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Content is a powerful means of connecting with your customers. In fact, Seth Godin famously said content marketing is “all the marketing that’s left.” To produce effective written content, you must begin with a foundation of good writing, which isn’t as simple as it sounds. If writing doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to tidy up your copy and make sure it gets your message across.
In this post, expert copywriters share their wordsmithing wisdom to help you create clear, concise content that will engage your customers.
- Write for the right audience
Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you need to think about who you’re trying to reach.
“Knowing your audience makes it much easier to convey your point with the proper tone, word choice, etc.,” Gwynne Monahan, a member of the copy team at Clearlink, said. “Knowing your audience also makes it easier to focus the content sooner rather than later.”
A helpful trick to better target your audience is to create an ideal customer profile and write with this person in mind.
- Plan for success
To streamline your copy and stay on track with your message, draft an outline of what you want to write.
“By writing out key points in the form of bullets first, you can cut down on fluff and focus your messaging,” Mike Strayer, a copywriter at Clearlink, said.
Order your points in a logical progression so each idea smoothly leads to the next.
- Start out strong
Draw your reader in from the get-go with an exciting, punchy opening. Your first sentence needs to capture why readers should care and be honed to a fine point.
“Keep it short,” Luke Trayser, senior copywriter at Ivor Andrew, an integrated marketing communications agency, said.
“I’m talking a handful or two of words at most. But more than that, if you want your opening sentence to be read, you need a dynamite headline, subhead, and image. The greatest body copy opener doesn’t stand a chance if your audience tunes out before they get to it,” Trayser said.
- Active versus passive voice
Active voice is when the subject of your sentence performs the action. Passive voice is when the subject receives the action. Active voice is usually preferable because it generates lively, more engaging text, but there are times when passive voice is best.
“Active voice is obviously wonderful,” Trayser said. “We live in a world filled with widows, rags and orphans. Staying active leads to tighter, more concise copy. But I also believe passive voice gets a bad rap. Take this example:
‘The cat pooped in a box, then immediately fled the scene.’
This sentence emphasizes the cat, aka the thing performing the action in the sentence. But what if you wanted to emphasize the thing receiving the action?
‘The poop was taken by the cat. It smelled of Meow Mix and death.’
Is passive voice clunky and bad? Yes. Are there times when it’s necessary? Also yes.”
- Break it up
Readers tend to scroll and scan online, so you need to make it easy for them to pick up the valuable information in your writing. Breaking up text into manageable chunks makes it scan-friendly.
Generally, you want paragraphs to be brief and for each one to represent a single idea. Paragraphs of between one and three sentences tend to work well for web content (that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though).
Sub-headings, bullet points, and images are also useful for separating text into bite-sized, easily-digested pieces.
- Steer clear of clichés
If you want your words to work for you, then treat them with respect. Flogging your copy with tired, banal words and phrases will make it tedious to read.
“Avoid clichés,” Trayser said. “I’ve written about this before. It’s so easy to use them if you’re on a deadline or feeling lazy, but writing something your audience has heard thousands of times before makes them bored. A bored audience is not good. So instead, be brave and be original.”
Buzzwords and jargon weaken your writing because they’ve become meaningless through overuse, and Luke highlights how easily people fall into the trap of using a word just because everyone else does:
“Sometime in the past few years, ‘solutions’ skyrocketed to the top of my list of most-hated words. It’s a B2B marketing cliché that transcends industry. It cannot be killed. Every client adores it. I just want them to be specific. To be proud of this amazing thing they create and sell. To give it the unique and memorable pitch it deserves. Instead? ‘Solutions.’ It makes me so very sad.”
- Read aloud
If your writing doesn’t convert well to the spoken word, it’s not going to resonate with readers. Reading aloud tells you a lot about the structure of your writing and will help you pick up unwieldy sentences or sections that are difficult to follow.
It’s also the best way to catch errors and find out if your writing captures what you want to say, or mean to say, Monahan advised.
“The mind is deft and tricky, and can fill in words we forgot to type or thought we did type or whatever. It also helps get a sense of how it sounds, in terms of tone, flow and syllables,” she said.
- Be polished and professional
Before you hit publish, it pays to go over your copy with a fine-tooth comb. There are plenty of free resources for checking spelling, grammar and readability, such as Hemingway Editor, Grammarly and Readability Score.
Always do a final check manually, because these apps aren’t perfect and nothing compares to a thorough, human-powered proofread.
And if you’re ever unsure, Strayer recommends to double check.
“Sometimes a quick Google search or an informal chat with a fellow writer can help you place a comma correctly, insert the appropriate hyphen, or use the correct homonym. Don’t guess, ask!” he said.
Enlisting fresh eyes is also a terrific way to assess the readability of your content and make sure its message is solid.
“This is especially useful if you’ve spent a good chunk of time on a piece. Having someone else unfamiliar read my work is an excellent litmus test of whether or not it’s clear, concise and gets the point across,”Monahan said.
Go forth and create (great) content!
With these expert writing tips, you can start crafting content that pulls its weight as part of your marketing strategy.
If you’d like to refine your writing skills further, check out this article on 50 Awesome Resources to Help You Be a Better Writer.