10 tips to elevate your editorial copy

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By Tim Gardener


If you want to increase your organic search visibility, a blog post, long-form article, or whitepaper is a great place to start. But if you’re not a pro, how do you write in an engaging, impactful way that makes your audience act? That’s where we can help.

Outside of SEO keywords and optimisation tricks, you can employ a world of techniques to make your writing stand out. Here you’ll find a few devices I use to produce copy that resonates with readers. Keep scrolling for tips on creating top-notch editorial copy—from crafting punchy headlines to writing in the active voice.

1. Keep jargon at arm’s length

We all know jargon. They’re the words that make us sound smart in our respective professions or groups. But, in the real world, jargon creates a barrier between us and our audience. Remember, good copywriting is all about communication, speaking in a language our reader understands.

There are situations where jargon is necessary, of course. But if you’re not writing about a technical topic or to a specialist audience, it’s sensible to speak in words that are universally understood.

2. Use transitional devices

Ever had a conversation where someone frantically jumps from topic to topic? Well, the same thing happens in writing, too.

Abruptly skipping between topics without context will likely confuse the reader, so it’s sensible to weave your sentences together with ‘transitional devices.’ It sounds technical, but transitional devices are words or phrases that link your sentences together.

Examples include ‘likewise’ or ‘similarly’. Use them at the beginning of your sentence, and your reader will understand that you’re comparing a new thought with one previously covered. Similarly (see what I did there), you could use phrases like ‘even so’ or ‘despite’ to highlight a contrasting point. Just remember to keep things light and avoid sounding like you’re writing an essay.

3. Eliminate scaffolding

Scaffolding is copy that tells the reader when you’re writing. It frequently crops up in formal documents, and the three most common types include:

  • Phrases referring to the writer’s thinking and writing — We will explain, show, argue, claim, deny, suggest, contrast, summaries, etc.
  • Phrases reflecting the writer’s degree of certainty — It seems, perhaps, undoubtedly, I think, etc. (we also call these ‘hedges’ or ‘intensifiers’)
  • Phrases that tell the reader how to think — Consider now, as you might recall, look at the following example, etc.

So, if you notice any of these phrases pop up, whip that red biro out and remove them—your reader will thank you.

4. Remove redundant words

Stephen King once said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs”. Extreme, but he’s got a point. If you’re struggling to remember those GCSE English classes, adverbs are words that describe a verb.

Think “really”, “incredible”, or “always”—they tend to end in an ‘ly’. Now, in verbal communication, adverbs exist to offer emphasis, but when written, they rarely serve their purpose. As Mr King said, adverbs can clutter sentences and often muddy communication. Give it a go yourself—try removing adverbs to see if your point still makes sense.

The Hemingway App is a great tool to help you get started editing.

5. Avoid clichés

Ah, clichés. We all use them. They have their moment, but they also encourage readers to lose interest and skip through your copy, as they know what to expect.

Take “in these unprecedented times” as an example. Many brands were guilty of overusing this line during you know what. Now, it’s stale, unoriginal, and sounds like you’re writing a news report.

If all you can think of is a cliché to define your point—don’t worry. There are ways to turn your line into a valuable benefit that is more likely to resonate with your reader.

For example, say you want to talk about your company’s excellent customer service and find yourself writing, “we treat you like family”. Why not instead focus on a specific customer service benefit? It could be your 24/7 helpline, diligent staff or perhaps a care package.

6. You CAN start a sentence with ‘And’

For some reason, we were all taught that starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ is a syntax sin. But this isn’t correct. And it never has been.

Shakespeare, William Blake— heck, even Jane Austen used ‘and’ at the start of sentences. Beginning sentences with conjunctions can make your copy conversational— think about how often we use these words in daily life. So, if you ever resist starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’, remember it’s not a crime. It may even make your copy sound punchier.

7. Be mindful of bookends

Like your favourite ’90s romcom, a sentence should start and end well. So, think hard about the words you place at the bookends of every line.

Using words that are easily recognisable to your reader is a good idea. The end of a sentence could also feature a word or phrase you’d like to draw your reader’s attention to—often, this will be a point you’re looking to discuss in the following point.

8. Adopt the active voice

We understand people better when they speak clearly. And that goes for online content, too. Fortunately, switching from passive to active voice can give your writing more pep and purpose with a subtle tweak.

If a sentence is in the active voice, the subject performs the verb on an object. In the passive voice, the verb acts on the subject of the sentence. Let’s look at some examples:

Example 1

  • Active voice: Our community (subject) has always loved (verb) ballroom dancing (object).
  • Passive voice: Ballroom dancing (object) has always been loved (verb) by our community (subject).

Example 2

  • Active voice: I’ve (subject) got (verb) your message (object).
  • Passive voice: Your message (object) has been (verb) received (subject).

The active voice is snappier because it follows a clear chronological path, making them easier to read. To pluck the passive voice out yourself, look out for phrases such as “has been”, “have been”, “is being”, and “are being”.

There are some great tools out there that can help identify when you’re writing in the passive voice, one of which is Grammarly.

9. Signpost your reader

They say you’ve only got 15 seconds to grab your reader’s attention. And once you’ve got it, the rest of your copy needs to work hard to keep it. So, making your page an engaging and enjoyable experience for your audience is vital.

One way you can do this is to use frequent sub-headings that help break up the content, giving your reader a quick snapshot of what’s to come. You can also use bulleted lists and plenty of white space to give your writing some breathing room.

10. Write a head-turning headline

Writing a headline that gets your audience clicking and reading can be tricky, but the reward is worth the effort. As David Ogilvy once said:

“On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

If your headline doesn’t pique your reader’s interest, the rest of your copy becomes redundant—even if it’s brilliant. But here’s the good news: there are simple ways to ensure your headlines are too good to ignore

  • Ask a question – Pre-empt your customers’ questions by asking them yourself. Focus on the solution you’re offering the reader. For example, a gym selling equipment might say, “do you know which dumbbell exercises get the best results?”
  • Testimonials – A great way to sell your product or service to customers is by using…customers. Yes, word of mouth is still alive and well in the digital age. Use a real person who had a positive experience with your brand to instil confidence.
  • How-to Headlines – This type of headline sounds simple, but it sets clear expectations for the practical benefits your audience will receive by continuing to read. (e.g., ‘how to instantly boost SEO rankings in the hospitality industry’)
  • Indirect headlines – These ask questions rather than answer them. If your headline is mysterious, your audience may be curious to find out more.

Want to learn more about writing copy that converts? Speak to the TrunkBBI team today, and we’ll get our copy team on the case.