Easy to read copy benefits everyone

Making copy easier to read benefits every level of reader. I don’t mean dumbing it down. I mean writing that increases understanding and the number of people who will actually invest time in reading it. Easy to understand text is key. It’s good for your audience and company. Readers perceive it and who your writing represents as transparent.

There are a number of advantage of clear writing. It takes less effort to decipher. It contains words that people use which gets you more search results. If you think clearly you’ll write clearly.

How do you ensure readability. Use short words. Avoid fancy words and made up terms. Avoid compound sentences. Use active voice. Write on an 8th grade level if you are targeting a broad consumer base. Use sentences and words that correspond with the education level or your target.

You can increase the comprehension of your article and help drive readers to perform an intended action by including user-centric language – terms they are familiar with. Only use specialized words if the audience is specialized and will understand it.

Always start with the conclusion or a main point. People relate better if they know where you are going with your story.

Since most readers are scanners, you’ve got to grab them quickly. Headlines are particularly important. What can you do to make yours more attention grabbing?

1. Make sure the headline works out of context. Make them strong and descriptive. In searches or on mobile devices they often appear alone, stripped of content for make sure they make sense if read alone.

2. Treat them like micro content. They need to be phrases that can be scanned and still give clear ideas.

3. Tell readers something useful. Do they provide value? Are they specific? Avoid broad generic headings. Tell your reader something they don’t know.

4. Don’t succumb to faddish vocabulary.

5. Omit nonessential words. Avoid punctuation. Avoid tangled messages.

6. Front load with strong keywords. The first few words get noticed. Don’t count on people reading to the end of a line. Web visitors spend less than one second on headlines and make the decision to read more.

In digital formats, it’s especially important to communicate immediately at the top of the page that content will be of interest to a reader.

Bloggers need to consider word count when growing a following. Invest your time and people will respond. Did you know blog posts climbs in search results in direct correlation to word count? Google ignores pages with less than 200 words of text. Short text is considered a sign of thin content. Longer posts get more likes and shares. Google also penalizes pages with poor grammar, spelling issues and vague writing.

Make your writing more powerful and credible

No matter what stage in your career you are at, writing can be hard. Before you ever start writing, you’re already got thoughts and processes going through your mind. What angle will my story take? How will it look on the page? What illustrations or photos need to accompany it? What questions do I need to ask? Who will I use as sources? And that’s just a few of the 100’s of things you’ll probably consider before the first words cross a page. Writing takes hard work, skill, knowledge, creativity, and persistence

Here are 10 quick tips you can use to make your words more powerful and your story credible.

1. Think about your readers. The reader is someone with the attention span of about 30 seconds. They are assaulted by many forces fighting for their attention in today’s digital age. Most readers read at a 10th grade level or below. Using shorter words and sentences increase readability. Since they are time pressed you must interest them quickly. Make your story clear, factual, compelling, tight, credible and pertinent to them.

2. Use multiple sources. You should always collect more material than you will use. Ask your sources for other names of people to talk to or get input from. Google for background. Know the basics before you show up for an interview. It’s up to you to make the interview count. If possible, email your questions to your interviewee ahead of time. Ease into the interview with simple questions. Then basic “w’s” (who, what when, where and why). Ask questions so that you get a glimpse into a subjects personal thoughts: What’s next? Lessons learned?What results do you expect? Challenges and rewards of your job? Biggest fear?

3. Structure your stories to get attention. Read some of the most popular web sites. They get right to it. Be more creative with your leads. Try a feature lead to catch a readers attention and draw them in. Try incorporating an unusual idea, anecdote or narrative. Use a surprising description of the person, place or situation. Ask a question. Look at the Wall Street Journal. They have perfected the art. Your lead leads to your key points and then the body of story. Only use 3-5 points to explain your main message Then you reach the close. The perfect ending should take your reader by surprise and yet be exactly right. Bring it full circle by echoing the beginning. This is a great time to use quotes. Then stop.

4. Transitions make your story flow. -These words, phrases, and sentences make the story move from point to point. (For example: likewise, what’s more, further, moreover, in another twist, however, instead, meanwhile, even so still, as a result, meanwhile, today, yesterday.)

5. Use facts and figures. Using specific tangible concrete information like names, dates ,sizes, and statistics increase credibility.

6. Using quotes well helps establish credibility by humanizing the subject, supplementing a point, and generates interest through added color to your copy. Don’t use quotes for things you can say more concisely or better. Don’t use them to convey the obvious or uninteresting. Weave them throughout your whole story but keep them to 2-3 sentences only.

7. Choose your words with care. Use active not passive verbs. Choose powerful nouns. Add imagery. Avoid cliche’. Go easy on adverbs and adjectives. Shorter words are better than long ones. Don’t short change headlines.

8. Vary the pace of your writing. Alternate sentence and paragraph lengths. Short sentences should be followed by longer ones. Studies show readable sentences are 16-25 words in length. By varying lengths you will keep your narrative from sounding predictable and boring.

9. Cut the clutter. Simplify where you can. Never be afraid to break sentences up into more than one sentence. The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest component. Get rid of unnecessary words.

10. Keep tools and inspiration handy. A dictionary and thesaurus within arms length means you’ll more likely use them. Keep magazines and newspapers that inspire you nearby. Shamelessly adapt from their headlines and decks. Most importantly – read… read…. read! Great writing is learned by reading.

Competition Isn’t A Dirty Word

Competition isn’t a dirty word. In fact, it’s a great way to grow your skills. Just think of how it feels when you find ways to challenge yourself.

How can you do that?

Pick a project you do every year. I hated putting together annual reports. You had to spend to much time dealing with numbers and knew it was a piece that very few people were going to actually read. I began using it as my challenge piece. How could I make it interesting and graphically pleasing? How could I use the information gathering process to increase my understanding of my industry? I began using my most hated project as a competition with myself.

Make sure you are stirring your brain cells. To stay competitive in the workforce, you need to keep looking for ideas and learning new skills.

Nurture your ideas and mind. Let them grow. Keep your eyes on the trends, pop culture, home living trends, etc… Do your research. Study other brands and what they are doing. Being aware of what is out there can give you ideas. Hang out with other people who work in the same business. Having a core group of people you can toss ideas around with and be inspired by will help you year after year.

Being competitive means when you hit a wall you don’t quit. You find another way around it. You look at things differently. If you are struggling to find a way to express something. See if you can get outside your regular train of thought. See if there’s a new angle you can try.

Competitive people take risk. They are daring and bold. They aren’t afraid to color outside the lines and break the rules.

Don’t take yourself to seriously. Don’t allow that competitive spirit to stop you from enjoying the journey. Use it to push yourself and to gain new skills and reach new levels of expertise. If you’ll start thinking of competition with yourself as a tool, I think you’ll find it a great help on your path to success.