04 Nov 10 Terms You Don’t Use in Real Life (and shouldn’t use online)
The biggest mistake we see when editing copy for use online is when people are overly formal in their writing style. Sure, there are certain situations where lengthy descriptions and certain words may be necessary, such as in legal documents for example, but the easiest way to distance your readers from what you are trying to say (or sell) is to use words that you wouldn’t use in real life.
If you’re not sure how to phrase or explain something in your digital copywriting, picture yourself saying it to a stranger in a lift, or a family member or a friend. Would you actually use those specific words? Would you say, “The findings demonstrated that a sound knowledge of auditing was required by all personnel that were to be hired” or would you say, “Our findings showed that all staff members needed to have a sound knowledge of auditing if we were to hire them”?
With that in mind, here are a few terms or habits that we try steer clear of when writing for the web:
1. “Inter alia”or any other legal speak. Unless you’re writing a legal document (like a contract), remove these sorts of terms and use conversational or simpler words like “included” or “among”.
2. Amongst and whilst. Do you prance around the nightclub saying, “I shall choose from amongst these drinks!”? No, you don’t. You certainly don’t say, “Whilst I was in the bathroom, my food arrived at the table” either. It’s “among” and “while”.
3. I believe that/we believe that. This depends on the context (you might say this in your company mission statement for example), but typically when you are writing something, it’s assumed that the opinion you are stating is yours. So saying that “you believe it” is just taking up unnecessary space.
4. “In a nutshell” or “at the end of the day”. I believe that clichés like this should be avoided at all costs! There are more original and elegant ways to communicate what you mean.
5. Hence. Who uses this word in real life? DELETE or replace.
6. In other words: Why do we need so many words and ways to explain one thing? Choose your words correctly the first time.
7. Really or very. These are lazy words that clog up the reading experience. Most times they can be removed and you’re left with simpler, more impactful copy.
8. Unique/life-changing/world-class. Unless your product or service is utterly unique or will change their lives, avoid hyperboles that your reader will be able to see through. Pick truthful and original adjectives that still highlight the USPs.
9. “One” as a pronoun. Although it’s grammatically correct, saying that “one’s health is important” instead of “your health is important” sounds unnecessarily formal and creates distance between you and your reader. Unless you’re having tea with the Queen, avoid this pronoun and rather use the more informal “you”.
10. No contractions. We speak using contractions. We don’t say, “We would like to climb the mountain tomorrow”, we say, “We’d like to climb the mountain tomorrow”. Most times we don’t say “cannot”; we say “can’t”. Using the words how you’d actually say them makes your copy easier to read and digest.
With all of the above, write it how you would say it, and you’ll be well on your way to writing digital copy that people want to read, and most importantly, respond to.