I’ve been truly blessed to be able to make a career out of doing something I really enjoy and am pretty good at. During my school days, writing and grammar always came easy for me. Math and science? Not so much!
I remember taking a creative writing class in 9th grade and thinking this was what I wanted for my career. I didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be, but I knew that writing was my natural, God-given talent and it would be cool if I could somehow make a career out of it.
My dream was to become a sportswriter. I used to read every issue of my dad’s Sports Illustrated cover to cover and imagine my byline in the magazine one day. Alas, I never made it into sports writing, but I can’t complain: I have gotten to write professionally for going on 40 years.
Like they say, if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
I have spent the past 14 years as a freelance financial and business writer — or using the fancy new lingo, “content creator.” During this time and the 20-plus years before when I worked for publishing companies, I have learned a few things about writing good content.
Here are my top 7 tips for writing stronger marketing content for your business:
1. Use the Active Voice
Writing in the passive voice severely weakens your marketing copy. Here’s the difference:
Active voice: John drove the car home.
Passive voice: The car was driven home by John.
It’s easy even for me to slip into passive voice sometimes, especially when writing technical or complex content. I have an editor who is a stickler for this (you know who you are!) and doesn’t let me get away with it.
2. Write in First or Second Person
Writing in third person is similar to writing in the passive voice — it’s weak and ineffective. For example, I always write this blog in first and second person, directly from me (first person) to you (second person). Here’s an example of second vs. third person writing:
Second person: You can improve your writing by following these tips.
Third person: Individuals can improve their writing by following these tips.
See the difference?
3. Avoid Big, Fancy Words
As I like to put it: Don’t use a 10-dollar word when a 10-cent word will suffice. As a marketing writer, your goal isn’t to impress people with your extensive vocabulary and flowery prose. It’s to communicate your message clearly and concisely. For example, instead of terminate, write end. Or instead of utilize, write use.
4. “Chunk Up” Your Writing
This is especially important when writing copy that will be read online, which is pretty much everything nowadays. Long, unbroken paragraphs and text blocks practically beg readers to click away because they’re so intimidating to read. Write in “chunks” instead, using short paragraphs, sentences and sections — even single-line paragraphs sometimes (see above).
When reading online, most people tend to skim and scan instead of reading word for word. So write in a way that makes it easy for readers to find what interests them. Make your copy “snackable” by using plenty of subheads, bullets, numbered lists and boldface/italic type like I do here in my blog.
5. Don’t use Jargon and Buzzwords
As a B2B writer this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Whenever I read a business article or website with words and phrases like “synergies,” “best practices,” “core competencies” and “strategic objectives,” I want to scream!
Seriously, does anybody really talk this way? Of course not. It’s better to write like you’re having a conversation with readers and use words and phrases you would if talking to them. I understand that business communication may need to be more formal, but try to stay away from “corporate-speak” like this.
6. Tighten Your Copy
The old adage “less is more” applies here: Good copy is tight and concise. As Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
After you have written a draft, go back with a hatchet and start hacking away at unnecessary words and phrases. A few of my favorite throwaway words and phrases are “that,” “very,” “in particular,” “essentially,” “conducted” and “really.” With diligent tightening, you can cut your draft by 10 or even 20 percent. Your readers will thank you.
7. Recognize Noun-Pronoun Agreement
It seems to be OK now to violate the basic grammar rule that pronouns agree with their antecedent. I see this rule broken all the time, whether it’s in blogs or articles from major newspapers and magazines.
I guess I missed the memo. Because as far as I’m concerned, this is not OK.
Incorrect: If a person isn’t aware of their circumstances, they could get into trouble.
Correct: If a person isn’t aware of the circumstances, he or she could get into trouble.
Or if you want to avoid the cumbersome “he or she”: If people aren’t aware of their circumstances, theycould get into trouble.
Print out this list of writing tips and keep it handy to help you write stronger marketing content.