Editing

Tight Writing: Get Rid of “Flowery” Words

Articles, Blog, Blogging, Editing, How-To, Press Releases, Product Descriptions, Web Writing Mistakes, Website Content, Website Copy

When you’re writing for the web, you have 3 to 5 seconds to grab a reader’s attention.

That’s all you get – the time it takes for a reader to raise his or her coffee cup and take a sip. If you haven’t captured your visitors’ interest in that time, they’ll click the back button to find someone who does.

Even if you get past the 3-to-5-second mark, you still need to keep your readers’ interest.

You do that by keeping things short, pithy and to-the-point.

Get Rid of Flowery Words

One of the best books in the world — The Giver, by Lois Lowry — uses a phrase that’s incredibly important in writing for the web: precision of language. (That’s not an affiliate link, but if you buy The Giver through Amazon at that link, which is something you should definitely do, Amazon donates to the Wounded Warrior Project.)

Back to precision of language.

Check out the difference between these sentences:

  • She sipped the piping hot coffee, her eyes leisurely flicking over the smudged, raindrop-splattered newspaper without being able to discern between the blurred and bleeding letters.
  • She sipped the hot coffee, glancing at the wet newspaper. The letters were blurry.
  • She sipped her coffee and looked at the paper.

The first sentence is great… if you’re reading a romance novel. On the Internet, people don’t have that kind of time.

The second sentence is okay.

The third gets to the point.

It’s called purple prose in the writing world, and it’s the last thing you need when you’re trying to get someone to buy your product or service. You need things in black and white, and that’s it.

Precision of Language

Describe what you need to describe quickly and simply. People are coming to you because you have something they want, so give them the information in accurate, simple terms. Make it easy for them to read, too, by:

  • Breaking things up with subheads
  • Using bullet points or numbered lists where appropriate
  • Cutting out useless words
  • Getting straight to the point
  • Writing paragraphs that have no more than four sentences each

And for the love of Cthulu, don’t introduce what you’re about to write. It’s annoying and treats readers as if you assume they’re stupid. (Nobody is going to buy anything from someone who treats them like they’re stupid.)

Save Yourself the Trouble

Naturally, you could save yourself the trouble of slipping flowery words into your product descriptions, press releases or website copy and hire a professional writer. I know a girl…

Use Commas. Don’t be a Psycho.

Blog, Editing, Punctuation

While it’s funny, it’s not. Using commas in your writing helps readers process what you’re saying and makes reading easier.

What’s an Oxford Comma?

An Oxford comma, which is commonly called a serial comma, is the last comma in a series of commas that divides up your words. You can choose to use Oxford commas on your website, in your blog or in your printed materials, but the key is to be consistent. Don’t use them in some places and skip them in others.

The Oxford comma is red:

  • I like cooking, my family, and my pets.
  • She went to the bank, school, and David’s house.
  • I eat eggs, cereal, waffles, and pancakes.

Again, you can choose whether you’d like to use them in your writing. There’s no Internet law that says you can’t (although, in this writer’s humble opinion, they clutter up the space you could be using for better things).

The key is consistency. Don’t use them on one page and skip them on another page.

Writing Your Own Content? Have a Friend Look at It.

Blog, Editing, How-To, Website Content, Website Copy

It’s not uncommon for business owners to write their own website content. Of course, I don’t want them to (for obvious reasons) — but sometimes hiring a copywriter just isn’t in the budget.

That’s okay. We all had to start somewhere.

But don’t overlook this one very important piece of advice:

If you are writing your own content, get someone else to look at it before you publish it.

Maybe you wrote “the the” or made a glaring grammatical error. Perhaps you used the wrong your or you’re. Maybe you didn’t make any technical mistakes at all, but the sentences just don’t flow.

If you don’t write website copy for a living, you can’t afford not to have a friend look over what you’ve created. Even professional writers use editors (I do, and she’s amazing) because it never, never hurts to have a fresh pair of eyes scanning your work for problems that everyday readers might have.