5 Tips to Avoid Writing that Reeks

I hate spam, but not just because it's uninvited and I get a lot of it, though both are true. I hate spam because of the way it reads. Whether it's spam email, snail mail, web copy, or otherwise, spam stinks. It reeks of falsehood. When you read spam, you think, "No one talks like this." And it's true, they don't.

But normal people, people who hate spam just as much as me, often write words that read like spam. Even if those words don't come uninvited, they still irritate our senses because they have that same malodorous, unnatural quality as spam.

Writing that is imprecise, stiff, or awkward is a guillotine ready to snuff the life out of our messages. As individuals and as marketers we cannot afford to be anything but clear, honest, and compelling. Fogginess and facade are both deadly, and will bore your readers as much as spam.

Whether you're wrestling with articles, web copy, emails to clients, or blog posts, here are five simple tips that will keep your writing fresh and fragrant -- ready to impress, persuade, and make amends on your behalf.

  1. Read it aloud. If it doesn't read well aloud, it doesn't read well period.
  2. Avoid jargon, words you wouldn't normally use, and long sentences.
  3. Write for your audience, not for you.
  4. If you're unsure of the mood, shoot for business casual.
  5. Pick up a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style; consult it often.

These tips will help you avoid the smelly quagmire of inhuman writing and propel you towards a place of clear, compelling communication.


Bonus tip from Hemmingway (hat tip to Copyblogger): Recognize that 90% of what you write needs to be rewritten. Don't be afraid to take the time and effort to thoroughly edit everything, even emails and internal memos. Put the shit in the wastebasket.

Written by Chris Allison on May 6, 2010


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A big Hello Mate, I am writing from Bendigo Australia. We have had a lot of bushfires lately and I've only just been able to connect to the internet. Thanks so much for the thoughtful article. It helped me a lot with my university social studies research :)

Chris says:

Hey Kelly,

Sometimes you do need a copywriter, but there are many situations where you have to step up and do it yourself. Hopefully these tips will help people out in those situations. Most of this should go unsaid for copywriters :)

Chris says:

Thanks Ashley! Glad you enjoyed it :)

Ashley says:

Good article and advice!

Chris, you forgot the most important tip of all! When in doubt, hire a copywriter.

Written by
Chris Allison