We write more now than at any other point in human history, and yet our copywriting skills are worse than they’ve ever been.
It’s not that it frustrates a few of us who notice. It’s that most people notice. In one study, 43% of respondents said that poor writing is a turn-off—and that was in the context of a dating website. Imagine how much it bothers your readers, who depend on you for clear communication.
Here’s a look at five of the most common copywriting mistakes. You can correct all of them today, and make a big difference in your respectability as a content source.
Distinct Thoughts. Period.
I thought I had more time, I guess not.
The comma splice is what happens when you separate two entirely distinct sentences by a comma without a good reason for it. Instead, these thoughts should be split into two sentences.
A case could be made for using a semicolon in the above example — they are related thoughts, and so could be linked that way — but really, these are distinct ideas, and semicolons are too easy to misuse.
Novelists might use the comma splice to express a character’s voice. Journalists might use it when quoting a written response. In copywriting, there’s almost never a reason to use it.
When in doubt, err on the side of using a period.
A Good Time Was Had
The event was attended. Drinks were drunk. A good time was had.
Passive voice is the ugly art of turning objects into subjects in such a way that no one can tell who or what is performing an action. All three sentences above are examples.
When you can’t tell who’s speaking or doing or enjoying or going, the words melt into nothing. Meaning disappears. To turn it around, put your objects into action.
Over 1,000 people attended the event. Collectively, they went through five gallons of liquor. Everyone had a good time.
Active writing is lively writing. It brings nouns to life. It moves. It tells stories.
Shorter, and Shorter Still
John Smith, 56, a former history teacher and lawyer who was born in Brooklyn but spent most of his youth in Minnesota, joined us for lunch.
Long, info-stuffed sentences can be a real pain to read. Instead of revealing facts one at a time, these bad boys cram as many details into a small space as possible. The simple remedy?
Use short sentences.
They make for easier scanning. They deliver more understandable facts. They’re easier to write. They’re easier to read. Besides that, they hold your readers’ attention better, and attention is a major commodity in copywriting.
John Smith joined us for lunch. John was born in Brooklyn, but spent most of his youth in Minnesota. He was a history teacher there, and a lawyer. He’s now 56 years old.
The Internet is made for short sentences.
Beefing Up Word Count
It was at that time that I began to wonder about that, but I decided to stop saying so.
Needless words can work wonders for beefing up the word count of an article or blog post. They don’t make the writing more valuable. In fact, they usually make an article tedious to read.
The words “that” and “but,” for example, are often overused. “That,” in fact, is probably the most overused word in the English language. And “but” — well, you can kill it off and end up with a more interesting followup thought. Earlier in this section, instead of kicking off the final sentence of the last paragraph with “but,” I used “In fact.” Another trick is to start a new paragraph. Compare:
- “I thought I had enough time, but I didn’t.”
- “I thought I had enough time. I didn’t.”
The first one is a boring fact. The second one sounds like you were caught by ninjas before you could save the day.
The word “that” can frequently be yanked out of a sentence and end up making it tighter.
- “I didn’t know that it was blue”
- “I didn’t know it was blue.”
Take away a few of those in every piece of writing, and you’ll have happier readers.
The Excessive Undertaking of Superfluous Descriptions
I held the heavy baton out for the eager third runner.
Adjectives and adverbs are tricky fish. Even when you know to use them sparingly, it’s easy to find yourself sticking them in at every third word to modify one description or another. However, the more you use them, the more quickly the effect wears thin.
To keep that from happening, aim to use stronger nouns and verbs, or add other imagery to enhance your descriptions.
I held the baton out for the third runner, who began his sprint down the track as my arm dropped in exhaustion.
Better, no? Another trick is to reserve descriptive terms for times when you can use them in some unique way, like so:
The CEO of that company was hyper smart.
Look no further than the title of this piece.
“Incredibly common” or “very common” copywriting mistakes wouldn’t have cut it. Interminable? Nowthat’s a curious word.
Before you go: Share your favorite copywriting mistake in the comments below.