Easy writing’s vile hard reading.— Richard Brinsley Sheridan*
There is nothing more pervasive in the world of marketing than writing. If you cannot write well, you’ll struggle to be an effective leader and business owner.
Do you consider yourself a word person? Your business needs a unique writing voice that represents your brand. If writing isn’t your forte, there are online resources that can help you create a polished product.
One such resource, which I’ve previously written about, is the Hemingway Editor. It’s a free tool that flags bad writing habits and gives suggestions for better word choices. They also have a desktop app for both Mac and PC for $19.99, which I recently installed. It mimics the web interface and can export to WordPress and Medium.com.
It will call attention to the use of too many adverbs, passive voice, phrases with simpler alternatives, hard-to-read sentences, and very hard-to-read sentences. You can use Hemingway’s suggestions or choose to ignore them.
Another favorite online tool of mine is Grammarly. Like Hemingway, you paste your content into their web app and it analyzes your writing. Unlike Hemingway, Grammarly will catch your spelling, usage, and punctuation errors, such as improper contractions and the stray apostrophe that doesn’t belong.
I recommend you use both tools before publishing in addition to your own proofreading, or, better yet, another set of eyes.
As handy as they are, even the best tools cannot do the writing for you. Your brand needs your voice and sooner or later you must write.
Effective writing is strong and brief. The fewer words you can use to get your message across, the better, as internet users are more likely to scan a few bullet points than to read a few paragraphs. To inspire trust, your writing must be strong and convey consistency and professionalism.
This professionalism is important enough to me that I won’t share any article with prominent grammatical errors. There’s no excuse for using the wrong it’s or its. If you’re not sure, a quick Grammarly check will ensure that you have the correct word. Don’t rely on your word processor’s built-in spell check, as it won’t detect wrong words. If you are unwilling to spend a little extra time checking the words that represent your business, how am I to trust you with my money? It’s a little like going to a restaurant you like and finding the restroom is nasty. Doesn’t it make you wonder about the condition of the kitchen?
6 Tips to Help You Write Better
Get to the point quickly. Place the most important information first, in case the reader loses interest and stops reading. Don’t bury the lede or spend too many words introducing your message. Use the inverted pyramid style — the most important information at the top, and decreasing in importance at the bottom.
Use active voice. You’ve heard the sentence Mistakes were made. Note the passive voice. Rather than, We/I made a mistake, the passive voice distances the writer from the action. There’s an ad for a medication that illustrates this idea. As the announcer lists the drug’s side effects, he says, A, B, and C have happened. He does not say, This medication caused A, B, or C. You can bet the copy was not written this way by accident. The pharmaceutical company wants to distance itself as much as possible and stay within legal guidelines. Don’t distance yourself from your audience.
Use strong active verbs. Jim cooks dinner on the grill is stronger than Jim is going to cook dinner. See the difference? Fewer words, yes, and strong verbs are more specific. In the first sentence, the reader knows that Jim will cook dinner on the grill.
Watch out for the participle. If you find yourself using participles, which add the suffix -ing to the end of a verb, you’re probably not writing strong sentences. In the previous example, you can see how the is + participle weakens the sentence. You can almost always rewrite the sentence to use a more active verb. For example, in the second sentence in this paragraph, I’d rewrite If you find yourself using participles … you’re probably not writing strong sentences. to read, If you use participles … your sentences are probably weak. Yes, I left that one in on purpose to make a point — it’s an easy mistake to make and easy to fix.
Resist easy words. There are better words than really, very, great, good, and many others. Go to Thesaurus.com and enter the word you’re thinking about using. Here’s what I get when I search really. These alternative words are much more precise and bring a higher level of interest and detail to my writing.
Be NICE. Grammar.YourDictionary.com uses the acronym NICE to remind us what any story must include.
News: Be sure to include strictly relevant and definitive data. This consists of the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the story.
Impact: Clearly indicate the meaning of the news and who may be affected by it. Why should readers care about this story?
Context: Provide relevant background and related information pertaining to the news and impact. How does this story fit into the bigger picture?
Emotion: Relay the emotional elements that show the human side of the story. This further solidifies the impact and context of the story, helping readers to understand and relate to it.
The NICE format works well because it includes the relevant facts, but doesn’t discount the emotion involved. Effective writing must inspire the reader to take action, and that’s where the emotions become important.
If you’re selling a bicycle helmet to the parent of a young child just learning to ride, you won’t sell it based on its features, color, or even price. A parent will buy that helmet because they would pay just about any price to protect their child from a serious head injury. That emotion moves them to buy the bicycle helmet, the healthy food, and best baby and toddler products they can afford.
Take the time to practice and develop your writing skills. It’s not only an excellent business investment, but a worthy investment in your own self development.
*This quote has been attributed to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Lord Byron, Ernest Hemingway, and Anonymous by numerous sources. However, Quote Investigator’s research indicates it can most likely be attributed to Richard Brinsley Sheridan.