Don’t be an idoit! Quality copy matters in your writing

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Did the headline catch your attention? Did you wonder how someone could make such an obvious mistake? Then I’ve made my point about writing good copy.

You owe it to yourself and your business to write clear, concise and correct text — be it for your website, promotional material or customer interactions. Spelling, grammar and proper word usage are the heart of your message to your customers and your network.

While that might seem obvious, it’s astonishing how many businesses, groups and organizations don’t do it.

This message is the cornerstone of any course or workshop I conduct for writers or online publishers. I stress it over and over. So, my first Errata Etc. post on writing well (tip of the hat to William Zinsser for that succinct phrasing) focuses on strategies to accomplish this — on a tight budget.

We’ll focus on creating good online copy here, but the concepts apply to all your information and promotion.

Here are just two reasons WHY good text matters.

First, if you were seeking a dentist, a lawyer or a website host, you’d want a firm that has created clear, complete, professional-looking text. It makes you feel they’re competent and care about their business.

But how about a plumber, a lawn maintenance service or a home renovator? Is it really going to be any different?

If you checked out three or four websites, would the look and feel of the company’s pitch matter? If four printing shop flyers or emails arrived in your mail or inbox, but one looked like it was written by an 8-year-old, would you be less likely to contact that company? Of course you would.

Second, whether or not you understand basic SEO, you probably know keywords are important. If you want to buy pizza in Ottawa, that’s what you type into Google. Properly using keywords helps potential clients find you. Spell these incorrectly, omit them or bury them in your copy, and you’ll also bury yourself among the masses when people search for the products or services you provide.

When someone finds you, the next step is to generate a lead. Text that is informative, easy to follow and understand makes a more positive impression than sloppy copy. Think about your own experiences searching for a product or service. Did a lousy website or amateurish brochure turn you off?

The difficulty for many businesses with tight budgets and limited resources is how to AFFORD pristine, engaging text. With a bit of planning, forethought and a few hours of your time, it is possible.

Here’s how:

1) Do some research. Especially for larger projects, look around at what’s being done by competitors you respect, or industry leaders. Run Google searches for top business websites or similar promotions, releases, etc. Talk to friends or people in your professional network who have businesses. What works, and does not work, for them? Make notes.

2) Decide on your key message(s) and goals – again, consult with others to ensure you include all the important points. Don’t forget your “calls to action” — the text that asks people to buy, call you, attend your event, etc.

3) Write a rough first draft. At this stage, you just want your key points down on paper, so don’t worry if you’re not a Hemingway. We’ll fix that later.

4) Think about the keywords people will use to search for your product / service / information / website. What would YOU type into Google if you were searching? Make sure they feature prominently, especially in the first few sentences. If you are adding headers and captions (ie, for photos), also ensure keywords are in this text.

5) Now, depending on the scope of the project and your timeline to complete it, go have a coffee or put it away until tomorrow. Then, return and refine the writing, until it’s as good as you can make it yourself – you might do this several times. Trust me, it”ll stay on your mind, and that’s a good thing. A couple of “self-editing” tips:

  • Read the writing slowly, out loud. You might feel silly but it works.
  • You could even read it backwards, sentence by sentence, from the bottom. Sillier, perhaps, but equally effective.
  • Make sure you are reading WHAT you wrote, not what your eyes THINK you wrote. Your mind will want to insert missing words, or “auto-correct” some errors. Focus, read slowly, see exactly what you have written.

6) Get a coworker, friend or family member you trust to read it and identify errors, omissions and rough spots for improvement. You might want a couple of opinions before you’re ready for the next step.

7) If it hasn’t been already, run the text through spell and grammar checkers. Most writing programs, MSWord, GoogleDocs, etc. offer embedded spelling and / or grammar checks. You can also run a Google search for free online services such as Grammarly. Use them, because they’ll catch a significant number of possible problems — but not all of them.

8) Almost ready to publish your writing?. This is when, if you have a limited budget, you should have a professional writer or editor give the text a final polishing and keyword check. If there’s no budget, is there someone in your network with whom can you barter services for editing? It’s worth a try. Include your headers and captions in the package — because all your copy needs to work together.

9) Congratulations! When you’ve done all you can do, hit Publish. If it’s online, check it immediately and again tomorrow. Watch for comments from visitors pointing out errors, so you can fix them. Then thank your readers, it’s great engagement and makes them feel valued.

Good luck.

DO YOU have a tip or suggestion? Disagree with anything I’ve suggested? Please leave me your thoughts


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2 thoughts on “Don’t be an idoit! Quality copy matters in your writing

    1. Hello Ed: Just making a point with that. First thing everyone would think is, “Wow, what an idiot, can’t even get the headline right.” And that is exactly what I wanted to convey. I hope you found it effective. Thank you for the kind words. Hope you’ll be back reading future posts, too. Have a great day.

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