Good Content Uses Simple Writing

A writer’s prayer:

“Lord, deliver me from awkward wordiness. Lead me not into flotsam-filled phrasing, but deliver me from verbosity. Keep my pen sharp, my sentences short, and my thoughts clear.”

Writing is a skill we all have, but very few people actually do well. I’m reminded of this whenever I read articles on “effective” content marketing by content marketers. Some articles are so wordy and overloaded with clunky phrasing, I’m surprised they don’t collapse under their own weight.

But I’m not surprised at the number of articles that fail to heed their own advice.

To be an effective content marketer — to be an effective writer — means knowing how to bend language to your will. How to boil down your most complicated thoughts and explain ideas in ways that thrill your readers.

It comes down to your use of language, and how you harness the power of words. The first step, the most important step, is to cut the extraneous dreck from your writing. Good content marketing uses simple writing, bad content marketing doesn’t. If you overload your work with needless words, you’ll bore your readers, and they’ll quit you forever. You can get one-to-one writing help from custom essay writing service – ThePensters.com.

Here’s how the professionals do it.

1. Write for a clever 12 year old.

The typical American newspaper is written at a 6th grade reading level. Not because American newspaper readers are stupid, but because that’s the mental bandwidth most of us are willing to put into reading the news.

To be certain, it is absolutely feasible to create overcomplicated written materials that far exceed the standardized comprehension level of the prototypical adult who has a secondary, or even post-secondary, education.

But then you end up with shit like that, and no one wants to read it, even if they have a Ph.D.

Academics like to explain small ideas to small audiences with big words. As marketers, we want to reach big audiences with big ideas, so we need small words. That means cut the jargon, cut the adjectives and adverbs, and stop trying to impress people with the biggest words you can find.

The best writers can explain complicated ideas to a 12 year old. If you can make them understand, you have a solid grasp of your own product. And if you can reach that clever 12 year old, you can reach anyone.

2. Eschew convoluted phraseology.

That means “avoid big words.”

It also means “avoid complicated sentences.”

It’s my biggest writing pet peeve. Nothing makes me shout at my computer louder than overwrought wordiness by people who should know better.

Here’s an example from a white paper on calls to action (CTA):

Copy is one of several elements needed to create an effective CTA. Within seconds of seeing your CTA, a visitor should be able to determine exactly why he or she should take action and what they will get in return if they convert.

Here’s how it could be improved.

CTAs need compelling, easy-to-understand copy. Readers should know exactly why they should act, and what they’ll get in return.

We went from 43 words to 21 words, dropped the passive voice in the first sentence, kept the original meaning, and deleted several needless words and phrases.

  • An effective – It’s a white paper about writing effective CTAs. I already know you’re not telling me to write bad ones, so I’ll assume you only mean effective/good CTAs.
  • Within seconds – Reading and comprehension are immediate. I don’t expect this to take seconds, minutes, or days. If you write a good CTA, your readers will know immediately what they’re supposed to do.
  • He or she – I’m a proponent of the “singular they,” which refers to someone of an unknown sex. It avoids the clunky “he or she” and “him or her.” For those who don’t like “they,” I changed “a visitor” to “readers,” so I can still use “they” anyway.
  • Be able to – Don’t use “to be” verbs. They add unnecessary words. “Should be able to determine” and “should determine” mean the same thing. Also, “should know” is shorter.
  • If they convert – We already know if people “take action” and get something “in return,” it means they converted. We don’t need to explain it, especially to someone who’s already familiar with marketing, sales, and calls to action (i.e. the person reading this white paper).

If you’re working with limited space, like a blog post or magazine article, you need as much of it to explain your ideas, so don’t fill it with needless words. If you can cut a word and it doesn’t change the sentence, cut it.

3. Use metaphors, similes and analogies

Don’t try to explain what something is, tell us what it’s like. Imagine trying to explain email to someone from 1965. You can explain computers, email addresses, servers, and inboxes until you’re blue in the face, but they just won’t get it.

Or you could say “imagine sending a private letter from your TV to another TV.”

Once your time traveler understands that concept, you can expand the metaphor: “Instead of your regular TV, we’re going to use a computer. Imagine a TV and a typewriter had a baby.”

Again, we’re not explaining processors, motherboards, and hard drives. We’re giving them the most basic information to give them a starting point to work from.

When introducing a new concept, don’t feel you have to write an exhaustive resource on the subject. If the new concept isn’t central to the story, explain it briefly, so your reader can grasp the central idea, but leave it to them to do further research.

Most marketing content is written — blog posts, white papers, email newsletters, special reports — which means your writing needs to be great. It can’t just be “good enough.” It can’t just be something you throw together between meetings. If your writing is bad, your marketing will be bad. If your writing is great, your marketing will be memorable.

Writing that is overwrought, wordy, and clunky is a chore to read. When you’re already competing for time with an audience with the attention span of a 12-year-old, you have to squeeze as much information into the smallest space possible. Writing that isn’t tight works against you, causing even your best content marketing efforts to fail.

 

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