If you’ve read some of our previous blog posts, you’re probably ready to produce some content of your own. But before you put fingers to keyboard, I'm sharing my 30 years’ experience of common mistakes in technical copywriting, many of which I admit I made myself!
The boring beginning
If you don’t grab the attention of your reader in the first sentence, they’re unlikely to continue reading. You may be very proud that your company is a leader in its field, but that’s rarely a gripping beginning for an item introducing a new product or service. Instead, tell your readers something that they’ll find useful – typically that what you’re offering will save them time, money or trouble. If you must, you can tell them how wonderful you are later in the piece.
The secret service (or product!)
Tell your readers what you’re writing about! You know that the WhizziHelix 7 is the latest thing in power screwdrivers or that Soothingly 4.0 is your new asset monitoring service, but your readers won’t know unless you tell them. And tell them early – they’re not going to plough through two or three paragraphs in the hope of finding out what your “secret” product or service is all about! People really do write things like, “XYXCo is proud to announce the launch of Soothingly 4.0, which sets new standards for effectiveness and value.” Are you still awake? Thought not!
See how annoying it is? DUA stands, of course, for Don’t Use Acronyms – at least not until you’ve spelled them out. It’s always good practice to spell out acronyms the first time they appear in your piece, even if you’re confident that “everyone knows what they mean”. One of your potential customers may not – and they’ll probably stop reading if they lose the gist of what you’re trying to say because your acronyms are impenetrable. Plus, no one likes to feel ignorant when reading an article so keeping it simple will alleviate that issue.
Writing to impress
If you have an unusually extensive vocabulary and a mastery of complex sentence construction, put them away! These things may serve you well in an academic paper, but here you’re writing to communicate, not to impress. Put over your message clearly, in simple words. Make your piece easy to read and people will read it. Make it tough to read and they probably won’t, even if they do decide you must be awfully clever. Always remember, eschew obfuscation! – See what I did there?
Make sure there are no places in your piece where the reader goes, “Huh? How did the writer get from there to here?” Your piece should flow with each paragraph having at least some connection with the one before. A break in the flow makes it difficult for readers to follow the arguments you’re developing or the ideas you’re trying to put across. Be especially wary when you’re “assembling” a piece with a bit of cut-and-paste work. There’s nothing wrong with that (provided you respect copyright laws) but the joins mustn’t show!
Avoiding these five common mistakes won’t guarantee that you produce perfect copy every time, but it will put you well ahead of the crowd!