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You’re working busily on copy for your company’s website, fully aware of how important it is, but for some reason, the process is going in the wrong direction. Sentences are getting wordy, rambling and unfocused, and you don’t know where things went wrong.
What happened to the perfect, pithy web copy you were going to provide? In my experience, the most common explanation is that it got lost in doubts. Concise writing comes from confidence — certainty of your knowledge of a topic, as well as the intended audience and the message. That quality is the key to earning a trust among visitors, but how to build it? I’ve found a few dependable methods.
- Give yourself the time you need. Unseasoned writers typically have more difficulty clearly conveying an idea, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of, so take the time to get it right. Similarly, those new to a subject won’t write as concisely as others who have more experience. By all means spend enough time to familiarize yourself with your subject matter, but also don’t expect to become an expert right away.
- Prepare for what to say, and how to say it. Give considerable thought to what it is you want the reader to take away, and be as specific as possible; the more focused it is, the more focused the writing will be. (Conversely, the broader the idea, the more likely you are to ramble.) Then, construct an outline, which is essentially a map that shows the point-by-point route from beginning to end. And rest assured that there’s no right way or wrong way to outline, so just use what helps you, but be mindful that the more specific it is, the more helpful it will be.
- Edit confidently, and strategically. Don’t worry about being perfect in a first draft, just get the words out. We all have natural tendencies and habits in writing, and not all of them are winners, so accept that and worry about fixes after the initial version is done. That second stage is where it’s important to identify what’s truly valuable and what can be eliminated.
Trust killers to be wary of
As you edit a draft, carefully review the work for these signs that copy lacks confidence and undermines trust. Flag them and correct them.
- Passive construction. The passive voice naturally requires more words, and in my opinion generally saps energy and purpose from writing. Active: “People love me.” Passive: “I am loved by people.”
- There is/there are. These phrases are often unnecessarily wordy. Bad: “There are lots of people around the world who love me.” Good: “People around the world love me.”
- Overuse of adjectives/adverbs. If something is starting to feel wordy or cluttered, look for unnecessary descriptors.
- Really/very/actually. Some call these “weasel words,” and they are rarely anything more than clutter. You can take them out… really.
- Unnecessary phrasings. “The vast majority…” “Studies suggest…” “A total of…” These aren’t wrong, but if the goal is concise writing, make sure such phrases are needed.
- Unnecessary words. Some familiar phrases are actually wordy. “Of particular interest” can be “of interest,” for example, or “Completely unanimous” can simply be “unanimous.”
- Redundancies. When we lack confidence in what we’re writing, the tendency is to make the same point over and over, just gently reworded. These can be in a sentence, in a paragraph or large sections throughout a piece, so look for repetition and remove it.
The French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal famously penned, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” So it is with any confident writing; it takes patience, preparation and smart editing to get it right.