Everyone can write, right? To an extent, yes – but the skill you learnt at school of shaping letters and words into sentences and paragraphs isn’t necessarily the best route to a well-crafted and interesting piece of prose.
This piece mainly refers to longer-form business writing – it’s not applicable to academic or creative writing. It will be particularly helpful when you’re trying to write about your business, in particular describing a product or service.
First of all it’s important to beat the fear of the blank page. Whether you’re writing for the web or for print this can be a real stumbling block.
To get going, follow these steps:
- Sketch out an idea of what your piece is about – I find it helpful to create a spider plan of all the things I might talk about under the heading. You may also want to plan a rough order for your piece
- Do your research
- Leave it to percolate for a while in your brain whilst you do something else (this is a crucial part of the creative process – more on why in future blogs)
- Sit down and imagine the person you’re writing for
Editing your piece
Once you have the first draft of your copy written down, there are a number of things you can do to improve the quality of what you’ve written.
Ready? Let’s go…
- K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid) – Start by shortening your sentences. It’s ok to use fragments and even to begin sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ to add energy and pace. Next check your vocabulary. Can you simplify it? Use plain English. If you’re using jargon make sure you explain it unless you’re absolutely sure your audience will understand.
- Hone your introduction. The first paragraph is the part of your writing that needs to work hardest. It’s your main hook to draw people into your article. Spend longer on this part and try to inject as much colour and interest as possible. There are two tricks you can try to include some real world examples here. The first is the Rule of three: literally listing three things that are most interesting about the content you’re about to share (see it in action below). The second is similar but only uses two and shares a journey. From….to…. (you can see this in the show, don’t tell example further down the page).
Poverty. Body Image. Violence. Girls face many barriers to education both in the UK and overseas.
- Remove the doubt. You don’t ‘aim to’ do something, you do it. Lose words like aim, try, maybe, perhaps, and attempt. Be bold. Know your mind. It shows your knowledge and puts your customers at ease.
- Show me don’t tell me. Avoid generalisations and instead inject interest and individuality by telling stories, sharing facts and figures and using real-world examples. Don’t wax lyrical about being amazing, wonderful and captivating. Show these traits through your stories and descriptions and let readers come to those conclusions themselves.
From the chandeliers and geometric lines in the tea lounge and reception to the elegant painted ladies adorning the ballroom walls, one of the stand-out features of the Bayside Hotel is its elegant art deco styling. Infused with classic glamour, you can’t help but sense the romance of the roaring twenties and Hollywood in its heyday.
- Address your audience directly. Using ‘we’ and ‘our’ as well as including ‘you’ and ‘your’ in the conversation to connect directly with your audience. on web articles and pages, include links to internal pages and external sites to help readers find more information and act as a portal to more detailed information.
- Put yourself in their shoes. What do they want to know about your product or service? Unless you’re dealing with a very technical audience they probably don’t want to know a shower has slim pipes as much as they want to know it makes their space feel larger. Spin things around and look at yourself or your product from the outside. asking and answering questions can also help with this – look for where I’ve done this on this page.
- Don’t oversell. Over-promising and under-delivering might bring a customer to you but if they have a bad experience they won’t be back. And they won’t tell their friends. Personal referral from someone we trust is still one of the most powerful methods of marketing – so you definitely want to avoid giving customers a bad experience. Be relevant and honest in your copy. Telling people what you do, rather than overselling, builds trust.
- Add some stylistic highlights. Using stylistic elements such as pull quotes (an interesting sentence made bolder on the page), headings, highlighted opening paragraphs (we call these stand firsts), Did you Know? facts and bulleted lists will grab and hold interest.
- Use the active voice. In basic terms this means putting the noun before the verb. It makes your writing more direct and engaging. It’s easier to understand through examples, so I’ve added some below.
You will be visited by one of our staff next week BECOMES We’ll visit you next week.
It is recommended that the public do not feed foxes BECOMES You shouldn’t feed foxes (you might want to add a reason here).
The pub CCTV cameras are also monitored by the Council BECOMES We also monitor CCTV camera in the town centre pubs.
- Read it out loud. This might sound silly, but reading your piece out loud can really help you to see the stumbling points. Would you engage with what you’ve written? Writing as you speak makes you sound more friendly and collaborative. It’s possibly the most crucial bit of writing advice I can give you.
Still tearing your hair out about your copy? Get in touch to find out how I can help.