Why Good Writing Matters

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The Preamble

Recently at a liquor store, a man in a gingham shirt offered me a sample of craft beer. Always a fan of a freebee, I tried the beer—and realized much too late that Gingham Shirt fancied himself a real marketing genius. Trapped by my own politeness, I smiled and nodded as he bent my ear about the best tactics for selling. He told me how, back when he was in marketing school, they used to have a saying: buy one, pay for another one.

“Sorry?” I said, confusedly.

“Buy one, pay for another one,” he repeated, clearly quite pleased with himself.

The gears in my brain were turning. Did the slogan mean that you bought something and then paid for it again after buying it? That didn’t seem like a good deal at all. I was confused. Very confused.

He finally explained that the slogan is about getting people to buy more than one of something. It really should have gone “buy one thing, experience so much satisfaction that you buy another of the same thing, and pay for each thing, as is customary.”

By this point, it doesn’t really matter though. I was so confused that I extricated myself from the situation as quickly as possible—without buying the craft beer Gingham Shirt was selling.

Here’s the takeaway: people don’t like being confused. They will actively avoid things that make them feel confused. If you’re in marketing and you make someone think too hard, they’re probably going to walk away from you. This is especially true when it comes to writing.

The Argument

Bad writing confuses people. Confused people don’t convert. This is important for marketers and copywriters to keep in mind.

The human brain can only do so much at once. Anytime we do anything—shopping online or electronically filing our taxes—our brains are working. Cognitive load is a measure of the effort your brain is using. If you want someone to complete a task—buying a pair of trousers or subscribing to an online magazine—you want to keep the cognitive load as low as possible.

The Way You Should Write

Obviously, there will always be some effort inherent in any task. But you can make things easier by eliminating anything that might confuse your audience—like bad, confusing needlessly complex or overly cute writing. You have a goal for your marketing, and something you want your audience to do. Help them do it by following these simple rules:

  • Say what you mean. It’s tempting to try to be clever and creative; do it only if it doesn’t confuse your messaging. If you want your audience to buy something, tell them to SHOP NOW.

  • Use positive statements. They are inherently easier to process than negative statements.

  • Use simple words and sentence construction. Most people will scan your copy and this will ensure they understand you.

  • Use consistency and patterns. If you have 65 product descriptions on your website, use the same format every time so your audience only has to figure it out once, and can easily compare the features of one product to another.

  • Use proper grammar. Improper grammar is confusing.

  • Use correct punctuation. Incorrect punctuation is distracting.

The Conclusion

If you overthink your copy, your audience has to as well. If you under-think your copy, your audience has to work harder to understand it. Straightforward language, proper grammar and clear messaging make things easier to process.

Lindsay Seguin