The 5-minute copy fix.
Updated: Apr 26
The deadline looms. Your copy is ready to go. Or is it? Sure you can’t spend five minutes giving it extra oomph? These nifty tips learned in my early days as a Junior Copywriter will quickly improve your writing.
Minute 1: Inject variety
As well as checking for overly long sentences, actively add variety to your copy. You’ve got a minute, add in an ultra-short sentence. Not something you would usually do? Good. Writing is boring when it’s predictable. So spice it up.
In the last 10 seconds of this minute, use the word count tool, or readability checker to measure average sentence length.
In conversations, the average sentence length is somewhere between 7-10 words long.
Good web copy aims for 15 words average.
If your sentences average 20 words plus, you’ll sound like you’re droning on.
You know which end of the spectrum you need to be.
Minute 2: Snip the small stuff
Long words get a hard time from writers. ‘Never use a long word where a short word will do’, says George Orwell in his Six Principles of Writing.
But short words can slow readers down too.
If a sentence makes sense without a word then should it be there? A good example is ‘the’. A pesky little word which has a tendency to pop up unnecessarily. Or ‘that’, or ‘just’, or ‘very’. Axe them and tighten up your copy.
So instead of just saying that you need to make quite sure that every word you use makes a difference, simply say: make every word count.
Minute 3: Release the verb
Verbs give copy oomph and energy. Nouns on the other hand are merely labels. Corporate and b2b writing has a habit of smothering verbs and turning them into nouns – manage to management for instance. Verbs that have been turned into nouns are easy to spot. Check words that end -tion, -sion, -ment, -ance and -ence.
For example, change ‘this is a demonstration’ to ‘this demonstrates’ (or even better ‘this shows’).
If you want to check how smothered verbs are killing your copy, paste it into The Writer’s Diet to see whether your copy is trim, flabby, or heart attack!
Minute 4: Don’t be a parrot
Repeating yourself kills your reader’s interest. I’ve been writing course descriptions for a university. In many, the phrase ‘appreciation, knowledge and understanding’ cropped up. Is there a difference between those? Not really. So axe the redundant words. Other faves include things like ‘completely unanimous’, ‘combine together’, or ‘general public’.
And check the template you’re using hasn’t made you repeat yourself unnecessarily. Web page design can make good writers sound like a scratched record. Avoid saying the same thing in the header, the standfirst, and the intro to the copy. It happens more often than you think.
Minute 5: Use your ear
If you haven’t read it out loud, now’s the time. Your last check uses your ear as editor. You’ll hear whether it sounds natural, whether you sound more like parking fine notice or real person. If your ear tells you something is wrong, go back to step one.
And … time’s up! Now look at your copy and be amazed at the difference you’ve made.
Categorised in: Writing Tips
This post was written by Hayley Cherrett
Posted on March 22, 2016