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Image of typewriter with words typed as For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn

5 Tips For Writing Shorter Copy


Image of old typewriter with words For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.I’ve put together my top five tips for writing shorter copy. They’ll help you minimise the amount you write yet maximise the quality. (There’s even an added bonus of some examples I’ve written at the end. Woo hoo.)

I’m sometimes asked how much I’d charge for writing, say, 1,000 words. But here’s the thing: copy should never be priced according to quantity but on the time and effort and experience required to create something worth reading. Quite often the shorter the copy, the better.

But writing this way isn’t easy, so I hope these few pearls may help.

1. Lose unnecessary words
The point of being brief is not to say less, it’s to say more – effectively and concisely. Think of it not so much as writing shorter copy but leaner copy.

Hemingway’s six-word ‘Baby shoes’ story is a perfect example (never mind that it’s now thought he didn’t write it).

In fact, I confess that I’m just terrible at always including some unnecessary words. I go back over what I’ve written and cut out the dead wood.

Er, hang on. Let’s rewind …

I confess I’m terrible at including unnecessary words.

Edit and edit again. Hack away at the extra bits until the key details are clear. Challenge yourself to cut your copy by half.

2. Use more full stops
Long sentences can end up looking like muddled thoughts. Full stops help you package sentences into neatly contained thoughts. Aim for no more than 15-20 words in your sentence and vary the length.

A sentence can even be just one word. Why? Because people will be more likely to read copy if you keep it short. They’re time poor: the average human span is 8.25 seconds.

(If you use the WordPress plugin, Yoast SEO, you’ll know how brilliant it is at analysing a blog post’s readability and guiding you on how good the length of your paragraphs and sentences are.)

3. Use more paragraphs
Aim for one idea per paragraph. Paragraphs have the capacity to carry a lot of information, but your reader cannot. So edit every paragraph to have just one thought. (Apple is really good at doing this.)

Copywriters often only use one sentence per paragraph.

It’s overdone.

It can make the copy look disjointed.

But it can also drive home key points very effectively.

What do you think???

4. Start sentences with connecting words
For instance, ‘however’, ‘but’, ‘so’ – they’re a good way of indicating a shift in direction. Just don’t stick them together in the same sentence.

And let’s not forget the debatable use of ‘and’. My tatty and beloved 1982 version of Usage and Abusage. A guide to good English preaches ‘In general, avoid beginning a sentence with ‘and’: its use is justified only when a very effective addition is desired or when an arresting accumulation is to be concluded.’

I might not start a sentence with ‘and’ in a letter to my accountant. But bring on those effective additions otherwise. And those arresting accumulations.

5. Create a list instead
Listing a few bullet points is a great way to clearly organise information and let people skim through it to instantly grasp what’s what.

Instead of:

Your weekend break includes two nights’ accommodation in a double room, breakfast and dinner as half board, full use of the hotel gym facilities and a late check-out.

How about:

Your weekend break includes:

      • two nights in a double room
      • breakfast and dinner
      • use of the hotel gym
      • a late check-out.

Numbered lists are perfect for giving sequential steps.

At the end of the day, great style knows no convention. But the art of persuasion does … and there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

I’ll end by showing two options I created for a fashion college’s About page to demonstrate how less really is more. The brief was for a ‘warm, lightly-witty, conversational approach’ and to ‘convey the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity that’s needed to thrive in this industry’. It covers off all my tips for writing shorter copy except for the list one.

Their orginal copy:

At XXX our approach to training maps a clear path for each of our students from Day 1, so they know who they are and where their natural talents lie from the beginning. We welcome students of all abilities from all over the world, from complete beginners with no previous experience, those with some experience, right through to those looking to advance established careers.  As an XXX student, you will be taught in a vibrant industry-linked environment as a series of interactive lectures, practical masterclasses plus industry working opportunity and jobs to accelerate skill, create a network of connections and develop approaches.

Our expert tutoring and guest mentoring team who are selected for their glittering professional success as much as their brilliant teaching ability, are focused on working in a personalised approach with each of our students to develop skills, providing the tools to embrace challenges, and the confidence to succeed.  XXX learning environment is supportive, motivating and inspiring – a vibrant melting pot of individuals with ideas, all with something valuable to bring to the table, the curiosity to explore their creativity, and the positive outlook and ownership to flourish.  We welcome everyone of our students to a network of creatives for individual and collaborative projects, empowering each of them to achieve their personal and professional goals.

My copy option 1:

Why XXX?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting out or you’re established and want to push yourself further still … we’ll put you on a clear path to making your career happen from day one.

Our industry-leading tutors and guest mentors are simply brilliant at who they are and what they do. We’ll work closely with you to help you craft skills, embrace challenges and gain the confidence to succeed.

We offer interactive lectures that motivate you, practical masterclasses that inspire you, and work placements that take you further. This is your amazing opportunity to develop your own inspiring projects, collaborate with like-minded talent and network with creatives who count.

We’re here to help you fly.

My copy option 2:

XXX. It’s different
Starting out? Perfect. Already established? Perfect.

Individuality is what sets creativity apart. And that’s what counts at XXX.

Our tutors and guest mentors (all industry experts) work with you (yes, just you) to get you where you want to be.

Be motivated by interactive lectures that won’t fail to delight. Be inspired by practical masterclasses that deliver impact in spades. And be in the heart of it all on work placements (who doesn’t love a chance to shine?). Build your own black book: network, network, network. Make a statement with your own stand-out projects. Collaborate with like-minded talent.

Be expressive. Be fearless. Be ready to fly.

Need more tips for writing shorter copy? Check out my earlier blog: How To Write Short Copy – And Keep It Sweet

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter. Full stop.

E: caroline@carolinegibson.co.uk  T: +44 (0) 7957 567766

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