sharon tanton portrait

How to write less, (and say more.)

tower blockYou know that sinking feeling you get when you click on a web page, and the text is far too long? Pulled in by a great headline, but confronted by a dense slab of over-wordy words, the chances are you’ll just click elsewhere to find what you wanted more quickly.

So how do you stop that happening? It’s easy. Follow these copy rules to keep users happy.

How to write less (and say more.)

1. Be very clear about the purpose of each section. Knowing exactly what your readers want to find on makes it easier to start shaping the content.

2. Don’t try to make too many points on each page. Focus on getting one message across strongly, rather than showering the page with weaker points. You can always add more pages. An engaged reader will be eager explore further, and drip feeding little by little works better than a huge wall of text.

3. Work on your sentence structure. Rid your lines of slow-you-down conjunctives. So no ‘however’s, or ‘moreover’s, or ‘hereby’s.

4. Using active verbs in the present tense gives the impression of purpose – just what you want to make readers feel they’re getting somewhere fast.

5. Short sentences make for an easy read.

6. Metaphors condense ideas and feelings succinctly, so weave some in and cut straight to the heart. Pick ones with an emotional resonance to pull readers in and make them more receptive to your message.

7. Focus on the first words of each sentence. If you’ve written a succession of ‘the’s, you need to think again. Starting with the subject of the sentence gives your writing impact and purpose.

8. Can the ‘can’s. Don’t say ‘we can deliver x,’ say ‘we deliver x.’

9. White space helps your readers breathe. Overloaded webpages make me feel like I’m stuck in a tube train during rush hour. You might be telling me something interesting, but all I can think about is getting out. Give your carefully crafted text some space and people will want to read on.

10. Make it scannable. Use headlines as scaffolding to sum up your main points and give your content structure. Signposting with headlines is a great way to make web pages fast rewarding reads.

And finally,

11. Embrace editing. Write it, leave it, come back with new eyes and cut out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

If you need help sharpening the content for your website, call me on 07985 015300

8 Comments

  • 1
    April 4, 2011 - 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant article, Sharon.

    Combine this approach to copy with a similar ‘less-is-more’, approach to design and you’ll have yourself an online marketing tool as finely tuned as a Formula 1 racing car.

    Iain

  • 2
    admin
    April 4, 2011 - 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Iain. Hopefully Valuable Content will be able to do just that – and race way ahead of the competition. (Enough of the racing metaphors.)

    Sharon

  • 3
    April 5, 2011 - 7:35 am | Permalink

    OK, lets leave aside the motor-racing metaphors!

    From my perspective as a designer, this article highlights how integral good copy is to effective web design.

    Design in the context of the web is not purely about the visual aesthetic, it’s about easing the flow of communication. Central to this is the use of tight, well structured, concise copy that communicates the essence of the marketing message and values of the brand, whilst leaving out anything that will detract from it.

    The tips outlined in your article, form a brilliant checklist for those who wish to avoid the bloat that is commonly found in web copy.

    Iain

  • 4
    April 6, 2011 - 8:31 am | Permalink

    Excellent check list. I’ve bookmarked it. Its one of those things which you know you should know and probably do know but need to be reminded of.

    • 5
      admin
      April 6, 2011 - 8:53 am | Permalink

      Thanks Alistair, really glad you found it useful.

  • 6
    April 9, 2011 - 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Would love to retweet this, but there is no button.

    • 7
      admin
      April 27, 2011 - 6:59 am | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right. I need to sort that! Thanks.

  • 8
    Gracy
    April 25, 2011 - 5:33 am | Permalink

    This is a great article for both, designers as well as copy writers. Brilliant checklist of what you should do and what you should avoid!

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