Web users are an impatient lot. Having run countless user tests, I can verify that users seldom read text the way they’d read a book. Rather, they scan through pages, looking for topics of interest. To be effective, web copy must be concise.
But how do we make our copy clear and concise? How do we know what words we can cut out?
Here are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years…
Use Strong Verbs
Too often, we’ll take a nice strong verb… then turn it into a noun and use a weaker verb. For example, instead of simply writing decide, we’ll write make a decision. What a waste of words. Other examples include:
- “Perform an evaluation” vs “Evaluate”
- “Conduct a survey among users” vs “Survey users”
- “Makes use of” vs “Uses”
- “Run a test on” vs “Test”
- “Is a good explanation for” vs “Explains”
- “Make an allowance for” vs “Allow for”
Use the Active Voice
Sometimes, the passive voice is better. (Especially when you need to sound objective, or you don’t want to call attention to the actors.) But mostly, the active voice is preferred: it’s easier to understand who’s doing what. Consider the following passive sentences:
- Several violations were found.<l/i>
- A good job was done by you.
- 12 subjects were tested by us.
- A good time was had by all of us.
Now compare the active versions:
- We found several violations.
- You did a good job.
- We tested 12 subjects.
- We all had a good time.
Avoid Cliches and Jargon
Cliches are phrases that have been ruined by overuse. They are a waste of words… and a sure sign that the author is on autopilot.
The one I despise most is “in any way, shape or form.” Other dishonorable mentions include:
- Avoid [whatever] like the plague
- Thinking outside of the box
- Reinventing the wheel
- Putting the cart before the horse
- Tail wagging the dog
- Touch base
- At this particular point in time (You mean “now”?)
Cut Out Half the “Thats”
One final, simple tip: When proofing your copy, look for the thats. Ask yourself whether each is really necessary. I find [that] I can usually eliminate about half of them.
- I knew that I could find the brand that she wanted.
- I knew I could find the brand she wanted.
Please feel free to chime in with other suggestions… or other pet peeves in terms of cliches.