Writing Tips for Clear, Concise, and Correct Website Text
Here are a few writing tips that will help you write better copy for your website. The first three—reread, read objectively, rewrite—aren’t necessarily linear; you might do these simultaneously.
Even though these steps will improve your writing, it makes sense to have a second pair of eyes look at what you’ve written. Sometimes it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing. You know what you’re trying to say, and it’s clear to you. A professional editor or proofreader will read it objectively and see things you don’t.
Reread what you’ve written for obvious mistakes
Cutting corners often doesn’t serve you. Doing so when writing doesn’t serve you or the people you’re writing to. The worst is being so rushed you don’t bother to reread what you’ve written. It’s easy to think one word and type another. I read some copy on a website that had the word thanks instead of that’s.
A vice president at an ad agency sent me an email in response to a question I had asked. She was obviously rushed and didn’t reread what she wrote: “Yes they are sorry.” I was puzzled at first, but eventually figured out what she meant to say: “Yes, they are. Sorry.” Punctuation is important.
Whenever I reread something I’ve written, even if it’s just a sentence, I almost always find something that needs to be corrected or improved or shortened. I may have typed a question and put a period at the end instead of a question mark. Sometimes I leave a word out, like not. That same error created a real problem when a Bible published in 1631 left out not in one of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
Remember, what you’ve written may be the first experience someone has of you, and good first impressions are vital. You could either gain or lose clients or customers based on that.
For more information on this writing tip, see my blog entry Reread What You’ve Written to Catch Mistakes.
Read it again, objectively
Be objective with your writing. Put yourself in the mind of the reader. What do they know? Are you giving enough information so they will understand what you’re saying? Or are you giving too much information for your audience? You could lose them either way.
This is especially important in business communications. Know your audience and write (and rewrite) accordingly.
Rewrite as needed
Clear, Concise, Correct
In a later edition of On Writing Well, William Zinsser included reproductions of two pages from the first edition showing his handwritten edits. Because of all the changes, you’d think it must be his first draft. But it was his final draft; he had already made changes to four or five earlier drafts. Speaking of this he wrote: “With each rewrite I try to make what I have written tighter, stronger and more precise, eliminating every element that’s not doing useful work. Then I go over it once more, reading it aloud, and am always amazed at how much clutter can still be cut.”
If even a professional writer does multiple rewrites, consider at least one or two. Granted, you aren’t writing to get published, but you are writing to convey a message. If your message is designed to bring in more business, what you write needs to be clear, concise, and correct. Then what you’re expressing will be reader friendly and more likely to open up business opportunities.
“Omit needless words”
In the classic book The Elements of Style, E. B. White tells how his professor and coauthor William Strunk Jr. would repeat his rule about being concise: “Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!” Look for words, phrases, and sentences that are redundant or obvious and delete them.
If you’re writing marketing copy about your store, and you’ve already made it obvious what you’re writing about, there’s no need to say “in our store we offer.” “We offer” is sufficient.
Sometimes people write in five words what could be said in one. “Due to the fact that” is wordy and clumsy. Why not use “because” instead? You’ll be respecting your readers’ time when you make your writing concise and understandable.
Double-check grammar, punctuation, and spelling
If you’re not sure about the spelling or meaning of a word, look it up. With search engines and online dictionaries you can get an answer in less than a minute. But don’t rely on the spell check function. If you type flavor but meant to type favor, your spell check won’t show you the error.
If you’re not sure about a grammatical issue, you can often find the answer through an Internet search, though it will take longer than looking up a word. See Resources.
In summary, consider practicing these writing tips:
- Reread what you’ve written, with an objective eye
- Add or delete information, depending on your audience’s understanding
- Rewrite it so your message is clear and concise
- Double-check your grammar and spelling
Again, it’s important to have another person, preferably a professional, read what you’ve written to get their objective opinion and to catch the errors you’ve overlooked. This is especially true if you have difficulty putting these writing tips into practice. Hiring an editor is worth the expense if it ends up bringing you more business.