These days, being a competent writer can benefit you in all sorts of ways.
Even if you don’t write blogs or articles for your business, you’ll likely write a range of other types of content in your working day.
You might be writing a financial plan, responding to a client query, or trying to convince a valuable prospect to choose your firm.
Before I became a copywriter, and then Head of Content over here at Yardstick, I was a financial adviser, retail bank manager, and a mortgage broker. Yes, I’ve been through those exams also!
Since swapping pensions for pens, I’ve learned loads about how to become a more effective writer. So, here are 33 simple and practical tips that will help you – whatever it is you write.
- Language evolves. You don’t need to apply grammar rules your fourth-year English teacher drummed into you 25 years ago. That means you can start a sentence with “but” or “because” if you want to.
- Think twice before you use the word “get”. It’s often better to find an alternative. For example, “you have to do this” is more elegant than “you’ve got to do this”.
- “Long term” needs a hyphen when it’s an adjective (a long-term plan). It doesn’t when it’s a noun (in the long term).
- People get hundreds of emails a week. If you want someone to open your email, or reply to it, you need a subject line they want to click on.
- You don’t need to say: “please don’t hesitate to contact us”. I know you think it sounds polite, but “please get in touch” or “please contact us” is simpler.
- There’s no apostrophe in 1980s or 1990s or 2020s.
- Always share key points or benefits in sub-headings. If readers skim-read your copy and only read bold sub-headings, they will still go away with some useful information.
- Contractions can make your writing more conversational, friendly, and engaging. Don’t be afraid to use “you’re” or “it’s” or “you’ll”.
- Numbers in headlines work really well.
- Consistency is key. If you decide you’re going to call it Capital Gains Tax, then don’t write “capital gains tax” two sentences later. If you’re hiring a paraplanner, don’t later say “para-planner”.
- If you’re listing three or more things in a sentence, consider using bullet points instead. It will make the text easier to read.
- Talk to your reader. Rather than “inflation affects many people”, consider “inflation affects you”.
- It’s a “sneak peek”, not a “sneak peak” (or, heaven forbid, a “sneek peek”).
- The average reader isn’t interested in how proud or thrilled you are. They are interested in what they’ll get out of reading your content – so be empathetic. Are you preaching to them, or are you engaging them by showing that you relate to their feelings and experiences?
- Following on from #14, if you’re always empathising with the reader and their concerns and problems, you can write engaging copy about literally anything. I once worked for a client who sold toilet seats, and another who sold metal sheds. Believe me, you can make those products sing if you start by putting the reader first!
- Sell the sizzle not the sausage.
- “Therefore” can be dry in blogs and articles. Think about using “so”, “as a result”, “consequently” or other choices.
- Be clear what you want someone to do when they read your copy. Spell out your call to action: download the guide, sign up to our mailing list, call us to make an appointment.
- The rule of three works (remember “education, education, education”? If you do, it’s proof it works).
- If you’re confused about whether it’s “practise” or “practice”, apply the same rule you do to “advise” and “advice”. Practising what you preach is best practice.
- People love stories. As Pixar’s “rules of storytelling” say: “Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”
- Take a leaf from George Orwell and “never use a long word when a short one will do”. Your financial planning blog isn’t up for the Costa Prize, so keep things simple.
- Writing’s the easy bit. It’s the editing that’s hard – so spend some decent time on it.
- An invaluable help is “text to speech” software, such as the “Read Aloud” function in Word. Hearing your copy read back to you makes it incredibly easy to spot typos, missing words, and so on.
- We talk about this a lot, but advertising legend David Ogilvy found that five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. So, it’s worth spending time on yours. There’s no point writing a terrific article if no one reads it because of a dull headline.
- Whatever you’re selling, it’s always “peace of mind”. Talk about how you can reassure or de-stress your reader.
- Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, you’ll improve your writing by reading the work of great writers.
- Use the active voice. “We helped a client” is better than “the client was helped by us”.
- Data or statistics can help you to reinforce a point you are making. Don’t just use them for show, however.
- You can end a sentence with a preposition. We’re not living in the 1950s, so saying “Who did you go to the shops with?” is fine when compared to “With whom did you go to the shops?”
- Captain James T Kirk is right – you can “boldly go”. Splitting infinitives (to carefully write, to quickly read) is fine.
- It’s nice to receive a compliment. “You look nice today!” Offering someone a service that will complement the service they already receive is different (although also nice).
- Short paragraphs make your copy easier to read than massive chunks of text.
Hopefully there’s something in this list you can take away.
If you’d like to find out how our team of terrific writers can help you engage with your clients and prospects, get in touch. Email [email protected] or call (0115) 8965 300.