If you’ve read our post on the benefits of long copy, you’ll know we believe in giving yourself room to make your points properly.

Even so, effective copywriting has to be punchy. Prose that’s too wordy wastes your readers’ time, bores them and stops them reading on. Marketing and advertising writers have always known this but so much business copywriting meanders, as if its readers have all the patience in the world.

Technical problems can be the cause, such as using phrases instead of single words (“due to the fact that” versus “because”), or the passive voice, which is often wordier than the active. But there’s plenty of good advice on fixing these issues, so I’m going to focus on the more fundamental flaws that overly long copy reveals.

1. You haven’t thought through what you want to say

When you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to communicate, it’s tempting to throw in everything you can think of. Some of it, after all, is bound to hit the mark. But your messages will be lost in the noise and without a clear structure or narrative, your readers will struggle to get anything from it. It’s far better to take your time, plan what you want to say and then say it.

A related problem is including off-topic material that you think is interesting. Don’t do it. Be ruthless with anything that doesn’t advance your cause.

2. You don’t care – or don’t know – that your writing is repetitive

Repetitive copy is maddening to read and a fast way to lose your audience. There are three main causes:

  • Bad editing – you haven’t reread your piece with a critical eye. But if you don’t care enough to do that, why should your readers care what you have to say?
  • Bad understanding – you’re not sufficiently on top of your subject to realise you’ve made the same point more than once, in different ways. The result is death for your credibility.
  • Bad argument – you’re not confident that you’ve got your point across, so you try again – and again. Instead, rework your prose until it communicates clearly.

3. You’re being disingenuous

You’ll know if you’re bending the truth and the chances are, so will your readers. Qualifiers and verbiage are the hallmarks of fudging. If you’re trying it on, you either need to be smarter about it or repent and realise the benefits of writing what you mean. If you’re honest, don’t run the risk of being misunderstood.

Take this example:

Intellectual property issues, regulation and growing pressure from customers have combined to produce an environment where the industry is associated with lower growth and greater risk.

I have no way of knowing if the company in question was being disingenuous – it could just be terrible writing – but look how the sentence puts distance between what it says and what it means: “produce an environment”, “associated with”. Note also that it’s the industry, not the company, that’s connected to the negatives. With some slight of hand, the company is now three steps removed from the issues it’s describing. But the problem is that it’s so easy to see through and it diminishes trust.

So next time you’re about to foist overweight copy on your readers, stop and ponder whether it’s revealing more than you realise.

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