Are you making sure that your storytelling styles are clear to understand? Could you be losing readers and forcing them to think too much about what you’re sharing? Do you find yourself often forced to stay on target?
Writing for the internet is an incredible but fun challenge for me. As I continue to write in different voices for various clients, I have to decide on what I want readers to take away from each story, how many steps I’m going to take to teach them what I know and what call of action to include so that they do what I want them to do.
My options are unlimited. However, the one thing I need to keep in mind is to ensure that my story is clear and easy to follow. With the already crowded web of stories, I need to make my stories stand out and I need the messages to reach those readers that they’re intended for. This requires me copywriting them in a way that makes readers pay attention to the words I choose.
5 common copywriting problems
If you are unsure whether your stories are clear to your readers, here are five common problems that can make it hard for people to understand your content. I’ve also included some suggestions for rewriting. Have a look at each and then check your writing style.
Style 1: Are we there yet?
This writing style refers to content that gives the impression of a never-ending story. The writer starts off well and perhaps with a strong opening. As you continue to read, their story starts to go off track. They continue with this new direction and then return to the point. They may do this quite often in the same story and if you were to delete the ‘nonsense’, you’d end up with only a few useful paragraphs.
Here’s an example.
John and Jane were hiking in the hills when they lost their flashlight, which John had bought two months ago from the new store that recently opened just a few doors down from their house. The flashlight, heavy but powerful, has a microchip attached to it so that the owner can track its location. It was one of the things John thought would be handy if he gets lost during his expeditions. The flashlight was kept in the garage with his hiking gears. With one more tool to keep in the garage, Jane asked him to start a content list. Later on, Jane’s neighbour, a young college girl called Elly, borrowed the flashlight for her trip to Margaret River. Lucky for John, she kept a good eye on it. Although the flashlight was returned safely, Elly mentioned that it fell down a few times and that John should check the microchip. He never paid attention to this comment but thanked Elly for taking care of his flashlight.
How to fix it:
Ask yourself what is it you’re trying to tell the reader. For example, the story could be about why John and Jane lost their flashlight. Or maybe it’s about who damaged the microchip. You need to pick a story. The next step is to remove the tangential fluff and only leave the information that help tell the story.
Style 2: Did you, are you or will you?
This copywriting style refers to the time, which could easily get shifted as the story progresses. This is usually by accident, because English isn’t as simple as we think. At times you easily get lost in grammar. At other times, you come back to your copy draft and change it after an event has occurred. For example, you start writing about your trip to Margaret River but only manage to publish it after you return from your trip. You need to rewrite and change from “I’m going to..” to “I went to…”. Most often it’s just a matter of paying attention.
Here’s an example:
As usual, I would come in from the rain and then shook my coat.
How to fix it:
When editing your final draft, check which tense is more appropriate and be sure to stick to the right one. Don’t force readers to teleport back and forth in time. The final edit could be:
As usual, I came in from the rain and shook my coat.
Style 3: You mean this one?
This copywriting style refers to being as specific and less vague as you can so your story isn’t bland or boring. Add some more information to make people care and agree with you or your character.
Here’s an example:
John told everyone about his new flashlight, because it was the best one in the world.
How to fix it:
Give the reader a better picture of who is being affected, what something looks like, how it functions or what is going on.
You could build on this by telling the reader what makes it better than other flashlights. You could rewrite this one to say:
John told everyone about his new flashlight, because it was the only one in the world that came with a traceable microchip.
Style 4: I wasn’t sure but here’s hoping you get it
This copywriting style refers to your story opening with sentences that just try and justify your reasons for writing your story. We tend to see this in many books also. The author would have a section at the front to explain why they thought the book should be written. I’ve never seen this incredibly useful, because by then I’ve already bought the book based on what’s written on the back.
Online, however, I feel there’s a difference. Sometimes you have to explain the back-story and if you don’t it just won’t resonate with your reader. This is how in marketing research you’d use a section of your questionnaire to qualify the reader. If they don’t qualify as someone in ‘the same boat’ then this section tells them that they should move on.
Although it sometimes makes sense in articles or blog posts, it’s not always useful to some stories we find online. Yet they’re there, especially when the story makes perfect sense for all readers or when you don’t even need to make an excuse. For example, does CNN need to declare in their news articles that “Because we’re a broadcaster, we thought we’d bring you some news”? Nope.
My advice is that when you use this copywriting style, check whether your article would make sense if you were to remove that explanation at the beginning. If it would, then delete, delete and delete.
Here’s an example:
I’ve been going back and forth on this post for the past 12 weeks, because I wasn’t sure I should be talking about my mistakes. I kept asking myself if I was making the right choice. Would writing about it help me move on or would it just disclose my personal life to strangers like you? Then my best friend said to me that it was over between us if I wasn’t planning to tell her what was going on. That’s when it hit me: my pride was once again affecting my relationship with an amazing friend. I’m now sharing my story with you as a reminder to not let your pride control you.
How to fix it:
Avoid posting articles as they are if they came to you through freewriting. Freewriting is just your thoughts and usually your thoughts are all over the place. Revise and start with the most to-the-point opening, like this:
Shutting out your best friend just because you’re too proud to own up to your mistakes can affect your relationship. Here’s what happened to me recently. I made a mistake but never apologised to the person I hurt, my best friend. Not even after realising that I was in the wrong. Instead, I stopped talking to her. Why? Because I hated being wrong and I just couldn’t deal with her knowing that I made a mistake. After all, she always called me Miss Perfect.
Style 5: Oh, this is just too confusing!
Here, I’m looking at sentence structure and the positioning of your words. Do they make sense? Would people misinterpret your story? Would they get the joke if you used a French word? I do this sometimes, hoping that people know what ‘Moi’ means.
Here are a couple of examples:
THIS: After several hours of searching, Kate found the newborn kitten in a hole.
NOT THIS: After several hours of searching, the newborn kitten was found in a hole.
Surely a new kitty can’t spend several hours searching? Very unrealistic. Unless it was on Red Bull.
THIS: Parental consent is required for anybody under the age of 18 who wishes to get a tattoo.
NOT THIS: Parental consent is required for anybody who wishes to get a tattoo under the age of 18.
So it’s OK to get a tattoo that was designed more than 18 years ago?
FINALLY — I thought I’d add this real-life quote from a British politician… caught on Twitter. I won’t tell you who, you can find out on Google or Twitter if it’s still around when you’re reading this. I’ve removed one word as I don’t want my website ranking for it!
THIS: It’s unacceptable there’s a loophole allowing p——- “training manuals”. I want to make them illegal so we can protect the children.
NOT THIS: It’s unacceptable there’s a loophole allowing p——- “training manuals”, that’s why I want to protect children by making them illegal.
What? You want to make those poor kids illegal? I’d rather you make the manuals illegal.
There you have it, five common copywriting problems you could be fixing right away to help you polish your stories.
If you have any tips to share, please comment below.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net