I write every day. Rain, shine—headache or feeling great—I am writing. There are some tips I fall back on to keep my business writing sharp even when I’m not.
Most of the these tips boil down to the KISS standard. KISS, in case you haven’t heard, stands for Keep It Simple, Silly. Have faith in this principle. Your B2B copy on a website, in a brochure, or even in a technical paper is not being read like the last Harry Potter novel. No one is going to dedicate an entire website to breaking apart the meaning of each statement.
Readers want to get your point. Give it to them quickly and be brief.
Keeping it simple will push your message up front and encourage further reading. If readers need to re-scan the first paragraph because they tripped over a few words or punctuation marks, they’re gone. I keep it simple by employing the following tactics:
Have a point. Make that point in the first paragraph and come back to it several times throughout.
Second guess conjunctions. Conjunctions are words that connect two clauses, sentences or phrases. The most common is ‘and’. If you have a conjunction in a sentence look for ways to chop it up. It’s a personal choice, but I sometimes start sentences with a conjunction in favor of readability. Grammar Girl even says it is okay, within reason.
Ditch the three-dollar words. Even if they’re industry buzz words ditch them for something descriptive. One of my favorites is ‘enterprise management’. It’s sort of like ‘unique’ or ‘thing’–it could really mean anything. Tell me what it means! I know we need buzzwords (even I use them out of necessity) but don’t beat the reader over the head with them.
Pretend You’re a Typesetter. I once heard the origin of AP Style came from typesetters who wanted to cut down the time it took to produce a document. This would explain the lack of commas. I don’t know if it’s true, but I always think of a typesetter when editing my work. Is there a quicker way to say it? A way to eliminate chunky punctuation? Pro tip: ‘that’ can almost always be taken out of a sentence without changing the meaning. Don’t forget–even punctuation that is technically correct can trip a reader. AP Style has a more web- and brochure-friendly approach to grammar.
When in Doubt, Don’t. When you are stumped forget about grammar (just for a minute). Write your thoughts on the page like you’d explain them to a kid. Don’t over-think. Take a break. Then, go back and edit the simple version for public use.
Read it Out Loud. If it’s difficult for you to read out loud–it’s difficult to read. If a sentence requires more than one breath to say–it’s too long. If you get confused by a sentence–readers will get confused. This exercise also double-checks your contractions. If you read it out loud it’s easy to see the difference between ‘they’re’ and ‘their’ or ‘its’ and ‘it’s’.
Meat-and-potatoes copy that gets to the point always trumps
superfluously commentated upon manuscription that never, ever, ever seems to end, even when you think it should hard to read and over-written.