13th April 2018 Claire Hawes

How to write copy that’s easy to read and understand

No matter your written communication, your readers will appreciate and engage with it more if you write copy that’s easy to read.

I cried when my mother proofread and edited my university dissertation.

I should have known better. A sub-editor by trade, my mother’s aim in life is to make the unreadable readable by ridding copy of unnecessary words and grammatical errors.

My heart sank when I took in the many red marks and realised she had reduced the word count by at least a quarter.

“There, there,” she told me. “You wanted to prove your knowledge and intelligence, but by trying too hard, you made your report difficult to read.”

“But it is meant to be difficult to read,” I sobbed. “It’s a report that covers very complex technical business theories.”

“You’re doing it again” my mother responded. “Things are either complex, or they’re not. You don’t need to use the word ‘very.'”

She added: “Always put your reader first and write copy that’s easy to read and understand. Your examiner is a busy person. He/she will value a clear and concise report.”

I stormed out of the room.

Of course, my mother was right. Too many words make copy challenging to read and reduce understanding.

The key to good writing is making sure your reader understands your messages on first reading.

Let’s take a look at how you can write copy that’s easy to read.

Cut out unnecessary words

See what a difference you can make to your copy if you search and replace these common filler words:

  • ‘With regards to’ with ‘regarding’ or ‘about.’
    ‘In order to’ with ‘To.’
  • And at the same time delete these unnecessary words
    “Very”, “really”, ‘just.” and ‘that’.

Write copy in an active voice

You’ll get to the point quickly and at the same time engage readers.

  • Active: ‘The cat sat on the mat.’
  • Passive: ‘The mat was sat on by the cat.’

Avoid jargon

Don’t assume that your readers understand technical jargon. If you have to use it, include a definition.

Make copy easy to scan with subheadings

In research on how people read websites, usability expert Jakob Nielson found that 79% of people scan pages. A later study found that users read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.

Make copy visually appealing

  • Embolden essential words to make copy pop.
  • Another trick to make copy easy to consume is to use bullets and numbered lists.

Use short sentences

Have a sentence that is three lines long? See if you can break it into two.

Of course, not everyone likes short and punchy sentences. So vary the length to keep your copy interesting.

Keep paragraphs short

At the risk of boring you (you’ve heard me say this before) don’t present your reader with a block of dense text, keep your paragraphs short.

Let’s recap

No matter your written communication, be it a written report or an item of marketing collateral, your readers will appreciate and engage with it more if you write copy that’s easy to read.

So make editing a priority:

  • Cut out unnecessary words
  • Replace or explain jargon
  • Replace a passive voice with an active one
  • Use subheadings
  • Make copy visually appealing
  • Shorten sentences
  • Shorten paragraphs

Give it a go and see the difference it makes

And finally

If you would like help editing your copy, then do get in touch. Copy-editing ensures your communication is free from spelling and grammar mistakes. It also ensures your tone is consistent and your content is concise and effective.

Claire Hawes, copywriter and owner of The Content BoutiqueAbout Claire Hawes

Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.

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