Tag Archives: Writing

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Common copy mistakes that kill readability

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Learning to spot a few common mistakes in your copy can help it to become much more effective at engaging your target market and creating a response.

People need to be able to read your copy before they can be inspired, educated, or converted. Copy that isn’t easily digestible for the eyes and brain is a complete waste of space. It’s like buying an expensive sports car without any wheels. All your copy will do is sit on the metaphorical driveway.

Is your copy putting readers off? Here are some of the most common mistakes which kill readability.

You haven’t finished making your point

This is probably the most common error I see on my trawls through the internet. Web copy can sometimes read like the ramblings of an overexcited child:

When you come to us you can expect to get a great level of service no matter what in our showroom we have a range of different products with free delivery… take a rest in our café.

Make sure you start with a premise and end with a conclusion. Reading a sentence with too many points in it is like trying to watch three tennis matches simultaneously. Your target market will get confused, frustrated, and motivated to go somewhere else.

You’ve crammed too much into one sentence

This is often the cause of the point above. While you should aim to get a good mix of sentence lengths in your copy, as a general rule you want to keep them short. You should think very hard if a single sentence runs to more than 25 words:

Usually the problem is simply that you are including too much information, which can be solved (like in this sentence – yes, I’ve done this one deliberately to prove my point) by separating out individual points, of which there are probably several, into their own sentences.

Does one of your sentences take up a whole paragraph? If so, you probably need some full stops in there.

You’ve used too many exclamation marks

On most occasions one exclamation mark counts as too many. Like fake tan or DFS sales they are overused.

An exclamation mark – as the name suggests – is used to mark an exclamation. They are for rare occasions when you say something that merits emphasis. We don’t exclaim everything, do we? People that do tend to get avoided at networking events.

I’m wearing socks! Our showroom is in Truro! Our customers are from all kinds of industries! I sound like a crazy person!

Exclamation marks make a lot of people cringe. Some content agencies even ban their writers from using them, and with good reason. They’ve become so overused that it is hard to include them in your copy. If you really can’t help yourself, try Time’s guide to exclamation mark alternatives (although tread lightly, and ignore #1).

You didn’t read it back aloud

Close up microphone at seminar room.

Once you’ve finished your post, give it a few minutes (at least), a few hours (preferably), or a few days (ideally) to allow you to completely forget it. If you read it back straight away you won’t be able to be as objective. When you do read it back, read it out loud.

Our brains can do amazing things. They can also do stupid ones, such as automatically correcting information from your eyes when it thinks it’s wrong. Which is why you might read ‘He ate donut the’, yet process it as ‘He ate the donut’ without realising the error.

Reading aloud means the information has to go through more checkpoints – from eyes to brain to speech to ears to brain. I think this is why you have more chance of catching those mistakes. It also helps you to gauge the flow of the piece. If you find yourself having an asthma attack, you probably need shorter sentences. Or at least some more commas in there.

You’ve used the passive voice

This one is a little tricky. I don’t go in for explaining the components of a sentence with fancy terms, or reciting grammar rules to people like a policeman reading a suspect the Miranda rights. Passive voice is when the sentence is built around the wrong element. For instance:

You read the book – active voice.

The book was read by you – passive voice.

You can tell this isn’t a good way to express this information without getting bogged down in grammar rules. Nevertheless, Your Dictionary has a ton of useful examples.

Passive voice kills readability. It turns your copy into a sluggish ramble, rather than the irresistible ‘slippery slide’ described by copywriting legend Joe Sugarman. Or, to put it passively: A sluggish ramble, rather than a slippery slide, is what your copy becomes.

How am I meant to know if I’m writing in the passive voice?’ I don’t hear you ask. Simply follow these instructions to enable readability statistics in Microsoft Word. From now on when you run a spellcheck (after correcting all the spelling and grammar mistakes that are highlighted) you’ll see a box that tells you the number of passive sentences in the document.

Better copy, with a pinch of salt

These issues all make it a chore to read your web copy, brochures, or blog posts. You won’t need to worry about whether or not your copy is boring – people won’t get far enough to find out.

It is true that there are exceptions to these rules, so don’t adhere to them verbatim. For instance, there are occasions where passive voice helps you present information in a more logical way. Use these tips as guidelines, and ultimately do whatever feels right.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that everything you write is as slick as an oil spill on a frozen book of Oscar Wilde quotes. If you catch yourself making these mistakes, a little editing can go a long way towards creating copy that doesn’t fall at the first hurdle: getting read.


 

Let’s all get better results from our marketing. Share this post to help your friends and followers write better copy. Don’t forget to comment and tell me which copy mistakes put you off.


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About to publish your new blog post? Stop!

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DSCI0198A blog is supposed to make your company look fun, sexy, and interesting. A lot of company blogs do the opposite, however. Grammar errors, indecipherable sentence structure, and bland text are all common. They drive customers away.

It happens because people don’t take a few minutes after finishing their blog post to run through some simple checks to make sure that it actually works.

Bookmark this page, and the next time you go to post your latest blog, make sure you’ve done all the things below first. Trust me, you’ll get better results because it.

Read it aloud

You’ll be amazed at the difference between reading aloud and reading in your head. Not only will you pick up errors you didn’t previously notice, you’ll also get a better understanding of your writing style. If you find yourself struggling, then maybe your sentence structure needs a bit more work. Common errors include overly long sentences, punctuation in the wrong places, and starting a sentence intending to make one point, but ending by making another. The problem with this is that your customers and then the aeroplane will crash. That’s an example.

Does your title titillate?

The title will be the first thing that most people will see of your blog post. Whether they are subscribed to receive updates, or they follow you on social media, they will see your title and decide whether to read your post based upon it. So does it do a good job of representing the post? Does it raise an issue, ask a question, suggest a solution, promise knowledge or new skills? In short is anyone actually going to want to read the post?

Have you started as you mean to go on?

Your first paragraph has to draw people through the rest of the post. Think of it as building momentum. At the beginning your audience is likely mildly interested (thanks to that title) but is largely unresponsive. They are a large heavy boulder and it’s your job to give them a push to start them rolling. Some social media previews of your blog post will also include the first few lines, making it even more important that your first paragraph is as enticing as a sign outside a shop which reads ‘free chocolate bar with every half price cake purchased’.

Will your audience be able to finish it before they die?

A common error is overly long blog posts. Gargantuan essays that run to thousands of words that are not only physically difficult to read, they’re all so mind numbingly dull. If you have a lot to say on a single topic, create a series of blog posts in which you break the issue down into easily explainable or debatable chunks. Or create an eBook. You can give it away for free as an incentive to collect email signups. Click here and download my content strategy guide as an example. The better you are as a writer, the longer a post you can get away with, because you will be able to keep the audience hooked throughout. However, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. At least if the problem is that it’s too short your audience is left wanting more.

Have you included a call to action?

And just as importantly is it varied? Personally, I think one of the things that can often put readers off is ending your blog post with the same call to action each time. You need to tell your readers to do something though, otherwise they won’t. Tell them to share your post, invite them to comment, or get them to email you their feedback. A potential customer who gets all the way to the end of one of your blog posts is someone you want to hold onto. Excluding the use of nets, tranquilliser darts, and electronic tagging, don’t let them get away.

What’s your pre-posting blog routine? Do you even have one? Let me know your process in the comment section or tweet me @TheHyperteller.


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