How to write less and say more on your website

Sharon Tanton

Not every piece of writing needs to be short, but in many places short copy is vital. Here’s how to make your web copy short and sweet.

Too many words

Brevity is a gift. When there’s more to read than you’ll ever have time for, it’s a joy to find a succinct answer to your question.

Being able to say what’s needed in a few good words is a skill that will help you communicate more easily.  Not every piece of writing needs to be short, of course, but in many places short copy is vital.

Places where your words are competing with a multitude of distractions need clarity. Top-level web pages can’t be flabby – there just isn’t space. However complex and multi-layered your point, if you’ve only got space for 15 words, you need to say it shorter.

Here’s a quick guide to writing super-short copy

  1. Messy first drafts of any piece of writing are good. Whether it’s a web page or a blog, just get down everything you think you need to say. Good short copy rarely appears fully formed first time around. It’s created through savvy editing.
  2. Check the boundaries. Short copy is powerful, but it’s not magic. If you’re trying to make the words work too hard you won’t succeed. What do these words need to do? What is the question you’re answering?
  3. Laser focus. Successful short copy starts with focus. It knows exactly what it needs to say. Look back at your first draft. Does the reader of this page need to know this now?  Is it one blog, or two (or three?) Sometimes you don’t need to say it shorter, you need to not say it all.
  4. Write for one person. Trying to say too much often comes from trying to talk to the world. Imagine you’re talking to your one ideal reader and forget everyone else. Use ‘you’ for directness.
  5. Say it once. In the flow of writing the first draft, you’ll often find yourself repeating yourself. As your own thinking gets clearer, you’ll circle around and around, finding different ways of saying the same thing. These musings are great for your own understanding, but if space is limited, they can’t all make the final cut. Polish your best version of the point and ditch the rest.
  6. Ditch any sentences that aren’t pulling their weight. Be brutal.
  7. Eliminate any words you don’t need. You rarely need rarely, and really don’t need really. Possibly? maybe? They can go too.
  8. Lose your first sentence. Often you don’t need it. I could have cut mine, but I left it so that I could use it as an example here.
  9. Merge. Two important sentences saying pretty much the same thing? Merge them into one super short sentence.
  10. Swap long words for shorter ones. Unnecessary jargon makes writing feel longer. Use the simplest words.
  11. Give yourself boundaries. Writing a summary in 25 words will help you see what’s really vital and what can go. Write the headline. Know the keyword.
  12. Look at it in a different format. Word or Google Doc or even a good old-fashioned sheet of white paper are great for first drafts, but they can give you the impression that you have limitless space. Look at what you’ve written as a web page, for example, or read it on a mobile. You’ll feel the need for brevity. That could be the push you need to edit more bravely!

Don’t be scared of writing short copy. A good copywriter can do it for you, but anyone can learn how to do it. Like any skill, it sharpens the more you practise it. And it comes in handy in all sorts of places. Report writing, talks, marketing material, even emails can be improved by making them more succinct.

Short and sweet is the way to go!

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1 Comment

  1. Number 7 is lovely: it makes one realize how ridiculous we can be (sometimes). Out of courtesy to potential readers, only one-minute posts can be found on my blog.

    Reply

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