Website copy is one of the key elements that will make your website a success. That’s why, in this episode, we’ll give you four easy ways you can instantly improve your writing.
- How to make your copy more engaging
- How to identify passive voice
- How to make your copy less clunky
- How to use rhythm in your writing
4 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Writing: Transcript
Welcome to Episode 44 of the Make Your Mark Online Podcast. Today I’m going to give you 4 instant easy-peasy ways you can improve your writing.
But before we get into that, this show is sponsored by the Make Your Mark Online Community, this is our signature membership community where we help small business owners build and grow a successful website.
So let’s get on with the show.
Now firstly, who am I to tell you how to improve your writing? I own a web design company after all. Well, your website’s content is one of the key elements to its success. So, no, we don’t write your website copy, but we really do care when it’s a load of crap. Because that means your website won’t be as successful as you want it to be, you’ll be sad, we’ll be sad. There are just crappy feelings all around.
So I actually spend a lot of time learning about how to write business copy, so I can pass this knowledge onto our clients and our members too.
So, my first tip…
Cut the fat
We use a lot of excess, unnecessary words in our writing, especially if we write how we talk. So it helps to cast a glance over our writing to try and spot words or phrases that are redundant i.e. we don’t need them. Why bother doing this? Well, the more the brain has to read, the harder it has to work. Brevity is beautiful, so it’s a good idea to cut as much as we can without losing the meaning of the sentence.
My favourite redundant phrase is 100% true. I use it all the time. I even know when I’m writing it that I have to go back and edit it, and often I forget. Of course, there’s no percentage when it comes to truth. Something is either true or not true (unless you’re a politician in which case there seems to be some sort of different scale of truth where things can be kinda true.) But for most of us, it’s either one or the other. So in this instance the ‘100%’ is redundant. You just need to say something is true.
Some other common redundant words or phrases are – I absolutely guarantee. It’s just I guarantee. Or the end result. It’s just, the result. The basic fundamentals – I see that one all the time. It’s just the fundamentals. Let’s collaborate together, that’s a good one. Obviously it’s let’s collaborate. Actual experience – as opposed to…what? That fake experience that seems to be going around these days. Actually, my CV when I was 20 had a lot of fake experience so maybe that one does make sense. But you get the picture.
You won’t pick up on all of these but if you have an awareness of it you should be able to catch a few of them in your writing.
2. Use active voice
So this may sound like I’m sending you back to school, but that’s not what I’m trying to do here. There’s a huge difference between active and passive voice and they can have a remarkable effect on the reader.
Passive voice is when the noun becomes the object of a sentence. Whereas active voice is where the noun is the subject of a sentence. But let’s give some examples.
The letter was posted by me, that’s a passive sentence.
It makes the letter (or the object) the subject of the sentence. It essentially makes ‘the letter’ the most important thing in that sentence, and the ‘by me’ is like an afterthought.
Whereas if I say ‘I posted the letter.’ That’s active. ‘I’ is the noun which is made the subject of the sentence. And you can see the difference ‘the letter was posted by me.’ ‘I posted the letter.’
So you could have ‘the training programme must be attended by all staff.’ But it would be better to say ‘All staff must attend the training programme.’ It’s stronger, isn’t it? It puts the noun, in this case, ‘the staff’ at the forefront.
And this is a common problem in writing. I think this happens when we’re trying to tiptoe around things, like the training programme must be attended by all staff. It sounds less bossy than all staff must attend the training programme.
But what happens when we use passive voice is that we don’t sound as engaging. And we end up using more words too, words like was, were, been, be – the training programme must be attended by all staff. It just makes the sentence clunky and doesn’t inspire action. Particularly on sales pages, this is really important because you want sharp, focused copy. Not a rambly mess.
Although saying that, Martin often moans at my bluntness on WhatsApp or Facebook messenger because once you start doing it, it does become a habit, so perhaps just be wary of it in emails. Or just add a smiley face emoji. That’s what I do when I think I’m being blunt, I’ll just throw in a smiley face emoji and hope for the best. You see, you’re getting the best writing tips ever in this podcast episode.
Now, I said in the beginning that I’ve always struggled with grammar and spelling and spotting active/passive voice is no exception. So I use a handy tip from a school teacher called Rebecca Johnson who tweeted about this. Rebecca said, if you can add the phrase ‘by zombies’ after the verb in a sentence then you have passive voice. The letter was posted…posted being the verb. The letter was posted by zombies. The training programme must be attended by zombies. Our business is recommended by zombies.
And every time a politician says ‘mistakes were made’ I swear you’ll say ‘by zombies’ in your head.
I don’t know what’s with me and politicians today, they seem to have annoyed me. Who knows.
3. Sentence rhythm
Okay, so I realise you’re not a poet or musician. Well, you might be, in which case this will be a doddle.
So essentially when our sentences don’t have rhythm, the reader will get bored. And quickly.
Now rhythm is a tricky subject but I’m going to go through one tip that helps me with my sentence rhythm and I’m going to do it by first showing you a bad example.
Sometimes I get emails. And they’re usually from men actually. I have no idea why. But it goes like this. And by the way every sentence I’m going to read is on its own individual line.
Your Business is Dead.
You don’t have sales.
You don’t have leads.
You don’t have hope.
I have the solution.
Yes, that’s right.
I have the solution.
Ready to hear it?
I bet you are.
No, not really mate. Because I’m bored with this incessant style of writing style. Short, sharp sentences are really useful, but only when peppered amongst longer sentences. To create that rhythm we need peaks and troths. If you use too many short sentences, they lose their power. If you use too many long sentences it can become boring and tiring. So mix it up.
There’s a brilliant quote from Gary Provost who is an American Writer about this. I’ll pop it in the show notes because it’s a great one but it goes:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
And I think that pretty much sums it up.
4. Stop with the stuffy
I used to be a copywriter and if I ever did receive negative feedback it was always the same thing: People used to say, ‘I don’t feel like the copy is professional enough.’
The thing is, before I would write anything I’d phone the client and say, pretend I am a prospective customer and tell me about this service or that product. But what I was listening too wasn’t just fact and figures, it was their tone of voice. The way they spoke, phrases they used, how formal or informal they were, where I could hear the excitement, how they got to the real benefits of what they sold.
So when I received the feedback that the copy sounded unprofessional. I would ask them if it sounded like them, sounded like a conversation they’d have with a client. ‘They would say yes…but it’s different for a website.’ I would explain, that really, it wasn’t. What you want your website to do is to connect with the reader, make them understand who you are and how you help. And they’d say ‘Yes, but my competitors’ doesn’t sound like this.’
And that’s the crux of the problem. We want to look good in front of our peers so we say things like established in 1982, suchabody financial services, offers a complete solution to your financial needs (I had to do that in that voice by the way.)
And I get it, being different is scary. Just think about school. Many of us wanted to fit in, right? But there was always that one kid that was different, who owned being different and didn’t care what others thought. And you know what, she or he actually got respect for it. That’s what your business needs to do. It needs to be that kid. Don’t worry about what your competitors do, however you speak to your clients is the way that you should write your business copy. Of course, it should be well structured and without all the ums and arrhs. But it doesn’t have to be super formal.
So I hope you found that episode.
And if you’re wanting regular feedback on your website copy or content, then check out our membership community, Make Your Mark Online. We host a 90-day challenge where our members produce one piece of content every week which we then give feedback on. If that sounds good head to makeyourmarkonline.net to find out more.
So that’s it for today’s episode, we’ll see you next time on the Make your make online podcast
Owner at Jammy Digital, Digital Marketing Specialist and Writer of Young-Adult Fiction.