The Basics of Good Writing
Before we get into the specific side of trying to sell to your audience or get them to want your product, it makes sense to start by looking at writing more generally and at what is required for your content to be considered ‘well written’.
Writing is art and as always, art is very difficult to define and to judge. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that…
But perhaps the best way to judge a piece of writing is to look at it in the context of what it is trying to achieve. What is the goal of the writing and how well does it complete that goal? Because ultimately, nothing else matters.
If your goal is to spin a good yarn and entertain an audience, then good writing is writing that achieves that. If your goal is to convey a specific piece of information, then readers should come away now knowing what you wanted them to know.
So the first thing to ask when looking at your existing copy and trying to judge its quality is:
Does it achieve the desired objective?
Good writing has a specific goal and it sets out to accomplish that goal.
The next question you need to ask on top of this, is how efficiently it does this. If your objective is to teach someone what the word ‘battery’ means, then you could publish a dictionary to your blog and that would effectively achieve the objective. But it wouldn’t be very efficient…
Think of your words as being finite, or of each word as having a ‘cost’. Your objective is to increase your ROI and to conserve those precious resources. So if you can say the same thing with fewer words, you can often improve your writing by cutting out the excess.
So maybe you have the following sentence:
“The very best type of writing, is writing that is concise and succinct.”
We could improve that a lot by saying:
“The best writing is concise and succinct.”
This conveys the exact same information but does so in a much more efficient and succinct manner. This in turn means that it’s quicker for the reader to absorb that information and it means they’re getting more reward with less effort. It also allows you to get to the point before the reader leaves the page!
The next way to assess a piece of writing or copy then is to ask:
Does it achieve the objective efficiently?
Don’t beat around the bush with long, inflated sentences and don’t try to make yourself sound clever by including lots of long words for the sake of it. Good writing doesn’t mean showing off, it means getting to the point in a way that is generous and consider-ate towards the reader.
Style and Flare
But before you get too carried away and start deleting every other word on your page, keep in mind that sometimes those surplus words aren’t quite as extraneous as you might think.
Because great writing says more than it appears to on the surface. Using a bigger vocabulary allows you to avoid repetition and to create sentences that roll pleasingly off the tongue but at the same time, it allows you to say precisely what you mean and to simultaneously convey the emotion and emphasis you require.
We said earlier:
“The best writing is concise and succinct.”
Which already has a slightly different meaning than it would have done if we had just said:
“The best writing is concise.”
This now appears to imply that you should just abbreviate your content until it’s as short as possible!
We can also subtly change the meaning of the sentence in various other ways:
“Beautiful writing is concise and succinct.”
“Efficient writing is succinct and concise.”
“To make your writing effective, ensure it doesn’t spend too long getting to the point.”
This will become especially important when we start trying to sell things. And to demonstrate just how important, consider a famous psychology study. In the study, psychologists questioned juries while discussing a court case regarding a traffic accident.
50% of the time the psychologist would ask:
“How fast do you think the car was going when it bumped into the other car?”
The other 50% they asked:
“How fast do you think the car was going when it smashed into the other car?”
And depending on how the question was worded, the participants would actually answer differently. Those who were told the car ‘bumped’ would estimate that the car was moving much more slowly than those who were told the car ‘smashed’. This was despite both groups seeing the exact same video and being given all the same information otherwise.
So a subtle change in your language can be enough to not only change someone’s opinion… but even to change their memories!
This is why it’s so important to carefully choose words that will convey the correct emotion and tone.
When assessing your content, now ask:
Is the precise use of vocabulary congruent with the meaning and goal?
The precise choice of language is also important because it can communicate other unconscious things too. In particular, your choice of language tells the reader something about you.
Whenever you speak, you reveal things about you and a discerning reader will pick up on this. If your tone is friendly, chatty and casual; you will come across as being all those things and they might assume you are younger or just a more lighthearted individual.
Conversely, if you write in a manner that is very dense, filled with technical terms and jargon and not much humor, then you might come across as being more professional and business-like.
This is what defines the tone and the style of your writing and it’s why that’s so important.
Once again, you need to ensure that your choice of style is in-keeping with the broader objectives of your writing. If you have a personal brand and you’re trying to build an audience based on trust, then a friendlier and chatty style will be appropriate.
On the other hand, if you’re a B2B organization and you are trying to sell something very expensive and technical; then your writing style should come across as professional and more detached so as to convey your ability to be professional. Using more jargon at this point is also acceptable, as you can presume the reader has a basic understanding of the subject and this allows you to display your knowledge and expertise.
Does the style and tone match the nature of the topic?
Flow and Readability
Finally, think as well about the way your writing flows and how readable it is. This often comes down to your grammar and the way that you structure your sentences.
If you follow the tips in this chapter so far, then you should find that your writing naturally flows better than it might have done previously. Being more efficient with your content for instance will help it to read more easily to begin with.
Likewise, using a more conversational tone and style befitting the web will also help.
But some of this is hard to quantify. When I went for an interview at a magazine, I was asked to complete a few basic exercises so that they could see if I had ‘the voice’. By that, they were asking whether my writing was naturally engaging, interesting and easy to read.
Perhaps the best way for you to try and accomplish this is simply to imagine that you are speaking to the reader. Try to write the same way that you would speak, so that your choices of words are the same and the structure of your sentences are the same.
And to make sure your tone and style are correct, imagine that the person who is listening to your talk is the target audience of your content. So if you’re pitching a B2B service, imagine that you’re speaking on the phone with a prospective client. And if you’re writing blog content about working out, imagine that you’re talking to your friend who has been asking you how to get into shape. This way, you’ll find that your writing naturally adopts the right tone, style and structure to meet your goals.
The Power of the Copywriter
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