3 Ways to Tell if Your Writing Stinks

3 Ways to Tell If Your Writing Stinks

Ask three different people what good writing is, and you’ll likely get three different answers — especially when you ask about good copywriting. While most businesses today understand the importance of crafting informative and relevant content, they often aren’t sure what that means.

What is good copywriting, and what is bad? How do you recognize each one? And, most importantly, does your copywriting stink?

To help answer those questions, let’s take a look at some indicators. If you know your writing reeks of these qualities, you know your writing needs help. Here are some ways to tell if your writing stinks.

Three surefire signs of copywriting gone wrong

1. It’s too long

Mark it down.

Wordy copywriting is lazy copywriting. When you craft content simply to fill space, it shows. Your readers notice, they quickly check out and you lose them. Rather than overstating your message with flowery language and repetitive words, look for ways to simplify — could you condense the five paragraphs on your homepage into three tighter paragraphs?

Could you break up your newsletter copy into a strong header and a list of bullets? Find ways to make your message more digestible, and you find ways to keep readers’ interest.

2. It’s filled with jargon or generic language

The words you use matter — and using words that are either too generic or too specific muddies your message. Fluff your copy with empty language such as “foolproof solutions” or “business synergy,” for example, and your readers will have no idea what you’re saying. Dull your writing with industry-specific jargon, on the other hand, and your writing becomes a puzzle only industry colleagues can piece together.

3. It’s not converting

The ultimate test of good copywriting is obvious. Does it work?

Your writing could sound good and even be free of all grammatical errors, but if it doesn’t get results, it’s not working. What is it that you need your writing to do? Whatever it is, remember to keep that goal front and center.

If you’re looking to generate leads, test different calls to action to see what results.

If you’re trying to increase sales, make your copy speak to ultimate benefits that prospects can’t ignore.

What can you do about it?

Based on the three standards above, how does your copywriting stack up? Is it succinct, clear and yielding results? Or is it empty filler, bland and not working at all? If it’s the latter, there is still good news: You can improve your writing immediately, simply by following these steps:

Get to know your audience

If your intended audience is a specialized business, you’ll use different language than if your audience was the mass market. If you’re writing to teenagers, you’ll use different terminology than if you were writing to senior citizens.

Knowing your audience is crucial not only to knowing what sort of language to use, but also to knowing what motivations will drive your readers’ reactions. Ask yourself what your readers want and need, and find ways to speak to those desires with your copy.

Get to know your message

Nothing is harder than writing content about something you don’t understand. What is your company’s message? What are you trying to communicate? Nail that down before writing anything, and you set yourself up to write better.

Craft your content

Crafting content is about more than getting words on a page — it’s about designing the right message to meet your audience. Rather than rushing to get something written, take time to write and tweak copy for its intended audience and application.

Test your content

Use testing tools to compare different versions of content, be they email subject lines or landing page text. When you see what’s producing conversions, you see what copy works best.

Your thoughts

Does your copywriting stink? Why or why not? If so, what are you going to do about it? What steps will you take toward clearer, more powerful writing today?

Guest author: Shanna Mallon is a writer for StraightNorth.com, a web design agency with headquarters in Chicago. You can follow Straight North on Twitter and Facebook


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  • http://www.changeagents.ie/ Paul O’Mahony

    You might find the “Fog Index” useful – here’s a link to Wiki article on it


  • http://rockthestatusquo.com/ Carrie Morgan

    It’s also important to match the tone of what you are writing to the specific placement.

    Especially in PR, many struggle with shifting from journalist writing (just the facts, ma’am!) to a more casual, opinionated style appropriate for a blog – or writing a byline submission in a voice (and using jargon or a lack of it) that fits that particular publication and sophistication level of its audience.

    Even transforming a great blog post into a successful SlideShare isn’t as simple as it may seem.

    Great writing isn’t only about style and grammar skills, telling a story – it’s about creating something in context. Making it resonate with the audience and work for the platform. Thought and strategy, then copywriting.

    When it comes to content marketing, this flexibility and thought process is very, very important.

  • Elizabeth

    The pieces of advice you provided I found really useful, thanks. I’ll try to apply them to my copywrtiting process.

  • http://www.mimiran.com/ Reuben

    Great points, and equally important (and relevant) when writing proposals.

  • http://www.infoartblog.com/ Haydn Symons

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for this post, you raise some really interesting and important points! Marking down content is a great tip, which I think I’m going to implement! It’s all about writing, checking, editing, checking, editing, checking, editing, checking, editing, then posting!

    Thanks again!