I’ve long banged-on about the importance of brevity and clarity when writing online copy.
More often than not, ‘informational’ content seems to be simply written for print or just copy and pasted from *shudder* administration documents straight into a website, with very little consideration for how many website users will:
- Visually scan webpages
- Get bogged down or navigate away from unnecessary content or jargon
- Ignore unsubstantiated adjectives / platitudes.
In short, web content should get to the point.
Funnily enough, one of the best (unintentional) approaches to developing a good copywriting style for the web can be found in a 1946 essay by George Orwell:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
- One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails.
I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.