It doesn't matter if you hated English at school or you’re the world’s next best-selling author. We’re all guilty of sub-par writing, especially on our first attempt.
Articles by the BBC and DotDigital suggest that bad spelling can cause potential customers to question the credibility of a business, cutting sales by up to 50%.
Those pesky spelling errors could be turning away visitors to your website. They could be stopping prospects from clicking on your social media ads. They could mean you’re losing out to competitors in Google searches.
But I’d go further than just typos. Factual inaccuracies, poor grammar and confusing words can all reflect badly on you and your business. After all, if you don’t take care over how you communicate, a client won’t trust you to take care of their big day. And new venues or business partners will struggle to believe that you’ll deliver on your promises.
Alienating your prospective customers like this can also be incredibly expensive for your business. Not only will you be down on bookings, but you’ll need to make your marketing work twice as hard to make up for the shortfall. Meanwhile, your competitors jump in and enjoy the spoils.
If your website is getting plenty of clicks but failing to convert visitors into customers, or you notice visitors are suddenly leaving from a particular page, something could be up. And poor spelling or grammar may be a contributing factor. An error on your booking form, for instance, could be detrimental.
Luckily, a little TLC goes a long way. You don’t need to spend hours rechecking every piece you write. But it’s always a good idea to do a quick scan and make some small edits, even when drafting a simple email or social media post.
Using some simple techniques you can quickly make sure your writing is clear and accurate for your audience. So, hold fire before you hit that send button. Could you tighten things up? Correct that typo? Make a sentence clearer?
Here are my five tips for improving your writing, whether it’s a business email, social media update, blog post or webpage.
1. Remove FLUFF
s your writing too wordy? Does the number of punctuation marks make it look messy? You could be making your writing harder to read and understand, which can turn away potential clients. The guilty offenders are often:
redundant words or phrases such as very, really, able to, due to, of
semi-colons – most people don’t understand their purpose (plus they look ugly)
exclamation marks and commas – these are overused, especially the double or triple exclamation!!
archaic words and phrases – including whom, forthwith, aforementioned, notwithstanding, thus
adverbs – words that describe a verb or adjective and often end in ‘-ly’. Look out for redundant adverbs, such as the word ‘loudly’ in the sentence ‘He shouted loudly at the DJ’. You can’t shout quietly, so the word ‘loudly’ isn’t needed.
Cutting out these unnecessary elements can help your clients relate to you. Fancy punctuation or archaic phrases will only make you sound pretentious and unapproachable. Your writing should sound like how you’d talk to a friend. It should feel conversational but professional.
I will plan to arrive at the venue sometime around 10am in the morning; however, I am able to arrange an earlier time of arrival if you wish!
I will get to the venue at 10am but can be there earlier if you need.
Also, don’t be afraid to break those old grammar rules you may or may not remember from school. Such as these no-noes:
splitting infinitives – this means putting a word between ‘to’ and the verb (for example, the word ‘boldly’ between ‘to’ and ‘go’ in the Star Trek quote: “to boldly go where no man has gone before”)
starting a sentence with the words ‘and’ or ‘but’ – these words are connectives (words that link two clauses) and at school we’re warned against starting sentences with them
ending on a preposition – this means using words like in, with, at, to, on and over to finish your sentence, something the grammar Nazis will not be happy with (see what I did there?)
These are just three of the six writing myths listed in the Oxford Guide to Plain English.It’s 2022 not 1771. If breaking these rules makes your writing easier to read, then do it.
2. BE ACTIVE
I’m often forced to remind myself of this rule because it’s an easy one to forget. It does also mean a (thankfully) brief grammar lesson. When writing a sentence there are two main voices: active and passive.
Active sentences make it sound like the subject of the sentence (a noun) is performing the action (a verb). Often the subject will be you. Other times it will be your client. Passive sentences make it sound like the subject (a noun) is having something done to it (a verb) by someone or something (another noun).
Active sentences usually make for better writing and easier reading, although passive sentences are preferred in some situations. Generally active sentences are better because:
they sound authoritative and will instil confidence in potential clients
they require fewer words and so make for shorter sentences
they create momentum that will keep readers engaged
Compare these two sentences:
a. Beautiful photos will be taken by our photographer
b. Our photographer will take beautiful photos
Which one sounds better? Which gives you more confidence? Can you guess which is active and which is passive?
Sentence b. is the active one:
Our photographer (the subject) will take (the verb) beautiful photos (the noun).
3. AVOID JARGON
Eradicating jargon (unnecessarily complex or unfamiliar words) is a big part of my day job as a digital content designer in the public sector.
When I’m writing webpages for government websites, we have a duty to make sure as many people as possible understand the content. Often this means taking complex topics such as tax, licensing or planning permission and rewriting the information for public consumption.
One way to make writing easier to understand is by removing jargon. The corporate business world is notorious for it. Actionable, brain-dump, reach out, key takeaways, optimise, synergy, surface – these are common offenders that we’ve probably all used. While it’s unlikely your DJ website would ever be as dull as a government site or as jargon-heavy as the corporate world, you should still be on the lookout.
Write your marketing copy, emails and webpages as if your audience is booking a DJ for the very first time. Assume they know nothing about lighting, decks, microphones, transitions…you get the idea. There are many industry-specific terms you wouldn’t want to use on your own public site, including:
The customer probably won’t know or care what this means. Are you a “multi-op DJ business based in North Wales” or an “entertainment provider with DJs across North Wales”?
While many clients may have done their research and understand what this style of lighting looks like, many won’t. There will always be terms that are harder to switch out (once you understand what uplighting is, the term makes total sense) but at the very least you should give an explanation.
While ‘DJ’ is one initialism that most people are familiar with, it’s hard to say the same for ‘MC’. Many clients won’t know that MC stands for Master of Ceremonies or what a Master of Ceremonies even does. The best DJ websites I’ve seen tend to use the word ‘host’ instead.
Whilst browsing DJ websites for this article, I found a site that almost immediately talked about computer-controlled LEDs, lighting rigs and video projection. At worst, this tech talk will put off potential clients – would a bride really care about ‘computer-controlled LEDs’? If you do decide to include details about your lighting, which I appreciate is an important part of your service, then try to focus on the experience it can create for your client.
4. SHORTEN YOUR SENTENCES
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 114, Pages 52-57.