Nothing is worse than bad writing. It’s recognizable within the first few sentences – either consciously or subconsciously.
Bad writing is full of “noise”; it contains complicated words and ideas, and grammatical nonsense such as useless adjectives and adverbs.Sloppy writing clutters the messages, and dilutes the simplicity of messages that humans crave.
Spend seconds online and bad writing is everywhere, especially on many businesses’ core marketing tool that I call the true COO of any company – a website.
Sometimes it takes a deep reading to simply understand what services or products that company is marketing.
This lack of clarity results from bad copywriting, which has become a leading epidemic in the world of online marketing alongside thin content.
This epidemic is found across multiple industries, from SMBs to large corporations.
All copywriting should deliver marketing messages in the clearest and quickest ways. And the answer is not derived from proverbial rocket science.
Here are some writing principles that I’ve discovered over two decades of writing for both online and print publications.
1. Simplicity & Clarity: The Core of Good Writing
Henry met Mary. The dog walked across the street. My head hurts.
That’s simple language, and simplicity reigns in the world of copy writing – especially when introducing a product or service to a new audience.
Leonardo da Vinci said it perfectly: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Imagine a small exhaust shop looking to raise their digital presence. They heard of SEO, but after some online searching, they arrive at a company’s website and the content immediately gets into to the specifics of SEO – such as canonicals or site hierarchy.
Getting granular in a blog or deeper pages is imperative. But when a prospect is first introduced, simplicity and clarity must reign over anything else.
Put another way: if a grade schooler can’t understand it, don’t expect the ideas to come across clear and simple.
Most prospects looking for a service – especially those in B2B – are searching because they don’t have the time or focus to create whatever service you’re offering.
And even if it’s product or news-based business, most readers’ minds are already cluttered with too much garbage. Some don’t have the bandwidth remaining to go all-in with thought.
Clear and simple writing will convey a message much faster and will result in quicker sales.
2. Use a Framework
You know to keep it clear and simple. But sometimes the writing doesn’t flow and is cluttered.
Create a framework of main ideas, and backfill them.
In the past, I’d framework by imagining myself as a reader. I’d then create a list of bullet points that I’d see as a problem. I’d follow up by proposing multiple solutions to those problems.
This worked, but took time.
Then I discovered Donald Miller’s “Building a StoryBrand“. The book is a must-read for marketers and content producers, and has multiple tactics that can help businesses overcome many issues by focusing on building a story around the target prospect.
But one small section around creating a “one-liner” has helped me create a framework for writing content that simplifies the message and provides pure clarity from the outset.
The framework lays out a roadmap of four components:
- The Character.
- The Problem.
- The Plan.
- The Success.
For each piece of writing, you supply answers to these components, and create a one-liner (which doesn’t exactly have to be one line).
An example from a motorcycle safety course would be:
- The Character: Motorcyclists passionate about freedom of riding, but afraid of crashing.
- The Problem: Can’t overcome mental fear.
- The Plan: Remove fear through teaching underlying principles of motorcycle safety, both psychological and physical.
- The Success: Renewed passion for riding and calmness in life.
The one-liner above would read:
“We help those passionate about motorcycles overcome the mental fear of motorcycling through teaching proven principles – both psychological and physical – that create a safer and more confident rider, and renews a passion for riding. This all leads to less anxiety and more relaxation in life, allowing all that time to focus on other important things, like family and work.”
This has helped me create a framework for any type of written content, from product copy to service pages to FAQs to daily blogging.
3. Talk it Out
Sometimes we know deep down that there’s something to say but can’t get the message across with clarity and simplicity. This is where talking does wonders.
Find a competent and clear-minded person to discuss your ideas with. They don’t have to be experts on the subject – just make sure that they are capable of listening and can provide a no-BS answer to what you’re trying to figure out in your head.
Sometimes those with zero knowledge of the subject can provide the best responses.
Again, back to having a digital presence. If I was writing copy for an SEO website that targeted small businesses with zero clue of how SEO works, I wouldn’t want to talk it out with an expert – such as most of the readers/contributors at Search Engine Journal.
Rather, I’d target a small business owner who had success building a digital presence. This person has a grasp about the process, whether the work was outsourced or brought in-house, but is far from an expert.
That person would help me simplify things, and create an equally simple message that the target prospect such as an SMB owner would understand quickly.
With that said, having another competent human’s input is critical for success. But many writers I know are introverts (including myself, until a few years ago).
When I say “talk it out,” this doesn’t necessarily mean talking to someone else – though getting a clear-minded human’s input will have a drastically better outcome.
You can also talk it out with yourself. This is best followed by the following tactic, which will allow your mind to relax and subconsciously “connect the dots” so you can create clear and simple content.
4. Sleep On It, or Walk Away & Do Something Mundane
This basically gets you away from the conscious thoughts of what you’re writing, and allows your subconscious to put the pieces together, or connect the dots.
I won’t get into it psychology here, but Chris Bailey sums it all in a book that everyone should read, especially writers.
In “Hyperfocus“, Bailey writes:
“Simple decisions are best made using cold, hard logic. This way, we can work through the incremental steps that lead to an answer. But the same isn’t true for complex decisions, ones that require more creativity in meshing together a web of interconnected ideas. These decisions can be impossible to work through with logic and reason alone. That’s why we need to tap into the proven power of our subconscious mind.”
I do this in two ways; I “sleep on it,” or I walk away for a bit and do something mundane.
Before sleeping, revisit the piece you’re working on, or daydream about what you’re trying to say. When you sleep, your subconscious mind will help put it all together.
The key to success when you “sleep on it” is to immediately get to your writing when you wake up.
Don’t check emails. Don’t read another book. Don’t start another project.
Get right to it, and you’ll be amazed at the thoughts that start flowing.
The same happens when you walk away and do something mundane.
Here are some things that work for me:
- Motorcycle rides at an aggressive pace (you can only focus on the ride – nothing else because if you’re distracted you’ll get hurt or die).
- A hike in the woods with the dog.
- A quick workout with zero music.
All of this help connect those dots in the mind, and help you create clear and simple writing in a more efficient way.
5. Edit – then Edit Again, and Again, and Again if Necessary
After two decades of writing, I still find myself cutting loads of “noise” from final drafts.
Search for useless words, and any ideas that don’t simply explain the marketing message.
During the editing process, read out loud; you’ll find useless material, and quickly.
Also while editing, don’t forget to revert to the step above and walk away – especially before the final draft.
I find my “final” draft is typically two or three drafts away once I walk away and let my mind connect the dots.
Regardless of how dry the subject matter, a great writer can make it not only readable, but entertaining.
Clarity and simplicity are key to great writing. These two elements help your reader arrive at the point quicker.
I’ve covered various writing tips here in the past, including one story that has over 17,000 reads: SEO Writing in 2018: Top 14 Tips to Master a Combined Art.
The five tips above provide a sharper focus for writing with clarity and arriving at the point quicker.
Clear and simple writing delivers a message much quicker. And if that message has to do with marketing your products or services, quicker message delivery equates to quicker sales – something every business craves.
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