- Use short words, short sentences, and signpost your writing. (link)
- Outline for your audience, write for yourself. (link)
If you follow these rules, your writing will be easy-to-read, clear, and coherent.
Your writing will also be well-structured yet capture some of your unique, personal voice which keeps readers interested. Additionally, you won’t lose your easily-distracted online audience.
If you’re just blogging as a hobby, you can probably stop here. Following these two rules will help you write in a way which is far more readable and interesting than most.
But if you are writing professionally, one more step is needed.
Before we start…
Have a look at Econsultancy’s online copywriting training courses here.
Writing that works
According to Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson in Writing That Works:
Clarity, desirable as it is, is not the goal. The goal is effective communication — writing that works.
Business writers Roman and Raphaelson focus on a single point throughout their famous book. That is, professional writers have to write in a way which distinguishes their writing from an amateur’s.
Specifically, professional writers have to write with the intention to have an effect in the real world.
As a professional writer, you goal is to motivate a reader to do something or think differently. They may buy something from your company, try something new, or change their perspective on a familiar topic.
Whatever it is, the end result of professional writing should be an action.
But how can a writer achieve this?
It’s difficult and it’s also not something you can necessarily improve through trial-and-error.
If you’re writing to sell then, yes, you can track readers to sales or conversions. More effective writing will produce better results.
If you’re writing to change an opinion, however, it is not quite so easy to know which pieces are working. Readers simply don’t comment like they used to and so it can be hard to know whether you have made an impression.
One source of advice about how to be more effective is other professional writers. Reading about writing is a great way to move from good amateur writing to effective professional writing.
Start with the classics:
- Stunk & White, The Elements of Style
- Zinsser, On Writing Well
- Raphaelson & Roman, Writing that Works
Then try reading modern writing books which also cover online copywriting:
- Felder, Writing for the Web
- Handley, Everybody Writes
- Redish, Letting Go of the Words
And for organizing ideas, I’ve found Beyond Bullet Points (Atkinson) indispensable.
Key points from the professionals
Here are a few key points I’ve collected from these which help make writing more effective.
1. Drive the action point home
The most important thing you can do to encourage action is to make it absolutely clear what you want your reader to do.
Have a clear call-to-action in your writing and make sure it is front-and-center, not buried at the bottom of your post.
Also, check your structure and ensure that the outline supports the intended action. Irrelevant or conflicting points distract from your goal and should be removed.
2. Add spark
Spark is what makes writing exciting to read, and adding it is much more enjoyable than fiddling with structure.
Spark comes as much from removing words as from adding them. Most adjectives, the passive voice, and cliches should all disappear.
There are many more best practices in the books listed above. Apply them mercilessly and review. You will, almost certainly, have clearer writing and more effective results.
Besides the books mentioned above, here are a few more tips to review:
- Timeless writing tips from Mark Twain
- 5 Rules for effective writing from George Orwell
- Ogilvy: How to write
- The Economist Style Guide
- Vonnegut: How to write with style
And Econsultancy offers all sorts of tips and tricks to help digital marketers avoid commonly-made mistakes and add spark to their writing.
- 12 elements of a user-friendly blog page
- 14 safety precautions for inexperienced content writers
- 10 common online copywriting mistakes
3) Swap places with your readers
Ann Handley, in her book Everybody Writes, makes this additional suggestion.
Swap places with your reader. Read what you have written and ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Is the point of the piece absolutely clear, from start to finish?
- Has it been written with a real, honest tone?
- Have I been drawn into the subject, even if it doesn’t interest me?
- Did I enjoy reading it?
If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions, then you need to revise.
Writing which is memorable, enjoyable, and real is much more likely to make a lasting impression than that which is written in business-speak.
Writing quality, amateur online copy is fairly straightforward. You can simply follow a few basic rules and write a post which is clear and pleasant to read.
But moving from amateur to professional writing is not easy at all. You not only have to capture your audience’s attention, but you need to convince them to take action.
Additionally, it is difficult to improve in this way by trial and error. Instead, it takes research, practice, and a lot of self-critique.
There is, however, a simple indicator that you have crossed over, though. Your writing will have an impact in the real world. You will have more feedback, more confidence, and perhaps even measurable results.
That is, your writing will start to ‘work’.