I find that many of my clients get worked up about the difference between writing for the web and writing for print. Although there are differences, there are actually far more similarities. The main point you need to understand is that people don’t read bad copy. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you include all the right SEO keywords and manage to achieve a good Google page rank, if you have bad copy on your site, nobody will read it.
Writers find that we deal with a range of conceptions on our job. There are people who think that everyone can write and there’s no point in hiring a professional writer, and there’s people that think that writing is a mythical art form gifted to a chosen few. I sit somewhere between those extremes. I believe that bad writing can damage your brand and that hiring a professional writer is a good idea, but I also believe that writing is like any other job – you learn the rules and you do it. Not every article will be your greatest masterpiece. Sometimes, it’s more important that a piece of writing is functional than poetic (for example, your company brochure).
Here are a few very pragmatic pointers for writing good copy:
Write great headings
A title needs to give readers an idea of what they can expect to find in the body text. A good heading will make them want to read on. Staring at a long page of text without a heading leaves readers intimidated and without a point of entry on the page, so make sure you have a heading and that it makes sense. Another point to consider is that your heading needs to be sensitive to context. If you’re writing a brochure on a medical product, you’re hardly likely to use the same puns, humour and innuendo that you’d expect in a tabloid article title.
Use clever structure
Paragraphs are important! Say this out loud three times and write it on your bathroom mirror. I am dumbfounded at the amount of writing I see online without paragraphs. Once again, big chunks of text are intimidating. Make sure you separate each idea into its own paragraph. If appropriate, use bullet points, sub-headings or other formatting tools to ensure your structure lends itself to readability.
Also ensure that your text flows well. Is there a logical progression from one idea to the next? In news journalism, writers use the “inverted” pyramid. This means ensuring that your most important information is in the first few sentences. The less important info comes further down the page, in case your writing needs to be cut or a reader loses attention.
On that note, our Twitter culture seems to have decreased our attention spans. What this means for your writing is that your title, first line (the hook) and first paragraph are of paramount importance. If they don’t grab the reader, he or she will not stick around to read the next paragraph. Don’t ramble. Make each word count.
Check your spelling and grammar
This sounds obvious, but I cannot tell you how often I see errors in published copy. After reading something for the fifth time, you may be tempted to assume that you have all your ducks in a row, but be disciplined and check one last time before you publish or send your work. If you find you’re still not catching errors, ask someone else to check your work for you or come back a day later and reread your writing. We all make these mistakes, even grammar Nazis like me (tough as that is to admit).
Check your facts too – there’s nothing more embarrassing than having something incorrect published with your name on it.
Editing is horrible. Really. It means saying goodbye to anything and everything unnecessary, especially clichés, jargon (including corporate BS) and all those “little flourishes” you liked so much. But I don’t believe there are many great writers who haven’t benefited from tough editing. This also means being open to criticism from others who edit your work. I’m not talking about clients who think that employing the “synonym” function in Word on your work makes them a wonderful editor, but having someone look at your work who is not as “close” to it as you are often helps to identify areas that need explanation, tweaking or cutting.
By this I mean use a font that is easy to read; don’t clutter your writing with a million superfluous descriptions; if you’re writing online, use relevant tags. I know these things don’t strictly relate to writing good copy, but they will help to get people to read your writing. So, compress your images in the digital space, keep your writing to the point, don’t plagiarise from other sources (be especially careful of image copyrights) and generally, use your head.
What are your top writing tips? Let me know in the comments section.