How To Write Better: Tips for Being Less Awkward in Print

In my college creative writing class, we used to get into small groups and read our essays aloud to classmates. We did this so we could listen to our writing in order to better edit our work.  During these little exercises, an interesting thing always happened: paragraphs that seemed elegant and well-stated in writing would become clunky monstrosities when spoken. It was, and still is, a great way to figure out what parts of your writing sucked and where you needed to make edits.

As a professional in the writing field (I first worked in publishing before moving over to content marketing), I spend a lot of my time reading. Reading articles on other industry blogs, reading and editing content for clients, and reading the blogs and social content of companies that I follow as a consumer and customer. And the one thing I see far more often than I should is awkwardly written content that should have never made it out of a junior high school English class, much less onto a professional business website or social page.

This is generally more of an issue for smaller and medium sized companies, likely because larger companies have more checks and balances and an editorial process before a piece of content is approved to go live. But for whatever reason, this is a growing problem and it needs to stop. So without further ado, three quick tips for writing better content:

1. Formality is Overrated. Businesses on Facebook are oftentimes the perpetrator of this writing no-no. Especially customer service responses. Let’s say you have a customer named Sue, and she leaves a comment on your Facebook wall saying that she’s ticked off because the hemming on her new dress that she purchased from your e-commerce store is unraveling.

A lot of smaller brands will have a canned response that generally goes something like this:  “Dear Sue, we are so sorry that you are not happy with the product you received last week. Please contact our customer service line at 555-111-2222.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty insincere to me. Brands: It’s ok to throw out the rules of formal punctuation when you’re responding to people on social channels. Write in the same style that you would speak to someone. It will come off as more empathetic and authentic, and that’s the whole point of social anyway. 

2. Complex and Compound Sentences are your Friends. There’s nothing worse than reading content from a brand who uses simple sentences without conjunctions.

“We are happy to announce a partnership with Google. We are committed to providing our customers with the great service that they have come to expect!”

You know why? Because simple sentences are the hallmark of an elementary-grade reading level.  They also don’t read well. We’ve all heard the statistic that most consumers read at a 7th grade reading level. But you should always ask yourself who you’re selling to – is your target customer a C-level executive at a mid-sized company? If so, there’s a good chance that writing at that kind of reading level is not only going to be a turnoff for a potential client, it might come off as insulting too.

“We’re happy to announce our new partnership with Google, and we’re committed to providing you with the same great service you’ve come to expect.”

See how much better that is?

Simplify your ideas. This might seem to contradict my point above, but it doesn’t. Sometimes (and by sometimes, I mean often), people try to create complex sentences by padding their statements with extra words. This doesn’t turn a simple sentence into a complex sentence – just an awkward one that’s confusing and repetitive. It also usually creates some problems with sentence and clause arrangement, which can confuse the reader and cause the content to be misconstrued.

Example: “Where do your kids usually hang out in your home to spend time with friends?”

You get the gist of what that sentence is asking, but the delivery is bulky and awkward. A good way to clarify it would be “In what part of your home do your kids hang out with their friends?”

And there you go – three quick tips on clarifying your thoughts and making your written content more conversational (and understandable). What tips do you swear by to make your writing clear and concise?

5 Comments

  1. Tone of voice is the hardest to master. It’s what separates us writers from everyone else with a copy of MS Word.

    Nonetheless, my personal bugaboo is random capitalisation of Important Things People Have Done.

  2. I’m visually impaired and use a screen reader. Since I listen to nearly all the content I consume, I often catch errors or awkward phrases my sighted colleagues miss. That’s why creating content should be a team effort. :)

    My pet peeve is business-ese, or strings of corporate buzz words that don’t actually convey meaning but are intended to impress readers with their buzzy-ness.