The new year is a time for self reflection. We look at our lives, at our actions and our ambitions, and we set goals for what we’d like to improve in the coming year. This year, I’d like to make a case for some simple changes you can make to improve your brand and your business. I’m talking about your writing.
You probably already made a New Year’s resolution (in fact, you may have already broken it), but there’s still time to make positive changes in how you communicate online. For the amount of it that we all do every day, it’s amazing how little attention most people pay to the actual quality of their writing.
You may be thinking, “But I’m not a writer, why does it matter?” Well, I’m not talking about formal, professional writing like books or newspapers or magazines. I’m not even necessarily talking about blogs or advertisements–though all of those things matter. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, I bet you write every day. Emails, Facebook posts, website content, product descriptions. If you do one or more of these things on a regular basis, especially for your business, then you’re a writer.
With that, here are a few simple tips to improve your writing quality in the new year.
Know your tricky words
We all have them. Tricky words and usage rules that we can never seem to learn. You probably already know what your problem words are–but if you don’t, look through some of your past writing. You’ll probably recognize a few. Pick one or two that you always get wrong, and learn them. Learn them good.
Here are some of the most common grammar or usage mistakes, and some tips on getting them right:
It’s vs. its
- “It’s” is a contraction for “it is.” If you can use “it is” in the same place, go with “it’s.”
- “Its” is the possessive form of “it.” Use this when you’re writing about something that belongs to “it.” Yes, we use apostrophes for most possessives, but not for this. That’s why it’s (it is) so tricky.
Your vs. you’re
- “Your” is a possessive adjective, meaning something that belongs to “you.”
- “You’re” is a contraction of “you are.” If you can replace it with “you are” then go with the contraction.
Then vs. than
- “Then” is an adverb, used to describe the order things happened. Something happens, then something else does. It can also be used in an “if…then” statement, meaning if something happens, then something else happens. If it’s about time or order of occurrence, go with “then.”
- “Than” is a conjunction used for comparisons. Your store is better than your competitor’s store. If you’re comparing something, then you want “than.”
Being a good writer is about more than just grammar and usage. It’s also about your voice, how you communicate and how it makes people feel. One way to greatly improve your writing is to write in the “active voice” as much as possible. The alternative is the “passive voice.”
Here’s a really simple example:
– Passive voice: “The lamp was broken.”
– Active voice: “I broke the lamp.”
I love this example, because it gets at the root of why so many people write in the passive voice. They’re afraid to be assertive, to make a bold statement, or in the example above, to take responsibility. Since so many big businesses write this way (special emphasis on “avoiding responsibility”), many people think it sounds more professional. For the record, it doesn’t.
Be active. Inspire people with your writing. Motivate them to buy, do, believe.
Don’t Waste Your Customers’ Time
Avoid marketing fluff at all costs. People have very limited attention spans and very little motivation to stay on your site for long periods of time. Forcing them to read about the “hottest,” “cutting-edge” or “revolutionary” products, without telling them what your product actually is or does, is just wasting their time.
By all means, communicate the benefits, show off the key features, celebrate the ways your product is special, just make it meaningful.
…like the plague. See what I just did there? That’s a cliche. While these statements were creative and memorable at one point (many of them around the time of Shakespeare), the most popular cliches now are just meaningless filler.
Here are some common cliches in marketing and sales:
– Thinking outside the box
– Diamond in the rough
– Easy as pie / piece of cake
– Jack of all trades
– Lap of luxury
When you’re trying to think of a way to describe something, a cliche will often be the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t stop there, though. Give it a little more thought, and find something with specific meaning to you and your customers.
Better Writing is Better for Your Business
As more and more of our communication takes place on line — professionally as well as personally — the quality of our writing is more important than ever.
This year, let’s do something that will improve our lives and our businesses. Let’s be better writers.
This post is part of our Method & Message series by Clay Delk.