Write or Right?

It seems every time I turn around there’s another article, paper or blog post with a list of tips on ways to improve your SEO or what not to put on your resume or the best shortcuts to use in Photoshop. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t get over how often these pieces contain sentences that run on forever, grammatical errors, misspellings or are just poorly written. Having recently marked my twentieth year working as a copywriter in advertising, I thought I’d put my own list together. Most of it is advice I’ve picked up from others but I’ve also included a few of my own musings on the subject. By no means is this a complete list or in any particular order of importance. It’s simply a few basic tips on writing I hope will help.

  1. Find your own voice. The writing is always stronger when it comes from a true place.
  2. Everybody thinks they can write. Truth is most people can’t.
  3. Vary the length of your sentences. A general rule of thumb is to use short sentences to emphasize ideas and longer sentences to explain the idea.
  4. Use a dictionary. You can’t trust spell check.
  5. The word THAT. One of my copywriting instructors in ad school used to fine us for using fluff words in our copy. Some words cost a quarter, others fifty cents. THAT was a dollar word. In almost every instance you can remove it from a sentence and you’ll never know it’s gone.
  6. Write, rewrite and rewrite. If you want to get it right.
  7. Read what you’ve written out loud. – If you stumble over a particular phrase or section rewrite it. By reading your work aloud you can hear if there’s a problem area.
  8. Read your copy backwards. When you’re finished writing scan your copy from the end to the beginning. It’s a quick way to proof for any glaring errors.
  9. Being organized is half the battle. Outline or frame your thoughts before you put them into words. It will make the writing process go much easier.
  10. Respect your reader. – If your copy contains misspellings, grammatical errors or is just poorly written, it makes you suspect in the eyes of the reader. If you couldn’t take the time to get the copy right, why should your reader believe the content is credible?