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A simple trick to help you write clear and concise copy

March 28, 2013 | By | 6 Replies More

So this is a trick I teach any copywriter or editor I work with…

It isn’t difficult.

It isn’t time consuming.

And it certainly isn’t fancy.

In fact, it’s a very simple and purely technical change you make to your word processor each time you’re writing copy that will be read via email.

It’s particularly effective for articles, auto-responder copy and email endorsements.

It also returns great results for copy that will be read on a mobile device.

(Interestingly, 68.2% of All Good Copy readers read my emails on their mobile phone – the world is changing people, react!)

But anyway, before I explain how to set this trick up…

Let us briefly consider the philosophy behind it. I mean, I don’t want to encourage a lazy generation of copywriters.

Why this technical tweak improves your copy

I do this as standard now, but I thought it was about time I shared the idea.

People have been complimenting my writing style recently…

They say it appeals to them. That it’s clear and concise.

And hey, to everyone who has complimented me, I must say thank you. I really do appreciate the positive feedback.

But here’s the thing…

There’s no reason why you can’t write in the same way.

Apart from my inherent genius (I’m a copywriter, of course I’m arrogant), the reason my writing is clear and concise – most of the time – is because I force myself to adapt it to the way we consume copy.

Remember earlier I mentioned nearly 70% of you read my email on a mobile phone?

Well, the screen on a mobile phone is relatively thin – you can’t get much on a line.

So, if your copy is ‘thin’ – if you restrict how much is on a line – it makes it easier to read.

But this is nothing new…

Before mobile, people read their copy in email inboxes. They are thin too. Most of the window is taken up by functionality and online adverts.

And before that…

People read their copy in newspapers and magazines and the copy in those was… yup, you guessed it: thin. It was specifically designed to be printed in columns.

Why?

Because it meant there was less copy on one line, so it made it easier to read.

As I say, this is not a new idea. It’s just that a lot of people seem to have forgotten about it.

I haven’t and nor should you.

In fact, you should think about it regularly. In the modern world, chances are upwards of 50-60% of your copy is already being read on a mobile device…

Do you think people are going to scroll through long, dense paragraphs of copy?

No chance.

You need short, sharp sentences. You need paragraphs broken up by exclamations. You need copy that doesn’t give someone thumb-ache.

The good news is – thinking about these factors automatically results in your copy being more clear and concise. It just happens. Like magic.

And here’s where we get to the technical trick I mentioned at the beginning…

Force yourself to write cleaner copy

After all this preamble, you’re hoping this is going to be the revelation of the decade, right?

Well, er…

Jeez, I think I need a lawyer.

Basically, all you need to do in Microsoft Word is set your margin to 13, change your font to Courier New and change the font size to 10.

Ta-da!

Hmmm. You’re not satisfied.

You should be. Whether you realize it or not, I’ve just revealed a purely functional change to the way you write that will infinitely improve your copy.

By limiting yourself in this way, you’ll start to notice a number of things…

A simple change makes the difference: alter your font to Courier New, size 10 and your margin to 13.

A simple change makes the difference: alter your font to Courier New, size 10 and your margin to 13.

Firstly, there will be a lot more whitespace around what you write. Whitespace is your friend: you want as much of it as possible.

It means your copy will be much more appealing to the eye, be it in an email or on a mobile phone (and if you’re reviewing copy, when it’s printed it’s a lot easier to edit too).

Good copy should look like it’s going to be an easy read.

Secondly, you’ll notice that when you type over four lines of text, your paragraph will seem a little flabby. That’s because it probably is. So, cut it down.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s pretty damn close. Only very rarely can you make the case for five or six lines of copy in this format.

So, don’t be afraid to break your paragraphs up with exclamations…

Like this!

Although try not make them as obvious or laboured as that. They should enhance the copy by giving the reader a chance to breathe, whilst still being engaged in the flow of your copy.

Finally, when it comes to longer pieces of copy – an article like this for example – this format will give you a good indication of how long it is.

You’ll be able to see more objectively whether it needs breaking up with subheadings (roughly one per page of copy) or even dividing into separate parts (attention naturally wanes after more than three pages in this format).

All in all, it’s just a damn easy way to very quickly cheat your way to cleaner copy.

Give it a swing and see how you get on, I think you’ll find it useful. Indeed, be sure to comment below if it does help.

Best,
Glenn

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Category: Technicals

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher is a professional copywriter, founder of AllGoodCopy.com and author of Write Better Copy. He is an expert in long copy sales letters, having written copy that has so far generated more than £10 million in revenue. Born in Grimsby, he now lives in London.

Comments (6)

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  1. Oliver Wood says:

    Good advice. I’ve always adjusted my margins when writing anything destined for the column inches, but never occurred to me to do the same for mobile publishing – well done!

  2. Phil Rowson says:

    Yes, very good advice. I have been writing for a site that uses short articles, not unlike copy, and I have found this short para style works well

  3. I suggest the first step in making copy easy to read is to make the font size big enough that people don’t have to strain to read it.

    It looks like you use WordPress with someone’s theme. My rule of thumb is for normal text on a web page, the font size should not be smaller than 14px (the size I use by default).

    I’ve had many compliments from people of varying ages about how easy it is to read web pages I’ve designed. Don’t make them use [Ctrl][+] on their browser to increase type size so it’s readable.

    In your CSS files, set the paragraph font-size to 14 px with line-height to 120%. Quit wasting white space when you can make it a lot more readable. Set paragraph spacing to 50% of line-height. It’s a lot more inviting than broad spacing between paragraphs with small type.

    I’m not even willing to read the entire thing because the type’s too small (and I have good vision!). It’s too much work, and I shouldn’t have to resize my browser text-display.

  4. Sante says:

    Interesting read and yeah you do sound like you admire yourself 🙂

    What you are saying is TRUE more mobile readers and they deserve “special treatment” however I would exercise caution in use of this font: this post in fact is not very readable from my Mac for example. Mobile can and should be treated separately – there are many ways to approach this issue because in essence needs and expectations may (and in most cases do) differ significantly on the 2 platforms.

  5. Yasin Aydin says:

    I still have nightmares about ‘the paragraphs are too short they need to be longer’ requests i get every now and then..

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