Sunday, March 16, 2014


Copywriting: Short Sentences for Understanding and Impact

By Donovan Baldwin

Business owners painstakingly work to generate traffic, and interest, to keep visitors coming in...and coming back.

On the Internet, producing good copy is crucial since you have a very short time to get your visitors to understand the essence of what you have to say.

Since website visitors are probably not going to spend a lot of time searching for what they want to know, you don’t have the luxury of time to get the job done.

You must use short but powerful sentences.

You might not see the relationship to writing sales copy, but let's look at one of the most celebrated minimalist writers ever known...Ernest Hemmingway.

His writing was compact, and lacking flowery prose and unnecessary adjective. With Hemingway, he got you where he wanted you to be in just a few words. One supposed demonstration of his ability to say a lot in a very few words was when he was challenged to write a story...which he did...using just 6 words.

Hemmingway wrote: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.”

As you can imagine, one of his tips on writing effectively is to write in short sentences.

You might not become another Hemmingway, but, to help you get a bit closer to his style, here are some tips to guide you in writing your copy.

Longer sentences are going to bore most readers, so maintain the directness of your message through short paragraphs.

Most people visiting websites are even less interested in hanging around "reading" stuff! The average length of a good, short sentence should not exceed 23 – 25 words.

While short sentences can pack a punch and be easier to read, you've got to keep them interesting and easy to read.

Fact check: I counted 22 words in that last sentence.

You must avoid both being stuffy, which promotes boredom, while, at the same time keeping up the reader's interest. Actually, clarity is a good guide, since fuzzy, or convoluted sentences, not only hinder understanding, but produce frustration and boredom.

Begin with a good idea of what you want to say.

Write it down.

Then edit, edit, edit until your message is clear and easy to find in just a few words.

Sentence length should generally be within a certain range, but vary the lengths to keep the reader's interest renewed. If a sentence goes over here or there by a little, no real harm done. In fact, the difference in length keeps the reader moving and a short sentence here or there can be used to break up lengthy copy.

Short sentences can be used to "hit the reader" with important data or thoughts, or just make the copy feel like a conversation.

Don't you think so?

One simple way to write shorter sentences is to pick shorter words.

You see this being violated all the time. Using multiple words, or a "five dollar word" when there's a perfectly good basic (short) word is available is a common mistake copywriters make.

"Use" and "change" are just as good as "utilize" and "modify", easier to spell and more familiar to more readers.

I drive my wife crazy because I cringe every time I hear someone use the word "utilize".

Notice how I snuck that in?

English, although full of words from other languages, is basically an old Anglo-Saxon language with short, expressive words. Most people will understand the shorter words than the multi-syllable words taken from Latin or other languages.

Many feel that a complicated sentence with big words shows intelligence.

Maybe so, but does it sell?

Another way to create impact with short sentences, or phrases, is to use "bullets" or other forms of emphasis. You can also use numbers and letters to create a list of important points.

If you really must give more description, introduce the subject with a list of important points that you will be explaining in the text.

If you have to ask yourself if your grammar is correct, or look up the rule in a book, you're getting too complicated.

State things as a fact, or action in progress, and leave the future to Star Trek and Star Wars.

Here's a tip: Write as if your reader reads English pretty well, but it's not their native language. In other words, don't write as if they are stupid, but are not English majors.

Save the flowery prose for your Great American Novel. If you are writing advertising copy, keep it short, simple, and understandable.

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