re enthusiastic about.
In copywriting, we understand that people buy things (or buy into ideas) for their benefits. Take headphones as an example – it’s not a wide frequency range that gets people excited, but the promise of hearing and enjoying music like never before.
So, as you talk through your skills and relevant experiences, make sure you’re pushing through to the benefits. If you’re bilingual, explain how that makes you an incredible communicator. If you’re a sporting hero, don’t forget to emphasise that it gives your discipline and makes you a great team player.
In the academic world, we often get into writing habits that aren’t a great fit for persuasion. Think about the structure of your coursework: you start with an introduction and then build gradually to your big conclusion. In selling, we don’t ever assume that people will wait around for our big reveal at the end. If it’s important, we put it right at the start where everyone will see it.
A good rule of thumb for structure would be:
It’s your main message followed by the evidence; not the evidence slowly building to the message.
Finally, advertisers are always be thinking about their audience – and a personal statement should be no different. You’re not writing to an institution, but to a human being.
Think of your personal statement as a (remarkably one sided) conversation and write how you would speak – to someone you want to impress, not your friends. Some useful tips include using contractions (“I’m…” rather than “I am…”) and reading your personal statement aloud to see how it flows.
Your tone of voice can also capture some of the points you want to get across without taking up any of your precious 4000 characters. For example, there’s no need to write about how passionate you are for your subject if you’re able to write passionately about it. There’s little worse than writing that claims to be enthusiastic but is written with a cold, detached feeling – so let your personality shine through in your choice of words.
Think about past successes: Set aside a few moments to reflect on how you pulled through other stressful situations can help you reconnect with your resilient side. If you have a brain block, it may feel as though you'll never get past it, but when you look back, you'll realise that you felt similarly before and found a way to overcome it."
Stephen Marsh is a freelance copywriter based in Kent. He’s worked on projects for brands including Red Bull, TK Maxx and Nestle, as well as helping hundreds of small businesses improve the way they communicate online and in print.