Continued from page 1
4. Use short paragraphs, short sentences and simple words.
The professional copywriter always practices this simple principle: Short sentences and short paragraphs are easier to read than long ones. And easier to understand. Rudolf Flesch, in The Art of Plain Talk, says that best average sentence length is 14 to 16 words, 20 to 25 words is passable, but anything over 40 words is unreadable. So write in crisp, short, snappy sentences. A trick of trade -- using sentence fragments -- can help keep your average sentence length to a respectable number of words. And add drama and rhythm to your copy.
Paragraphs should also be kept short. Long, unbroken blocks of text intimidate readers. If it looks hard to read, they probably won't read it.
As for short words, John Caples, Hall of Fame copywriter said: "Even best-educated people don't resent simple words. But they are only words many people understand."
Plain writing in simple words simply communicates more effectively than writing with a lot of big words. Keep in mind that in Shakespeare's most memotrable sentence -- "To be or not to be?" -- longest word is only three letters.
5. Write simply and naturally
People like to read simple, easy-to-understand writing. And simplest, most easy-to-understand style is to write conversationally, way you talk when you're at your best -- when your ideas are flowing smoothly, when your syntax is fluent and your vocabulary accurate. A simple test to check on your conversational tone is to imagine yourself speaking to your reader instead of writing. Are you expressing yourself clearly, or are you mumbling? Are you using only those words, phrases and sentences that you might actually say to your reader if you were face to-face? Or do you sound stiff and impersonal? If you wouldn't say it, why write it?
©2003 Burek Group
Walter Burek is an award-winning copywriter who learned his craft at some of the finest advertising agencies in the world and has been a writer and Creative Director on some of advertising’s most important accounts.
Currently, he offers freelance copywriting services through his company, walterburek.com.
Walter also writes, edits and publishes Words@Work, a free newsletter for marketing communications professionals.