Make it snappy. Get tight copy with these 6 simple tips.
Writing effective, tight copy is about more than getting words onto a page.
Sure, you need the words; otherwise you have… nothing. But as important as the actual writing is, it’s important to understand what you need to leave out.
Make Your Writing More Refined…
Consider it a literary equivalent to Coco Chanel’s dictat on style: “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory”. Before you hit publish or send to print, take a good hard look at your writing and remove the things that aren’t necessary. Make your writing flow and read more smoothly; for tight copy you need to take things away.
We’ve all been there. Writing emails, presentations or webpages in a rush, against a deadline. You tap away, creating a stream of consciousness. You re-read it; sure you do. You want to make sure it reads OK. That you got your apostrophes in the right place and make sure you haven’t included typos in your writing. And you save it and move onto the next thing.
Then one day you come back to it. Or worse still, someone else reads it. It’s rambling. Some of the sentences don’t make sense. The call to action isn’t clear; no wonder you didn’t get the result you needed.
Banish Wordy Writing with Six Simple Tips
You know your writing is wordy, but how can you fix it? How can you make it tighter and more refined?
- Cut out the waffle. Step away from the long phrases. Never use five words where one will do. Replace phrases such as “in order to”, with plain old simple “to”. Instead of “by way of introduction”, write “introducing”. Adding too many words won’t appear polite or refined. It will complicate and distract from your main message.
- Lose the big words. Unless you’re writing a QI appreciation blog, it’s unlikely you’ll need super-duper long words. Use simple English. Long words don’t indicate intellectual superiority, but they do suggest you don’t care whether or not people understand you. And worse still, long words are easily misspelt; which makes you look daft. Stay in touch with your reader and don’t give anyone a chance to doubt you: use simple, direct language.
- Basic punctuation. Use your full stop. Long sentences are prime fodder in creating wordy text. They go on and on, using a record number of commas and confusing everyone. They are so long readers have to go back to the start and lose their flow, and forget what they were reading about in the first place. Sometimes readers give up and move on. A sentence should stick to one or two ideas only. If you find yourself bringing in lots of commas, “ands”, and “buts” etc. it’s a good idea to take control and get out your full stops. Chop down those sentences: let your reader take a breather.
- Unnecessary words (part 1). It’s tempting to be flowery and pepper your writing with descriptions worthy of the best English exam. But, be disciplined. You are writing for your business, not the poetry society. Stay to the point. Stay honest. Stay focused. That’s not to say that you need to be faceless and flat. Just keep things in check.
- Unnecessary words (part 2). Re-read your writing and do a search for “that”, “of” and “then”. In many instances, removing them will make no difference to the meaning of your writing. You’ll cut down your word count and sound snappier. Bingo!
- Stay active. People often use the passive voice as it feels more polite and is less direct. It’s a less confrontational way of writing. For instance:
“The tea was spilt” instead of: “You spilt my tea”
The problem with the passive voice is that it tends to use more words and can be difficult to follow, especially for anyone reading English as a second language. Use the active voice, and you are instantly clearer and more direct. There is a time and place for using the passive voice, but it should not be used as your default. Using an active voice means your writing is sharper, uses fewer words and sounds more confident. What’s not to like?
You can take these tips and make them work in your writing, or if that feels like too much work then you could work with a copywriter to polish your writing for you. Give me a shout if this sounds tempting. Either way, with a bit of time, you’ll be rewarded with well-crafted tight copy that reads well, fits your designer’s word-count restriction and is snappier than a hungry alligator.
Even More Tips for Tighter Copy
If you want to know more about writing tight copy, take a look at these links.
For more on the difference between active and passive writing, take a look at this very clear website. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/active-voice/
Full of useful resources to help you refine your writing. http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
What are your top tips for tight copy? Do you have any secrets for slimming down wordy documents?