Use command language to get the response you want!

March 25, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

command laugnageWhen you write direct response copy, your goal is to provoke a response. That’s why it’s called direct response copy.

To do this you can’t be subtle or wishy-washy. You must tell people what to do.

This is what I call “command language.” Or in grammar class terms, you must use the imperative mood. The word “imperative” comes from the Latin imperare, meaning to command.

Why must you tell people what to do? Simple. Experience (and basic psychology) show that people are more likely to do something if you prompt them.

Is this considered rude? Some people think so. They are wrong.

Command language is not as harsh as it sounds. Consider the difference between a suggestive statement and an imperative statement:

Suggestive Statement: Those who wish to order the Widget 4000 should call 1-800-555-1234.

Imperative Statement: To order the Widget 4000, call 1-800-555-1234.

As you can see, the imperative statement is not the least bit rude. It simply speaks to you directly. The suggestive statement speaks indirectly.

Examples of command language:

Envelope Teaser: Look inside for your $50 Off coupon.

Ad Call to Action: Call today for your Free Trial!

Email Subscription Link: CLICK HERE to subscribe free.

Order Form: Complete and mail this order form within the next 10 days.

Highway Billboard: Exit here to eat at Joe’s Crab Shack!

TV Commercial: Order the amazing ShamWow right now!

Radio Spot: Go to BigMoney.com and ask for your free money making course.

See how it works?

Command language is simply a way to speak directly to people and tell them what you want them to do. It helps you be clear and improves your odds for getting the response you want.

But let’s see if I can channel R. Lee Ermey and serve up some real command language:

Listen up, maggot. I want you to tweet this post pronto. Tweet it now!

Related posts:

  1. 12 boring copywriting tips (that lead to exciting results)
  2. 3 “must-have” elements of direct response copywriting

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Smart Comments

9 Comments on Use command language to get the response you want!

  1. Sean M. Lyden on Mar 25th, 2010 12:32 pm
  2. Excellent post, Dean. Using the imperative is the key to concise, confident copy that motivates readers to respond in the way you intend.

    Sean Lyden

  3. Dean Rieck on Mar 25th, 2010 6:13 pm
  4. Sean:
    You’re right. Have you ever seen a writing book that discussed the imperative mood in detail?

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  5. Marie-Louise Flacke on Mar 28th, 2010 3:04 am
  6. One of the basic technical writing rules consists in writing in the imperative mode and using short sentences.

    IMHO, the Latin term is “imperare”, not “imerare”

  7. Dean Rieck on Mar 28th, 2010 1:11 pm
  8. Marie-Louise,
    Typo. Thanks for the catch.

  9. Merryl Rosenthal on Apr 9th, 2010 4:29 am
  10. Keep up the great posts!

    (There’s some command language for ya.)

    Cheers. :)

  11. Julie - Fine Tooth Comb on Apr 10th, 2010 10:48 pm
  12. My husband and I spotted and spoke to R. Lee Ermey in an airport a few years ago. Despite his “commanding” reputation, he was quite kind and approachable in person.

    Love this post about the power of imperative mood.

  13. Dean Rieck on Apr 11th, 2010 3:53 pm
  14. Julie,
    Oh, yeah. He’s a nice guy. But he can get your attention when he wants to.

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