Writing and editing are two seperate processes. You write, then you edit. Trying to do both at the same time leads to frustration and subpar copy.
Writing something down transforms it from an ephemeral thought into real, tangible words. Concepts in your head are in a constant state of flux. They’re living, slippery things that are all but impossible to get a firm grip on. That’s why writing them down is so powerful.
If you write something down and then immediately try to revise it what you’re really doing is trying to compare concrete words on the page with a wiggly, dynamic thought in your head. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. No, it’s like comparing an apple sitting still on a table with an orange that’s being blended into a smoothie.
The only real way to avoid making these unfair comparisons is to write everything down first, then go back and edit. That’s the only way to know that you’ve truly picked the best words to convey your thoughts.
In a letter written in 1657, Blaise Pascal wrote the following:
I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.
Blaise knew that a first draft is often a long, rambling affair that can be improved by putting in the time to tighten things up. Concise copy is often better copy, but why is it better? There are several reasons, many of which lead back to a simple truth: Clear and concise writing is respectful of the reader.
Shorter copy is more likely to keep your reader’s attention and saves them time. As your word count decreases, the likelihood that those words will all be read and thoughtfully considered increases. And, with fewer words, there are less places for boredom and repetition to hide.
If you want to make your copy more engaging, avoid writing as if you were speaking to a large group. Instead, write to a single, imaginary person who represents the rough average of your target audience.
Writing to a single person can have a huge impact, and strengthens your connection to your readers. Take this sentence, for example:
Core Assistance helps people share and create things on the web.
That is vague and disconnected. It refers to some nebulous group of “people” that you, the reader, may or may not be a part of. The phrasing also distances the author from the reader; it’s not me speaking to you, it’s just a general statement with no clear audience.
Now compare the example above to this:
Core Assistance is here to help you share and create things on the web.
Not a lot of those words changed, but the difference is profound. The gap between the author and reader has been closed. The relationship is now clear and comfortable. The purpose is clear. You, the reader, are clearly who I’m talking to. You are the one I want to help. It’s clear you’re in the right place.
Again, imagine that single individual that represents your target audience. Bring them into sharp focus in your mind. Visualize them sitting in front of you. What do you want to tell them? What are the words that would come out of your mouth?
Write that down.
If you’ve spent any length of time on the web you’ve probably seen something like this:
Click here to check out my website, Core Assistance.
That technically works, but linking this way will cause problems.
First of all, it makes the assumption that the person reading this can click. More and more people are using mobile devices with touch screens, and as we move forward there are going to be a significant number of people who have never even used a mouse.
Secondly, linking to things this way takes the person reading out of the narrative. You don’t need to beat people over the head with the fact that there’s a link. It’s clumsy.
Third, linking this way is often annoying to people with disabilities. Screen readers and other assistive software will often compile a list of all links, out of context, to provide a handy set of possible navigation paths for the user. If your link text isn’t descriptive on it’s own that list of links is going to be useless.
Let’s look at another approach:
Check out my website, Core Assistance.
That’s better. Much more natural, fewer words, and there’s no longer a disconnect between the text describing what’s being linked to and the link itself. The link is integrated into the sentence instead of being tacked on as a separate piece, which makes a big difference.
This all might seem like a small thing, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that links are the single most important part of the web, so taking time to do them right is worth it. Your readers will appreciate it, and what you write will be all the better for it.