Online writing and offline writing is different as chalk and cheese. But then there are several areas when these two different mediums cross-pollinate making the life of copywriters, who dabble both in offline and online domains, a hell of a lot easier.
Say, for instance, print writing principles such as “Write as you talk,” “Brevity is everything,” “Avoid foreign phrases” among many others apply aptly to the online copywriting world as well.
But then, as they say, it’s wrong to take things at their face value. You need to scratch the surface, look over and beyond the conventional sayings, to discover the actual wisdom governing these principles.
Here are those 5 taken for granted offline mistakes that have seeped deeply into the online world as well:
Mistake 1: Write As You Talk
Walt Whitman, the 18th-century American poet, essayist, and journalist was known for ridiculing “dictionary makers.” He insisted on language being “broad, low, and closer to the
Staying with Whitman for a second, the high priest of rambunctious underlined the need for a simple prose, when Victorian English was the order of the day.
Two more centuries have gone by and Whitman’s writing principles
still echo in the voice of several top copywriters and the CEOs they work for.
“Write as you talk” has become the web mantra these days. The emphasis on banishing jargons and burnishing simple words that help you converse effectively has become the order of the day.
However, here’s the thing:
There’s a huge difference between conversational prose and pedestrian prose. While attempting the former, you may end up sounding more and more like the latter. For starters, the Pedestrian prose is more about your causal ummms and ahhhs. If you don’t flush them out, things such as grace, style and, richness may suffer.
The bottom line: Beware of pedestrians while driving down the conversational road.
The high priest of contrarian essays Christopher Hitchens while extolling the virtues of “Write As You Talk” Principle During his Writing Classes says:
The point Hitchens was drawing our attention to was this: Everyone who can verbally communicate can also communicate in written words.
There is just one problem, though: Only a few can verbally communicate effectively.
The bottom line: Write As You Talk – only if you can speak eloquently and clearly.
- Write with discretion and sensitivity
- Let the written and the spoken word cross-pollinate
- Eliminate downright pedestrian words such as “um” and “like.”
- Don’t use emoticons to get your point across
Mistake 2: Brevity is everything
Clarity is king of writing. Brevity is just part of clarity. In other words, writers shouldn’t skip essential details in their attempt to make their copy as brief as possible.
What’s your take?
I don’t think it would be any different from mine because you and me as writers know, for a fact, that clear writing helps communicate messages effectively.
And, sure enough, clarity comes with tight writing. In short, tighter is better. Shorter isn’t.
The purpose of writing is to communicate messages effectively. No matter how precise and concise your writing is, no matter how impeccable your spelling and grammar is, if your writing
lacks clarity you might as well have written in a foreign language.
- Never sacrifice clarity at the altar of brevity. Put another way; don’t cut your copy too much if it’s affecting the clarity of the sentence.
- Tighten your copy in subsequent drafts.
- Make someone read your prose to further tighten or loosen the sentences.
3. Higher premium on “We” than “You”
According to an article by Crazyegg, The #1 Website Copy Mistake that Most Businesses Make, is when businesses focus more on themselves than their customers. “We do this and we do that,” doesn’t exactly sit well with customers.
According to American writer and critic Constance Hale, it’s politicians who have this tendency to slide into the first person plural noun “we,” especially when they become presidential candidates. And the “we” here stands for “my campaign and I.”
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s “We” become infamous when she said, “We have become a grandmother of a grandson called Michael Thatcher.” As expected, her “we” earned widespread guffaws.
The political “we” has effortlessly permeated into the business world as well.
Sure, it’s okay to talk about “we” that’s about your businesses sometimes. But, whenever possible, it’s best to focus on the customer. Speaking of the benefit your product is gonna offer
to the customers will keep the customers focused on your website.
4. Avoid Foreign Words and Slang
“Avoid foreign words.”
The paragons of style William Strunk and E.B. White clearly advised writers against the usage of fancy words and foreign languages in writing.
Regardless of what gurus of grammar and prose spout, the online world is flooded with writers who love to flout rules and flex their foreign word muscles, maybe because it adds more life and charm to the copy.
Recently an article published on one of the top-notch sites Crazyegg caught my attention. The title read “Any Startup Can Blow Up Their Website Traffic for Free With a Single Blog Post.
Here’s Exactly How To Do It.” The post was brilliantly done. The word Au contraire, a French word, however, stood out. It got me excited and Googling.
I was happy to learn that this foreign word could be used (at least sometimes) as a replacement for “Quite the contrary” and “On the Contrary.”
- Use plain talk. Yet there’s no denying the fact that a little bit of spice in the form of a foreign word or slang revs up the copy.
- “Don’t shun slang, especially if it’s vivid and musical and fills a gap in the lexicon,” says Hale in her book “Sin and Syntax.”
5. Misjudging “They’s” and “Its”
Nope! Still thinking about how one could commit such a simple error as this, think again. You too would be committing the same error unintentionally without even realizing it.
Allow me to explain with an example:
#1. Your child needs special guidance; it’s better to give them extra classes.
#2. Anyone could make a cake if they are up to it.
Did you spot the errors? If you are well aware of the grammar basics, you would have at once figured out where the problem lies.
For instance, in the first sentence, the child is a singular pronoun and so it should be followed by “he” or “she” and not “them.”
Likewise in the second sentence, anyone is a singular pronoun and so it should be followed by “he” or “she” and not they.
Simply put, the pronouns should match with their antecedents in terms of age, number, and gender.
Web copywriters, get a grip.
With the online web world flourishing, web copywriting has become an important arrow in the web marketing quiver. It’s the key to leads and conversions. So, lurking in the shadows of rigidity and old-school tenets won’t yield positive results; however, fashioning the text based on modern requirements might help.
And finally, an apt quote that’s sure to resonate with modern-day writers:
“Human beings don’t speak according to the rules of the AP Stylebook. We curse. We cry. We make up words. We go on sarcastic tangents.”
Philip Eil in his elegy for alt-weeklies in Columbia Journalism Review