Daily Tips & Tricks for Web Enthusiasts


Don’t Wait for Inspiration to Strike

There’s a common misunderstanding about inspiration: Many people think it precedes getting started, that it comes before putting in hard work. They think it springs forth from an unknown source, ready to propel, a source of energy unto itself.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Inspiration does not spring forth from nothing, it grows from the seed of effort. Beginning is the best way to cultivate inspiration.

The same is true of momentum; an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon. Motivation and energy aren’t just going to spontaneously appear. Like a fire they need to be built from the kindling of desire and the spark of doing work. Only after you’ve created the right environment and put in the hard work of getting things started will things really start to ignite.

If you want to be motivated to write, you need to write to get motivated.

Don’t Punish Yourself for Writing Badly

Writing is difficult. Some people devote their entire lives to writing, and many of them admit they still don’t have it quite right.

Like any other skill, writing takes practice. You’re not going to be good when you start. You may not even be good after a lot of practice. That’s okay. Remember, every time you string some words together you’re getting a little bit better. That’s what counts.

There will always be better writers, and there will always be better copy. It’s useful to look at great writing for inspiration and ideas, but don’t demand too much of yourself.

If you can’t assemble the masterful sentence your mind envisions, take solace in the fact that you are not alone. Also, and this is key, what you write doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Are you getting your message across? Did you find and remove the typos and other technical errors? Good enough!

Put in the practice and give yourself some grace on the hard days. Stretch yourself, strive to write well, but be okay with words that are good enough.

What Does Your Audience Want from Your Copy?

It’s important to take your readers’ motivations into account when you’re writing copy for your website. Think about their context as they browse your site and ask yourself: Is your copy giving them what they want when they want it?

If you’re selling an expensive product or service it’s more likely that your visitors are going to be more hesitant to buy. The higher the price, the more they need to make sure your solution is right for them. In this case, give them more details. Be verbose. Answer questions before they can think of them. Make sure they have enough information to make an informed choice.

On the other hand, if you’re selling something with a low price tag, it’s more important to keep your copy short and to the point to minimize distractions. You should still make sure you’re helping people make an informed buying decision, just keep your copy proportional to the situation. People spend less time thinking about a $30 purchase than a $300 one, and your copy should take that into account.

Regardless, don’t add sentences or paragraphs to increase the length of your copy without good cause, and don’t remove anything that needs to be there. Great copy has everything you need and nothing you don’t. Now, of course, different people need different things, which means you’re never going to write perfect copy that pleases everyone, and that’s okay. As long as most of your target audience is getting what they need with minimal distraction your copy is doing its job.

Delete That

One of the best writing tips I ever learned was that, in many cases, you can remove the word “that” from a sentence and the sentence will work just fine. In fact, your sentence will usually work better because it’s shorter!

Isn’t this one of the most amazing little writing tips that you’ve ever read?

Now, it’s important to remember that there are situations where you can’t remove the word “that”. That is something I want you to keep an eye out for when you’re writing. The word “that” is not a bad word, just an overused one that’s become a kind of filler word in many situations.

How’s that for a writing tip?

Recognize & Avoid Passive Voice

Writing in passive voice can make your writing vague, awkward, longer than necessary. Passive voice also increases the chance that you’ll exclude important information. Today I’m going to show you how to both recognize passive voice and fix it when you find it.

First, let’s talk about the opposite of passive voice: active voice. A sentence written in active voice has the subject performing the action. Here’s an example of a sentence written in active voice:

Justin is teaching you how to recognize passive voice.

That sentence is clear, easy to read, and simple to understand. In this sentence I’m the subject, the action I’m performing is teaching, and you are being taught.

Now let’s look at the passive voice version:

You are being taught to recognize passive voice.

When using passive voice the subject of the action gets promoted to the subject of the sentence. This makes the sentence sound a little strange, and makes it a bit harder to parse and understand. But the problems don’t end there!

Using passive voice increases your risk of leaving out vital information. That’s what happened above. Who’s teaching you? Where did I go? You are now the subject of the sentence, which means forcing the previous subject out. If we try to work me back in, the awkwardness increases:

You are being taught to recognize passive voice by Justin.

That sounds horrible, and it’s even harder to read.

Now, it’s important to understand that passive voice itself is not wrong. In some specific situations it’s actually intentional or preferred. Here are some cases where passive voice makes sense:

  • When the identity of the subject is unknown. This is often the case when writing about crime, or when something anonymous happens. “The laptop was stolen.” “$300 was donated.”
  • When the identity of the subject is not relevant in the current context. “The rocket launch was successful.” “A new species has been discovered.”
  • When the identity of the subject is being concealed on purpose. Politicians and businesses use passive voice to conceal information or avoid blame. “Mistakes were made.” “The asset was secured.” “Your server will be offline for maintenance on Tuesday.”

If you find yourself in any of these situations passive voice might actually be the right choice. That said, it’s important to recognize these situations as what they are: exceptions. Most of the time, active voice is the best choice.

So, if you write a sentence and it sounds a bit off, ask yourself if the subject is taking the action involved. If the subject isn’t taking the action, but is being acted upon, you’ve likely got a case of passive voice.

To fix passive voice, first determine who or what is taking the action. Now rewrite your sentence so they are the subject. You should end up with a better sentence that’s easier to understand, and will often be shorter to boot!

Powerfully Potent Proofreading

You should always find someone else to proofread your writing if you can, but sometimes that isn’t possible. Not to worry! When you’re on your own there’s one easy thing you can do to boost the effectiveness of proofreading your own work: change contexts.

During the act of writing and editing you can easily get too familiar with your surroundings. You stop noticing the room you’re in. You stop paying attention to the text editor you’re using. You stop noticing details. The individual letters and words you’ve written merge together into an abstract blob that represents the concepts you’re writing about. That’s your brain doing its job; it’s designed to take intricate details and abstract them away into simple concepts. This is quite useful for day-to-day life, but it’s murder when you’re trying to edit or proofread.

The good news is that you can get your brain to truly notice your words again simply by changing the context. This technique works best if you can change both the context of your work and your own context.

To change the context of your work try printing what you’ve written and edit it with a pen. No printer? No problem: Print to a PDF, or copy and paste your text into an entirely different app with a different typeface and text size. The idea here is to move your words around and get them to both look and feel as different as possible so your brain notices them again.

As a concrete example, I write these tips in the WordPress dashboard, but I preview them on the site when I proof them. Everything about how the words are displayed is different when I do this, which helps me catch a lot of things I would have missed otherwise.

Another great way to change the context of what you’ve written is to read it aloud. This may not be possible if you’re in a quiet environment, but even whispering it to yourself is better than nothing.

To change your own context simply go into another room to edit and proofread. Maybe it’s your living room, a conference room, the break room, a coffee shop… as long as it’s different enough to jar your brain out of complacency you’ll be able to proofread more effectively.

Find a Proofreader

If you’re writing anything of any importance get at least one other person to proofread it.

Yes, you can proofread your own work (and you should!), but nothing beats a different pair of eyes. Different eyes are attached to a different brain, and that brain is filled with different thoughts, emotions, and perspectives. Those differences will lead to commentary, insights, and revelations you simply cannot have on your own.

You are simply too close to your own writing to proofread it as effectively as someone else can. You often can’t see the forest for the trees, which means you’re going to miss small things like typos and big things like forgetting to remove several sentences you thought you removed yesterday.

Writing is difficult. It gets easier the more you do it, but you’ll never master it. You’ll never reach a point where your words won’t benefit from someone else reading them. Even professional authors with dozens of popular books have proofreaders look at their work before publication. My wife, Aleen, proofreads every single one of these tips before they’re published. Her input has been instrumental to the level of quality and utility you see here at Core Assistance.

Oh, and one last thing: When you find a good proofreader, show your gratitude. Tell them how awesome they are, and do so frequently. Take them to lunch. Pay them. Whatever the arrangement is, make sure you show them how much you appreciate them because a good proofreader is rare and incredibly valuable.