Writing an article, post or web content page that’s both informative and interesting to read can be a challenge. It’s not that we don’t know how to write. We learned the basics in school. Yet some of the most educated and erudite writers often fall victim to boring writing.
Experienced, professional writers—especially those trained in the art of ad copy—know how to keep readers entertained. When you’re paying $50,000 to run an ad, you quickly learn how to use every word, every sentence for maximum impact. Because the last thing you want the reader to do is turn the page before he or she has finished reading all your copy. While blogs and articles aren’t ads, the principles of “grabbing the reader and not letting go” are the same. Some guidelines from a former Mad Man:
1. Avoid verbs like “is” and “be”
These verbs take up space and often simply confirms a thing’s existence. So instead of saying, “This is an article that is entertaining and must be read,” streamline it to, “This entertaining article must be read.” The word economy keeps things moving.
2. End series with the longest phrase
Avoid a tongue twisting series of items by starting with the shortest and ending with the longest. This lets you end the sentence with greater impact. For example, in the series, “She was always more eloquent than Bob, pretty and likable,” change to, “She was pretty, likable and always more eloquent than Bob.”
3. Facts and stats add credibility
Used sparingly, facts and statistics can add persuasive power to your article. Excessive use of words like “many,” “several,” “approximately,” “nearly” and other such “weasel modifiers” can rob you article of believability. Facts and stats are more convincing—but don’t overdo it or your article will sound like a government report or school textbook. Not good.
4. Confuse ‘em, you lose ‘em
Don’t let awkward sentence structure, misplaced punctuation, or mixed up modifiers mess with your meanings. You have no doubt seen the difference between “eats shoots and leaves,” and “eats, shoots and leaves.” Nothing’s more irritating than having to re-read a sentence several times to uncover what the writer really meant to say.
5. The long and short of it
Vary the length and structure of your sentences, so as not to lull your reader into a narcoleptic state. Break up long sentences into shorter ones. Use longer sentences to finish a long or complex thought for you without interruption. It makes for better reading. Imagine a person talking to you in sentences that are all the same length. ZZZZZ.
6. Practice word economy
Superfluous words tire the reader. People will start skipping sentences and eventually your entire article. So don’t use a long-winded phrase when a short version would suffice. Shorten phrases like “in view of the fact that” to “since” or “because.”
7. Remove redundancies
Avoid phrases like “consider these ideas when thinking about,” “completely done,” or “sooner rather than later.” And don’t “boxcar” synonyms together like “thoughts and ideas” or “actions and behavior.” Do you mean one or the other, or both? Readers will get tired of the filler and click their mighty mouse to the next article (or another site).
8. Eschew obfuscation
Don’t use “50-cent” words to impress the reader. You’ll often find these bookish words in government reports to conceal a truth or meaning, rather than clarify. KISS. It’s fine to have fun with language, adding flourish for effect, but default to clarity.
Now go forth and write!
To improve your writing, you’ve got to do a lot of it. Study others’ work. What do you like about it? What don’t you like? Share your work with others and be open to feedback. Most of all, commit to giving your readers something worthwhile.