“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
I love that quote.
And Mr. Vonnegut makes an excellent point; however, I’d like to add a point or two of my own.
This quote names something that is far too common in the world of copywriting, namely, trying to sound smart. Using big words for the sake of using big words. Being superficial, ostentatious and obfuscating.
Merely knowing large, obscure words doesn’t mean that you should use them at will. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.
A piece of writing needs to communicate purpose and intent to the target reader. If the reader can’t quickly understand the goal of the paragraph because they are stumbling through a quicksand of jargon then you are failing to achieve your goal.
Yes, it’s important to establish professionalism – but you shouldn’t sound like a dictionary of industry terminology and business clichés threw up all over the computer screen.
Know your audience
A writer who doesn’t know who will be reading their content is off to a bad start already.
Should the content be formal or casual? Confident or vulnerable? Funny or serious?
What do you expect to happen if you deliver a stern lecture in a comedy hall? Or if you dust off some jokes for a sombre occasion?
Great writing has something meaningful to say to its audience. It demands to be read.
Bad writing has nothing meaningful to say to anyone. It can be skipped over without consequence.
Trim the fat
If you’ve run out of useful things to say, that’s a good sign that you should probably stop writing.
Or, heck, maybe it means you need to do some more research so you have some more valuable things to say.
In desperation to reach required word counts, it’s easy for a write to resort to filler – that dreaded sludge of content that slurps across a page without fire, fury or meaning. It discredits the rest of the work and tells the reader: “This writer is wasting my time.”
Slopping filler into the key content areas on your website or advertisements is a surefire way to discourage action and chase your reader away.
Establish your voice and be consistent
We go to McDonald’s to get greasy french fries because we know that there will be a consistent amount of grease on our fries, no matter which franchise location we visit.
The exact same concept applies to writing.
Even if your company’s content comes from multiple writers, the tone should be consistent. This will involve sitting down as a team to discuss and plan the writing style, and to set clear guidelines on how to write meaningful content.
People don’t read content online anymore, right? That’s a fun fact that I’ve heard a million times.
Well, give them a reason to read what you’ve written. Make it relevant, fun, engaging, informative, etc.
In short, make it worth their while; your readers will thank you for it!