Six ways to make your writing suck a little less

Sometimes I’m a lazy writer. If I’m tired, or uninspired, or working to a really tight deadline, it’s easy to slip into writing safe copy. If you write words for money in any capacity, you’ll have done the same at some point. So, in the spirit of self-improvement, I’m making a list of things I want to avoid in my own writing. And that you should avoid too.

Don’t open with insultingly obvious statements

Always begin a piece with a bold sentence. Something that captures the reader’s attention and makes them want to read more. What you shouldn’t do is start with a non-observation (nobservations, I call them) like, “digital technology has revolutionised the way we do business” or, “smartphones have transformed the way customers shop”.

Only someone emerging from a forty-year coma would find these statements revelatory. For everyone else, they are obvious to the point of being patronising. You might as well say, “food has revolutionised the way human beings get nutrition”.

Don’t use tortured metaphors and analogies

Metaphors and analogies are a great way to make complex topics easier to understand. But there are limits. IT infrastructure is not like a five-a-side football team. Mobile working practices are not like the Siege of Constantinople in 1204. The relationship between the Sales and Marketing does not resemble the tempestuous romance of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Be creative, not overblown. Be uncomplicated, not trite. And, most importantly, ignore the obvious irony that referring to a metaphor as tortured is itself a tortured metaphor.

Don’t ever use the words transformational change

Transformation literally means change. You cannot have non-transformational change. Talking about transformational change is like saying you saw an avian bird or wet water.

Don’t refer to consumers as demanding

Consumers don’t have hopes, likes, fears, wants, needs or dreams – they have demands. I’ve written about consumers and their demands so many times that I imagine them as being prepared to execute a hostage every hour until they get $2 million and a charter plane to Ecuador.

Few consumers have ever cut individual letters out of magazines and stuck them together in a note demanding that a brand replies to their query on social media within half an hour. There are more interesting (and accurate) ways of describing what people want from businesses. Like expectations, desires and…erm…wishes *closes thesaurus*.

Do not describe a situation as increasingly complex

I can’t really explain why this irritates me so much. It’s just one of those things that gets under my skin, eliciting the kind of volcanic, irrational hatred that people who like football habitually experience. Particularly when a landscape is referred to in this way, usually to mean that an aspect of business is getting more complicated.

The regulatory landscape is becoming increasingly complex’ might be the most repulsive sentence in the English language. In fact, the only time you should write about an increasingly complex landscape is in the aftermath of a seismic event.

Finally – try as hard as possible to use less jargon (or TAHAPTULJ)

Painpoints. Dynamic. Innovative. Revolutionary. Optimised. Leverage. Robust. Pace of change. Paradigm. Solution. Scalable. Disruptive. Engagement. Convergence. Curated. Integrated.

If you ever use any of these words in your writing, stop, punch yourself really hard in the face, and replace the word with something else.

Also, ignore the obvious irony of my imploring people to not use jargon when I coined the term ‘nobservations’ mere paragraphs ago.

I’m as guilty of abusing these as anyone else. But hopefully, by referring to this list – and punching myself in the face – enough, I might just become a better copywriter.