How often have you looked at a report, brochure or web copy that you’ve written, and realised it isn’t as clear and appealing as you thought? Perhaps you haven’t known why?
Here are a few really simple guidelines to make sure your copy is easy to read, and to encourage your reader to read on.
Ideally your copy should be …
- conversational – it’s always more appealing to write like you speak. If you read your writing out loud, you’ll immediately spot if it sounds unnatural;
- personal – imagine you’re talking to one person, rather than a mass audience, and use ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘us’ where possible – instead of, for example, your company name;
- active – use active verbs, not passive (eg ‘we’ve improved our service’, not ‘the service has been improved’);
- free of formal language and jargon – it helps to only choose words you’d use when talking: for example, if you’ve messed up, say sorry (don’t cover this up with ‘we apologise for any inconvenience’);
- short – use as few words as possible. Short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read. It’s also good to vary this though. How? By occasionally including a shorter sentence (even one word!) before or after a longer one;
- empathetic – always try to think how the reader will feel when they’re reading, and what the reader wants to know – rather than what you want to tell them. Get to that as soon as possible – other stuff you want to say can come later;
- benefits-led – focus throughout on ‘what’s in it for them’, rather than the features or process you may think that you need to convey;
- honest – no-one likes spin, and after decades of exposure to advertising copy, most people can spot it a mile off;
- scannable – particularly online. Break up your text with sub-headers, bullet points, boxes.
You should definitely avoid …
10. being too formal – ‘If you have any questions, please call me’ is better than ‘Should you wish to enquire further please do not hesitate to contact the admin team’;
11. using nominalisations – these are words made from verbs, which make them longer (eg completion from complete, provision from provide, cancellation from cancel). Instead of ‘Charges are payable when cancellation occurs’, use ‘We’ll have to charge if you cancel’;
12. vague and weak phrases – take out words like ‘aim to’, ‘strive to’, ‘seek to’, except where they’re really unavoidable;
13. euphemising/disguising -‘We’re sorry to hear you’re not happy with …’ is far better than ‘We have been appraised of your adverse situation’.
No-one can write brilliant copy from the very first draft, and most of us slip into formal language and jargon occasionally. Polishing your copy can be the most enjoyable part of writing, and it’s rewarding to know you may have increased the reach and impact of what you’ve written.
First published on LinkedIn.