How to fix long, boring copy

Cut the copy.

Cut the copy.

Good. Now, cut the copy more.

Ah, the good old days of journalism classes in college. I learned ways to cut, cut and cut copy a little more (“write tight,” as one professor often put it). Not at the expense of journalistic credibility but as a courtesy to readers. When it comes to almost all copy, less is more, they emphasized.

Fast-forward to 2014. This old adage applies even more. The pace of life has picked up dramatically. Information, news, words and sounds all fly at us with lightning speed every waking hour of the day. We’re constantly slammed with text messages, voice mails, emails, tweets, instant messages, commercials and print ads.

Now, tell me … are your members going to take the time to read your trifold brochure that’s 98% covered with clip art and the 8-point font you used to cram in every possible word?

Not. A. Chance.

Very few readers have the time or attention span to invest more than a few seconds in what they’re reading (Fifty Shades of Grey fans a notable exception). With every word you type, a few more readers fall off the page (making me wonder how many readers I have left at this point and if I should have cut more copy). The trick is to engage your audience with copy that grabs and holds attention for the few precious seconds they might give you.

Here are a few ways to help shorten your copy and increase its effectiveness:

  • Use bullets, lists, subheads and short paragraphs
  • Break a long item into multiple pieces (the key is to make your copy “scannable”)
  • Time how long it takes to read the article, brochure, postcard, web page, etc. (if it’s more than 30 seconds, they will go to something else)
  • Use short words and simple sentences
  • Review your draft and see how many times you can (with grammatical integrity) delete words like the, and, really and very
  • Don’t use exclamation marks

You may want to consider a marketing audit to examine your materials for length and effectiveness (In visiting with a client recently we were talking about her newsletter …  when I noted the amount of copy in her piece she confessed, “If I received our newsletter in the mail, I wouldn’t read it”)

We live in a Twitter-centric society, at least when it comes to acceptable message length. While marketers aren’t directly tied to the 140-character limit in most of their copy, it might not be such a bad idea to act (and write) as if we were. You should also consider the fact that while people aren’t reading as much as they once did, they are consuming more data in smaller bites (and on smaller screens). Write as if you have to get your credit union’s message across the length of one smart phone screen (with no scrolling).

Look at your brochures, newsletters, website pages, emails and print ads. What can you cut? Where can you cut? Pruning a tree isn’t always fun but is often necessary for a healthier and more attractive yard. In marketing copy, you want to go more bonsai and less redwood. Treat your marketing copy the same way.

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details