I have learned so much over the years about how to write well. From inspirational school teachers, from fantastic business writing coaches during my corporate years, and, in more recent times, from specialist online copywriters. Here is an amalgam of what I’ve learned from all three:
Before you start, set out a clear structure for your piece. This will help you in all sorts of ways, keeping your thought processes clear and your writing on track. A good rule is to divide your topic into 3 sections. Then add an introduction and a conclusion. Here’s the old schoolteacher’s guide to writing a great essay:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
- Tell them (your content divided into 3 sections)
- Tell them what you’ve told them
It still works! Use headings and sub-headings to give your reader a clear pathway through your text. This is important for all writing but it’s really important for online writing. For smartphones especially!
It also helps your search engine optimisation, for keyword pickup obviously, but also because Google likes text that is clear and easy to read.
Don’t use complicated words unless you really need to. It doesn’t make you sound clever as people often think. It just makes your text harder to read and switches people off. Find a simple way of saying what needs to be said, using short words whenever possible. So, no over-complicated words, jargon or industry-speak. And never use an acronym without explaining what it stands for first.
Short sentences and paragraphs
Long sentences are hard to wade through. Most long sentences can be broken up into 2 or 3 short ones. Starting a sentence with a conjunctive, like ‘And’ or ‘But’ was a No No when I was at school, but it works really well in online copy, giving it a more conversational feel. I do it all the time. (Sorry Miss Roberts.)
Long paragraphs – huge chunks of text without a break – are offputting on paper. Even worse on a screen. Break long paragraphs into smaller blocks of text. White space on a page or screen gives your readers a welcome breather.
Check, check, check!
Always check your spelling and grammar. Few things damage your professional credibility more quickly than a spelling mistake on your website or in a social media post. Word’s ‘Spelling and Grammar Check’ is pretty good. There is also the online grammar tool ‘Grammarly.’ Try and get a friend or colleague to check it too. Online tools can sometimes misinterpret words.
It is also possible to check how easy your text is to read, using a little-known Word function, ‘Readability’. Easy-to-read text makes a huge difference, for online readers especially.
Hidden in Word’s spelling and grammar function there is a ‘Readability’ option. Click on Options in ‘Spelling and Grammar Check’ and tick the Readability box. Every time you spellcheck a document some readability stats will appear after the spelling corrections – Reading Ease and Reading Grade.
Ideally, for the average reader, the Reading Ease level should be between 60 and 70, and the Reading Grade level less than 10. This grade level equates to US school grades. It’s a slightly complicated system but worth getting your head around. Find out more about the Readability Test.
And finally……Calls to Action
Web pages and social media posts should should always feature a Call to Action. Keep these short and simple. Call me, Contact me, Buy!
I hope this has given you some ideas for when you are writing your next web page/blog/social media post. Your confidence will build the more you write, so don’t be scared! Give it a go, (making use of the checks I’ve mentioned!) Keep writing, keep learning, keep improving!
Do let me know if this article has helped you. Next month I’ll be sharing some tips on writing persuasive copy.