If people can’t understand your writing, then you may as well write nothing at all. Those ground-breaking ideas you’ve had don’t count for much if you have no way to express them clearly, and your opinion carries no weight if it can’t be defined.
In other words: Good writing is clear writing.
How to write clearly… When it comes to online content, the focus is often heavily around SEO copywriting. While SEO is important to brand visibility in the digital space, effective copywriting is clear, well-defined, and concise.
A website is only as good as its content when it comes to appealing to your audience. Effective business writing and clear writing styles resonate with your audience. The content you produce convinces, inspires, and engages. It’s the solution that prompts conversions, loyalty, and sales. Yet, copy is often regarded passively – delegated to team members with little experience in prose.
Though your ideas should be complex and interesting, they should also be crystal clear. If you want to communicate with your audience, then you need to understand how to write clearly. Here, we’ll deliver some concise copywriting tips to simplify your messages.
1. Know what you want to say
Clarity is all about choosing your words with purpose. If you want to produce effective copywriting, then you can’t touch briefly on ideas until you encounter your primary point.
Writing with clarity means more than just tweaking your content to remove unnecessary adverbs. It’s about approaching words in a different way. Clarity forces you to think about what you want to write, before you ever start arranging words onto a page. Before you begin, you should know:
The structure of your article (this one is in a list format)
Your point (here, we’re focusing on how to write with clarity)
Your subject (in this case, clear writing)
One solution is to try the “fortune cookie test”. If you can’t explain what your post is about in a simple sentence, then it’s probably too unfocused. Even in-depth posts need a simple premise, such as “How to write with clarity”. The content may be complex, but the idea itself must be simple.
2. Outline your article
When you write an essay at school, you begin by outlining what the content of your assignment will cover. In a clear and concise article, you can follow the same structure. Effective copywriting maps the logic of what follows, teaching readers what to expect.
If your audience knows what’s going to happen throughout your article, they can easily follow your logic, and link together your ideas. Because your audience knows from the start what your “point” is, they’ll be able to read your content through your eyes, and see each point in its relation to your bigger picture.
3. Be concise
Writing with clarity means being concise. Unnecessary words often dilute the meaning of your messages, so read through drafts to remove words that are redundant (needlessly repetitive). For example, in “connect together”, the word “together” is redundant.
Similarly, the phrase “at this point in time”, can easily be replaced with “now”.
Notably, being concise doesn’t mean all your sentences must be short. Sentences free of unnecessary words can be lengthy, and interesting text often includes a variety of sentence lengths to give rhythm to the content.
4. Clear writing has a clear audience
Any effective copywriting requires you to know your audience.
A clearly-defined audience allows you to adjust your voice to meet the needs of your readers.
When writing for a specific audience, answer questions like:
What do they already know, and what can I teach?
What’s relevant and interesting?
What do they want, and what are they trying to avoid?
For instance, you might be writing for bloggers who need more traffic, or businesses that need more online conversions.
Once you have an idea of your audience, you can start to communicate with them more effectively. Just remember not to assume anything. Even if you believe that your audience already understands a lot of what you’re talking about, it can be useful to explain complex words and topics along the way, to help make your writing more accessible.
5. Complicated words are unnecessary
Though your inner literature student might adore complex words, they can often be broken down into simpler terms.
When it comes to SEO copywriting, and effective business writing, your aim shouldn’t be to impress readers with lengthy words that require them to open a dictionary every five minutes. Clear communication doesn’t require effort on the behalf of the reader.
Simple, economical terms are often far easier to understand. However, if you need to use complex terms, you can always start writing with clarity by explaining your terms. Above, we explained the word “redundant” to avoid any confusion.
6. Create a writing format that flows
Formatting is something that’s often ignored in SEO copywriting.
However, when you’re writing with clarity, the right structure can simplify your entire message.
CEO of Technorati, David L. Sifry commented that Beppe Grillo entered the Technorati top 10 by simply setting his key points in bold.
Using subtitles, and drawing attention to your key points is a simple way to add clarity to your articles. It helps create a natural flow throughout the page that your reader can follow, piece by piece.
You may have noticed in the past that newspapers use a strict formula of equating one sentence to one paragraph. This is very good for readability, as it ensures that each sentence has enough room to breathe.
Though you don’t necessarily have to follow the one sentence = one paragraph rule in effective copywriting, keeping your paragraphs and sentences short helps to make writing less daunting. Blocks of text can be intimidating on any page.
Additionally, using distinct paragraphs throughout your writing helps to stop distinct ideas and thoughts from blending into each other. They give your readers space and time to digest each of the points you’re making in full.
7. Bullets are your friends
When it comes to writing with clarity, bullet-points can be a fantastic tool in your toolbox.
Clear writing styles often make use of short paragraphs and bullet points to help draw attention to the key ideas in a particular topic. Unfortunately, many writers, particularly those concerned with SEO copywriting, can be somewhat snobbish in regards to bullet points.
While it’s true that Dickens and Shakespeare probably didn’t use a lot of bullet points in their writing, effective business writing isn’t the same as writing a novel.
If you’re hoping to use your copywriting techniques to spread ideas, generate action, and facilitate engagement, then you need to be willing to use bullet points.
Bullets help to define a group of related ideas, and break dense sentences up into more digestible chunks. At the same time, these features give your content more visual variety, which is great for enhancing your clear writing styles.
Make certain parts of your post stand out.
Stop sentences from becoming too dense and complex
Pinpoint the key issues in a topic
8. Using analogies is like simplifying your message
Effective business writing is much like assembling a piece of IKEA furniture. It requires you to follow rules.
New concepts and ideas are important for effective copywriting, but writing with clarity means that you need to know how to explain those concepts in terms your readers understand. Reference to familiar ideas can be the best way to do this.
A long time ago, Plato simplified a set of complicated philosophical ideas by presenting them as a story. The resulting content was the “Allegory of the Cave“.
Similes, metaphors, and analogies all work well because they use terms that the reader already understands, to help them grasp new ideas. One of the most important rules to follow here, however, is that metaphors and analogies are most powerful when used sparingly.
If you describe everything with similes, then you could end up swapping clarity with confusion.
9. Generally, specific is best
Writing clearly often involves thinking about ways to get to the point, quickly and effectively. When you use specific details in your writing, there’s less room for confusing ambiguity. Simplifying your message with specific points means that your reader is more likely to end up on the same page as you.
At the same time, when you write clearly, and specifically, you also ask the reader to do much less work. After all, they don’t have to exert all their mental energy to fill in the gaps you’ve left behind.
For instance, an example might be the difference between saying “drink water regularly”, and “drink a glass of water once every thirty minutes for two hours.”
While telling someone to drink water regularly is helpful, telling them exactly when to drink it, and how much to drink is usually better for ensuring clarity.
10. Variety isn’t spice – it’s confusing
Although predictability might be boring in other aspects of life – it’s great for effective copywriting. Your audience needs to know exactly what to expect from you in terms of voice, tone, and other important elements, otherwise they’ll end up getting confused.
For instance, think of your favourite store. Every time you visit that store, you know exactly which clerks you’re going to see, where you can find the items that you need, and how you can pay for your purchases. You return to that store knowing exactly what to expect.
However, if you turned up to your store one day and found that the aisles and people had changed, and the whole process for buying was different, you’d probably feel confused and overwhelmed.
Effective business writing follows the same format. If people enjoyed your content enough to come back, then they’re expecting to get a similar experience again. While experimentation can be useful, it’s important to focus on a steady, and consistent style to keep customers happy.
11. Clarity is certain
Finally, writing with clarity is best achieved when you’re firm, and definite.
Clarity doesn’t tolerate words like “maybe” or “might”.
If you can’t say something with absolute certainty, then you can’t deliver a concise message.
However, this rule comes with an exception. Artful vagueness can be used in an opening paragraph to help your writing seem more accessible. For instance:
“Perhaps you’ve always wanted to know how to write with clarity. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of storytelling, but you don’t know how to simplify your message in a clear, concise format…”
This technique allows you to show your relevance to a group of people, and gives the illusion of specificity. However, when you’re making points, remember that uncertainty damages clarity.
How to write clearly: writing with clarity
In a world obsessed with algorithms and the keywords of SEO copywriting, clarity isn’t the top quality that most writers wish for. Few budding writers tell themselves that they’ll grow to be the most concise blogger in the world.
However, without clarity, the other qualities that make your content so effective, like passion, originality, and invention, become useless. People can’t spread the ideas they don’t understand. Readers won’t wade through muddy writing to uncover the ideas hidden beneath. We all have too many distractions demanding our attention elsewhere.
Following the right steps for writing clearly means that the world-changing ideas that wake you up each night can be shared effectively with the world. Crystal clear writing is like giving your reader a USB port to your brain. Ideas flow naturally from you to them without disruption or distortion.
Though clarity has become a lost art in the world of content development, if you can learn to write clearly, then you’re sure to stand out.
After all, clear writing is compelling, powerful, and engaging. It resonates with your reader, and inspires them to action. All you need to do, is practice simplifying your message.
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