More people will read it
“The dirtiest four-letter word in the English language: read.”
— Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics website
Is your copy easy to read?
According to communication experts, that’s one of the two key questions people ask to determine whether to read a piece — or whether to toss it.
Here are four tips for crafting copy that’s clear and concise. Because the easier your copy is to read, the more people will read it.
1. Google clearer definitions.
Need to define a technical term in clear, easy-to-understand language?
Google can help.
Just type “define: term” in the search box. You’ll get a list of definitions for your term on the web.
2. Think packages, not pieces.
No doubt about it: Your readers would rather read a short piece than a long piece.
One good way to reduce the length of your copy is to focus each piece on a single message point. You say you have six messages? Then you have six pieces —not one long, unwieldy piece.
That’s what we call “redirection,” or breaking your story into multiple pieces. In addition to your main story, you might repackage your piece into:
- Related stories
- Web sidebars
- Freestanding vignettes
- Fun facts, trivia or other marginalia
You might even consider serializing your story, or breaking your piece into short chapters or segments to run over time.
3. Vary paragraph length.
Readers make an at-a-glance decision about your copy based on visual cues. Paragraph length is among the most important signals you send to readers about how easy and interesting your copy is to read.
If your paragraphs are too thick, the story looks slow and off-putting, for example. And if they’re all the same length, the story can feel monotonous, says Jacqui Banaszynski, assistant managing editor at The Seattle Times. She holds the Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
So how do you know?
Print your copy out in columns and eyeball it, Banaszynski advises. If your paragraphs all look the same, you’re probably not getting enough rhythm into your piece.
In that case, recast some paragraphs to vary their length.
4. Activate the passive voice.
The passive voice adds to our word count, saps the energy from sentences and makes it look like we’re trying to avoid pinning the blame on anyone. Here are three ways to activate the passive voice:
- Identify passive sentences —and get suggested rewrites —via Microsoft Word’s grammar check. It’s fine to do this, but a pro can spot the passive without tech support. Which brings us to …
- Understand the passive voice. Many writers, confused about the passive voice, believe every sentence that contains a form of the verb “to be” is passive. Not so. A sentence is passive only when it uses the object-verb-subject or object-verb structure. Otherwise, it’s just a sentence with a weak verb.
- Search for the words “was” and “by.” The “was …” or “was … by” construction is a clue to the passive voice.
Once you find passive sentences, activate the passive voice. Your sentences should explain who did what to whom.