As a company or organization you need to communicate to the world what you are doing and why they should pay attention. Your story’s important and it has to be told, but your legitimacy depends on how well you communicate the message. I have 7 rules I live by when creating and editing our website copy. I'd like to share them with you to prevent you from making some of the embarrassing copy mistakes we've made over the years.
1. Spell Check
Words can be incorrectly used when spelled correctly. You can’t solely rely on the software to do the heavy lifting but it is the first line of defense. I am a fan of the Grammarly Chrome extension and those MS Word red squiggly lines. They have saved me from obvious mistakes. Don’t fall victim to fast typing, auto-correct, and a bad proofread.
2. Edit by a Human
Have another person read through your writing. It’s easy to get caught up in your work from multiple readings that you miss the easy items. Ask a coworker, friend or relative to give it a careful proofread. If you are flying solo, read it outloud and slow. If it’s hard to speak, it’s also hard to read. Don’t let your writing get passed over, or worse, lead to someone leaving your site.
The English language is powerful, and a correctly punctuated sentence can bring your work to the next level. Commas, hyphens, semicolons, and exclamation points have their time and place. But be careful not to litter your writing with too much punctuation. A shorter sentence is more powerful than a multi-comma one. When in doubt look it up on the web. There are many times when I struggle with how to punctuate. I honestly just type it into Google and take a few minutes to understand my options.
4. Keep a Flow, Stay in Order
This grade school rule will stay. Your story is taking the reader on a journey and you want to make that path clear. Don’t jump around with ideas without a transition and don’t assume the reader knows what you are talking about. It’s like when your BFF is talking about their date last night but then hard cuts to why the new Justin Timberlake tour is going to be awesome. There was a transition in their brain but you are now wondering where JT came from. And they have been talking for 2 minutes but you heard nothing.
5. Be Concise
Say what you want in as few words as possible. When you write for web consumption you are fighting an uphill battle due to increasingly shorter attention spans. Get to the point and tell your reader what’s on your mind. There is very little room for fluff.
6. Remove Jargon
If you are a technical writer for an industry you can nix this, but if your aim is a new crowd then cut jargon. When people don’t understand what you are talking about they drop like flies. Try to keep your writing at a point where most people can follow along. If you can’t accomplish that, your crowd reach will be smaller.
7. Cut -ing when it makes sense
In grade school I was taught to use -ing to make my writing more active. As I have matured in my writing I’ve come to the conclusion that when I make firm statements my content is more powerful than a sentence littered with -ing words.
- For example: “Set a purpose, know and accept trade-offs, and remove obstacles.” This is a firm statement from a recent blog post.
- It was: “By setting a purpose, knowing and accepting trade-offs and removing obstacles…” This sentence says the same thing but needs a qualifier which leads to a longer run-on sentence.
You have a story and it’s important so tell it to the world. By following my top 7 rules I live by, your writing will improve from those 10 page essay days.
What are your writing rules you live by? Share them with us.