It is certainly true that we don't get a second chance to make a first impression. As the impression we make on the Internet is almost always with the written word, is it unfortunate that there is so much poor writing bouncing around in cyberspace. The following tips are intended to help you make a better first impression.
Speaking of first impressions, I don't want to present myself as "the Final Authority". Dave Barry readers know that would be "Mr. Language Person". I'm just a guy who's been writing marketing and training materials for a couple of decades and I've picked up a few things. If they are of value to you, I'm glad I could help.
- Know your audience. Who are you trying to reach and what is the best approach to accomplish your goal? Should you be informal, strictly business or something else?
- Plan what you want to say before you type the first word. Make a few notes. You will stay on message better and present a more readable piece.
- No matter how extensive your vocabulary, resist the impulse to dazzle your readers. You may impress some but you'll lose many more. Common, everyday words work just fine - that's how they became common.
- Avoid jargon whenever possible. Yes, almost every undertaking has its own language, just write at the level most appropriate for the vast majority of your readers. If in doubt, see 3. above.
- Syntax (sentence structure) matters. When I hear something like, "Me 'n' John went to..." it's like fingernails down the chalkboard! People who speak that way probably write the same way, I figure. If your word processor has a grammar checker, use it - the spell checker won't help in this kind of situation.
The other person always comes first, so it is "John and I went to...". The trick for determining whether to use I or me is to drop the other person and say it. I doubt you'd say "Me went to...". Right?
- Short sentences are more powerful than long ones. They are easier to read and hold the reader better. It might just be two words: Janet smiled. Depending on what preceded it, those two little words could be very powerful indeed. Think how important this sentence can be: I do.
- If you're writing ads and you'd like them to stand out, avoid using the same approach "everyone else" is using. Look at how many ads use some variation of "Make $16 Million Before Lunch!!!!!!!!!" and then do something else for yours. Nobody really buys that stuff anyway, do they? Use your imagination.
- Some words simply cannot be modified, so don't. Among these,for example, are unique and pregnant. Nothing can be "very unique" because unique means something of which there is only one. And a woman is either pregnant or she isn't. She cannot be "somewhat pregnant".
- Punctuation is critically important. If you don't think so, study the following sentence. It can be punctuated to create opposite meanings: Woman without her man is nothing.
I think the most grossly overused punctuation mark is the exclamation point! There is a school of semi-thought that seems to have concluded that a thing is more important, or exciting, or urgent if multiple exclamation points are used, as in: Buy NOW!!!!!! Actually, it just means the writer doesn't know much about punctuation.
- Use comparative suffixes (-er, -ier, -est) rather than "more". The weather is getting cooler, not "more cool". She is happier, not "more happy".
Enjoy your writing, it can be a real adventure!
About The Author
Copyright © Kent E. Butler/Butler Marketing Group
Kent Butler has been in marketing and sales since just after the discovery of dirt. He has written a great variety of things, from sales letters to screenplays. If this piece was helpful to you, he's happy. You are cordially invited to explore his Internet Resouce Center at http://www.ButlerMarketingGroup.com If you became a customer, of course, he'd be even happier (not more happy).
This article was posted on February 4, 2002
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