In my last post I shared three techniques you can use to find your voice and write stand-out copy. Hopefully you’ve used this advice to get a few cracking pieces of copy in your content vault.
What you need next is an editing process to further refine your words to make sure that your writing is clear, and simple.
Because simplicity is the golden rule.
Once you’ve got a reader’s attention, you need to carry them with you, not lose them on the way.
Complex, inaccessible language, and long convoluted sentences don’t make easy reading.
Great words depend on clarity, simplicity and economy. Say what you mean, say it simply and say it succinctly.
Good writers are those that keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.’
– Ezra Pound, American poet and critic
Whatever you are writing should be clear and easy to understand. As a journalist, I was taught that if a sentence can’t be understood on the first reading, the fault is with the writer not the reader.
Simplicity, however, is easier said than done.
Here are three ways you can edit what you’ve written to cut the waffle and keep your reader captivated.
1. Cut the filler
Cut all the unnecessary words that aren’t contributing to your story or message. The waffle.
These words are obscuring your message. They have to go.
Here’s what I mean:
‘As a rule it makes sense to keep sentences and paragraphs short and easy to read.’
Indirectness makes you sound apologetic and unsure of yourself. Don’t be. You know your stuff. Be direct. Lose the first four words and the sentence gains authority.:
‘Keep sentences and paragraphs short and easy to read.’
Now we’re talking!
Here’s another example:
‘In order to write clear and simple copy, cut unnecessary words.’
Don’t pull any punches. Again, be direct.
‘Write clear and simple copy – cut unnecessary words.’
- Go through your copy and cut out any words that aren’t contributing anything.
- Serial offenders include: ‘that’, ‘very’, ‘just’ and empty phrases like: ‘I think’, ‘It seems’ and ‘In my opinion.’
2. Don’t be a clever-clogs
Don’t use long, fancy-pants words when a simpler words will do. Similarly, don’t use jargon that your average reader wouldn’t understand.
Why? Because it isn’t clever, it’s just distracting and may well send your readers running for the door.
Remember, simplicity is the golden rule.
Your readers don’t have time to read a sentence twice or to get their dictionary out so they can understand you. Once you’ve got their attention, you need to make it easy for them to keep reading, not send them clicking away to Dictionary.com.
Write for your audience, not for your English teacher/industry expert/any other snooty smarty-pants.
- Go through your copy and highlight any jargon or overly complex words and phrases.
- If you can, replace them with something simpler or a more commonly used word or phrase.
3. Brevity is best
In the name of simplicity – our holy grail here – keep your sentences and paragraphs short.
Keep sentences to a maximum of 25 to 30 words, and paragraphs should contain no more than two or three sentences.
Why? Because short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read and easier for the mind to absorb. Readers tend to skim read articles and posts first to see if it’s worth reading the whole thing and short sentences and paragraphs make it easy to do this – as do judiciously placed sub-headings.
A whole page of dense copy is a big turn-off.
Think about it. If you open a magazine, or blog post and see a whole page of text with no breathing space, does it make you want to read on? Nope.
And if the sentences are long and complicated, do you find it harder to understand what the writer is getting at? Absolutely.
Readers are lazy. Don’t make them work too hard.
- Count the words in all your sentences. Anything over 25-30 words needs to be broken into two shorter sentences.
- Same goes for paragraphs – any containing more than three sentences need to be split into two shorter paragraphs.
What do you find most challenging about keeping your writing clear and simple? Let me know in the comments below.