Twenty-five years ago it was hard to move words around. If you wanted to publish anything you had to submit your work to a battery of editors, who hemmed and hawed over 1,000 other submissions before deciding whether yours was worthy enough.
Now, almost anyone can have their 5,000-word shaggy dog story read by a million people in minutes. Has all that content enriched our collective intelligence? Sure. Has writing quality overall suffered as a result? I’m afraid so.
Here are seven simple things you can do to make your next marketing piece better.
1. Organize the heck out of it.
Following a logical structure helps you make your point, and helps the reader understand it. Start by telling readers what you intend to say, amplify on it in the body of your work, then finish with a brief summary.
Break larger tracts of copy into smaller paragraphs. Separate sections using meaningful subheadings so the reader can get the main thrust of your writing just by scanning down.
2. Use the proper narrative form.
White papers and other expository writing may call for using the third person (he, she, they). But that approach often sounds impersonal for marketing purposes. Whenever possible, address the reader in the second person (you), and refer to your company in the first (we).
3. Craft a compelling opening paragraph.
Unless you’re trying to channel William Faulkner, make your opening paragraph punchy, compelling and at least hint at the basic theme of your work. Readers decide in seconds if it’s worth their while to read on. Work hard to convince them.
4. Use an active not passive voice.
Scientific, technical and academic writing often dictates a passive voice (“10cc of the solute was poured into the beaker,” versus “I poured 10cc...”). But when talking about your company, products or services, the passive voice creates an awkward emotional distance.
Don’t say, “The Road to Rewards Discount Program was created to reward safe drivers.” Own it by saying, “We created the Road to Rewards Discount Program to reward good drivers like you.”
5. Keep sentences short.
James Joyce got away with 100-word run-on sentences and absurdly complex clauses because, well, he was a genius. But we can at least achieve marketing greatness—plus earn the love and respect of our audience—by keeping things short and pithy. Avoid stringing multiple thoughts or ideas together in a single sentence.
6. Know thy SEO.
Why? Because these days both human readers and web crawlers are poring over your copy. Make sure you integrate whatever keywords are important to your digital marketing strategy. Also, to improve search results adhere to strict character counts in email subjects and preheaders, website meta descriptions, et cetera.
7. Cut, cut, cut!
A wise writer once said, “There’s no sentence that can’t be improved through excision.” And she was right. Go through and ruthlessly eliminate any “junk words”—ones that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence. Your writing will sound better, and readers will grasp it more easily.
Not all of us are bestselling authors. But we don’t have to be. The digital revolution has spawned a multitude of ways for ordinary people to publish. Let’s make every word count.