I chuckle whenever someone says “I can’t write.”
I know – for a fact, that all of you reading this right now love to write.
I mean, hello? It’s 2017 and we live in the world of posts, comments, updates, texts, and tweets!
So the truth is, we write all the time.
Writing’s how we get ideas out of our heads.
Writing’s how we express our feelings.
Writing’s how we articulate our thoughts and put them into words.
Unfortunately, a lot of the writing we see online today is, to put it nicely, unpolished (don’t worry, this won’t be a junior high grammar lesson).
At it’s core, we write for one underlying reason: to be understood.
So keep reading to find out how to give your writing a little more oomph to increase your chances of getting your point across (and, if you’re a marketer, to get the sale).
Cut down on redundancy. Cut down on redundancy. Cut down on…
You know that guy you try to avoid at the office, the one who sounds like a broken record and makes the same point again and again and again, so you just don’t pay attention?
It’s because we tend to tune out messaging that is redundant (don’t confuse this with messaging that is repetitive, which is a highly effective persuasion tactic). Redundancy goes beyond repetition – it’s saying more than is necessary without introducing anything new or compelling.
For example, you don’t need to say “Join me today for a free complimentary webinar.” You can say free or complimentary, but you definitely don’t need to use both. It’s like saying water is wet – it’s already implied.
Here’s an even more obvious example: “That’s the big large guy I was talking to at the store last weekend.” Sounds weird!
So it makes more sense to just pick one adjective to describe the man.
Trello’s homepage copy shows you how to avoid redundancy.
You’ll notice they say you can get your projects done in a fun, flexible, and rewarding way.
Using these words helps them explain the product emotionally and logically while hitting on 3 distinct benefits: enjoyment, customization and personal fulfilment.
Use transitional words and phrases
Transitional words and phrases can be used to connect ideas and help your writing flow.
Pro-tip: When learning a new language, spend some time learning transitional words. They help you sound more fluent than you actually are, and less robotic.
Anyway, (see what I just did there?), there’s a long list of transitional words and phrases you can use, so here’s a small sample:
- Words which lead to an example: for example, to illustrate, as shown by
- Words which refer to the future: next, then, later, afterward
- Words which show sequence: first/second/third, a/b/c, lastly, next, then, finally
On Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income website, you can see how he makes transitions on his About page with “In fact” and “After all.”
This gives the copy a conversational feel, like he’s talking to you, and helps connect the longer chunks of text to the shorter transition paragraphs.
Reduce your use of ‘That’
“That” is one of those words that’s often unnecessary (no pun intended).
For example, “It’s the same guy that we saw the other day at the football game” can be changed to “It’s the same guy we saw the other day at the football game.”
Nclud’s copy and design are a little bonkers and epic at the same time. Take their homepage, for example.
Their copy is concise and gets to point.
They could have said “And radical means that we’re just getting started” – but they don’t need to.
Quick tip: Read through your website copy and eliminate any unnecessary usage of “that.”
Replace long words with shorter words
The longest word in the English word is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which is a kind of lung disease (OK – that example was unexpectedly depressing).
If you can ever use a short word instead of a longer version, go for it.
For example, change utilize to use.
Or instead of advantageous, use helpful.
The Moz About page is a perfect example of how less is more. Their page is full of short, punchy copy instead of long, unnecessary words.
Bonus tip: This technique also works really well for infographics, where the copy is meant to support the images.
Keep your sentences short
The next two examples are visual in nature. Writing for print and writing for devices require two different approaches.
Because when we read on a screen it’s harder to track words with our eyes. So it’s important to give readers small chunks of text that are easier to digest visually.
Long sentences can often be broken up into smaller groups of words.
For example, “Superstar Startup has been in business for 12 years and was founded by two former chemistry students who met during their freshmen year in college” can be “Superstar Startup has been in business for 12 years. The founders are two former chemistry students who met during their freshmen year in college.”
As a general guide, try keeping your sentences to around 25-30 words.
Yellow Leaf Hammocks shows us an extreme example. The company’s motto is a total of two sentences and three words: “Do Good. Relax.”
And just like that, you, the reader, know exactly what Yellow Leaf Hammocks stands for.
Remember, you don’t need to write a lot to say a lot.
Keep your paragraphs short, too
When I see a long block of text my first reaction is to start hitting the Return key to give it a little breathing room.
As stated earlier, each paragraph should carry one main idea. To build on that idea, add a few sentences.
But don’t feel the need to keep everything together in one paragraph.
As a general rule of thumb, try to keep your paragraphs to 250-300 words. They don’t need to be that exact number. The main idea is to make them brief to keep readers engaged so they’ll continue to the next paragraph.
Here’s an awesome example from B2B Marketing Agency, Velocity Partners.
Each paragraph is only 2 lines, but the copy hits hard and has a little extra punch when you combine the bolded and unbolded sentences.
They also use the word “to” four times and the repetition gives the copy a great rhythmic flow.
Explain one idea at a time
Too many ideas thrown in all at once make it easy to ramble and confuse the reader.
That’s why it’s important to identify the one idea of a web page, the one idea of a blog post, the one idea inside a paragraph, and so on.
Real estate website ZipStart does a great job in the above screenshot of focusing on one idea: selling your home.
Now you’re armed with all the tools you’ll ever need to become the next Stephen King or million dollar Copywriter, right?
Well, maybe not, but using the fundamentals will take you far.
They help you write better emails, better website copy, and better content all-around.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are your favorite ways to tighten up your copy? What changes have given you the greatest results?
Let me know in the comments!
Guest Author: Lucas Miller is a Freelance Copywriter and Founder of Echelon Copy. When not writing, tweeting or attempting to play pickup basketball, he’s working tirelessly to perfect what he claims is the “World’s Greatest Pompadour.” To get more tips on how to start your own six-figure freelance copywriting business, join his free newsletter.