20 May Top Copy Dos and Don’ts (Part 2)
Last time we caught up, I was sharing a few of my best tips for doing this copy thing right. We covered the importance of understanding your audience (very), keeping it relevant (don’t share off-topic stuff unless it directly benefits you client), getting clear on your messaging, paying attention to the small stuff and staying conversational. There are heaps more, of course, so we may revisit this in due course.
Today, it’s all about what NOT to do (and maybe some maybes)…
There are a million ways of saying it, but for the love of all that is good and holy, please, please, please don’t waffle on. Say as little as possible without losing your meaning. Short sentences are always easier to read, especially now that so much of what we read is from a mobile device. You need to keep in mind the user experience with everything you create!
(If you’re unsure, Hemingway has a great tool for judging your readability. The lower the readability score the better!)
Use fancy language
Keep it simple. You don’t need to jump to a thesaurus every time you go to write. Seriously. Just write as you would speak. Be you. (Unless you’re high-brow Betty with your big words and your fancy speak… Then try lowering those brows just a little) You don’t need to prove how smart and articulate you are. Remember, your job is to communicate in an accessible and engaging way. There isn’t too much that says accessible about the word, ‘onomatopoeia’. You dig?
It’s always best practise to explain things as if your audience knows nothing about your subject matter. Assuming your audience knows exactly what you’re talking about is problematic for a bunch of reasons. One is that it’s exclusionary. Sure, you want to come across like you know what you’re talking about, but you need to keep your reader onside. Start at the very start and take it step by step.
Two is that when you clearly and concisely explain your product or point of view you come across as the expert we all know you are without being a know-it-all. Nobody likes a know-it-all…
I know it’s hard to come up with your own stuff sometimes, and ideas don’t always flow, but seriously, don’t do it. Just don’t do it. There’s no grey area on this one. Besides demonstrating a complete lack of imagination and integrity, if you copy someone else’s work you’ll get caught and look like a bit of a chump. Granted, the internet is actually a pretty great hiding place for copycats, but you don’t want to be that guy. Don’t be the one constantly wondering when you’re going to be found out. Inevitably, you will and you’ll lose your cred. Not cool.
(If you’re struggling to find what to write to make your business stand out and look awesome I know a super cool chick who likes to write and is full of ideas who can do it for you…)
Ehh… there’s a time and a place for really industry- or topic-specific language. Very rarely is it on your standard website and almost never as a part of a social media campaign. BUT… If you’re forming a community of, I don’t know, coding boffins or legal eagles, that collection of people already know the shorthand. You don’t really want people who don’t know the shorthand trying to join in, so it makes sense to be a little more offputting than usual. Government communications are a good example of that. One of my very good friends works for a government department and even she, a most competent, eloquent accomplished journalist has been sucked into the acronym vortex that is government communications. It’s effective and time-saving in this instance, we’ll give her a pass… (Love you LS!)
The jury is still out for me here. I’d say it’s almost never a good idea to pepper your copy with salty sailor language, but again, if that’s what your audience responds to, maybe it’s worth the risk? It can also humanise an otherwise-wooden public figure generally held to a higher moral standard. On a scale from the Pope to Gordon Ramsay, I’d probably keep it closer to the Pope end of the scale for the most part. Most small business owners still need to sound professional and approachable rather than a little scary and unhinged! (Remind me to tell you one day the story of the hotel I worked at for a summer that was pretty much the real-life embodiment of Fawlty Towers… The owner quite liked a gin and was very well-acquainted with the f-bomb. Quite an adventure!)
So that’s my top don’ts and maybes for this week. Have any you’d like to add?? Let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts!