Copywriting Tips: How to Make Your Writing More Human

  •    Tim is a freelance business writer. He writes about the business of innovation, comics and genre entertainment on The Full Bleed.

An effective website uses good, clean copy. But what does that mean, really? Is good copy compelling? Grabbing? Click-worthy? Yes, yes and yes. But there's no way to get these results without writing plainly.

For example, your blog post about autonomous vehicles shouldn't say they'll "use sensors to navigate streets seamlessly" even if that's technically true. Try writing for the human benefit instead. In this case, autonomous cars "see like humans do," and they're able to drive around obstacles as a result. The more human the language, the more likely it is your copy will get the attention it deserves.

Good examples of writers making the complex sound and read simple are easy to find if you know where to look. Try the tech section of The New York Times, for one. There you'll find plenty of short, punchy stories that get to the point, fast, despite tackling complex topics.

BuzzFeed takes a similar approach in its tech reporting. Consider this between-the-eyes lede for a story about Bitcoin fraud: "Crypto Callz, a free-to-join chatroom on Telegram that artificially inflates the price of cryptocurrencies, is not shy about advertising what it is."

Or how about this setup at Adweek, for a story about Amazon's proposed Super Bowl ad featuring the Alexa voice-activated assistant: "Amazon will be in the Big Game."

Notice the pattern? There's no mystery, complicated language or over-explaining in the hook. Make your whole blog post read that way and you'll have readers coming back for more. Here are five tests to determine whether your copy is good enough to go viral:

  1. Your sentences have fewer than five words. Punchy sentences hit hard. They're quick, easy to understand. They're also instructive. Stocks up, bonds are down. Home prices rise. Buy one get one free.

  2. You rarely use commas. Every comma equals a new thought. String too many together and you've confused your reader. Don't believe me? Read this sentence aloud: Writing for humans, unlike writing for birds, writing for kids, writing for the stage, or any other form, style, or discipline of writing, is like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole.

  3. Jargon isn't in your vocabulary. Humans speak in single-syllable words. We rarely optimize or act diplomatically or operationalize or strategize. We work, we cooperate, we plan.

  4. Your neighbor would understand what you're saying. If you can envision your writing in a conversation with the neighbor on the other side of the fence in your backyard, you'll find an audience. If not, rewrite.

  5. It speaks well. Speak it aloud. If your words flow easily, you've got understandable copy. If not, try again.

How does your writing fare? Are you writing for humans — as legendary ad copywriter David Ogilvy would demand of his employees — or are you writing for search engines? Do the former and the latter will find and highlight your good work more often than you might expect.