Copywriting Is Rewriting: Eatable Is Readable

“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably”, wrote the British author Clive Staples Lewis. Not only do they combine, we might add, they also have interesting things in common, especially regarding the specific features of online reading.

In a landmark article of 2001, Leslie O’Flahavan and Marilynne Rudick use the food metaphor to refer to the different appetites of web content readers, which good web writers should be able to satisfy by providing different amounts of content based on individual “content hunger”. This web content writing and editing strategy is referred to as “bite, snack and meal”.

It’s like inviting people to a dinner party: “Deborah will only nibble on the salad; Laura will snack on the chicken; and Dan will cheerfully devour everything you serve.”

So, we will write a good heading for Deborah, something light but full of essential vitamins (bottom line, main keywords). Laura wants a little more, but is not into a full meal: a tasty abstract will go down well, a detailed paragraph with lots of substance (main points, ideas, secondary keywords). And finally we have Dan, the gourmet guest who is not following any diet but is looking forward to trying the whole document (headings, abstract, paragraphs, and maybe even links to additional information).

In this vein, Nathan Wallace wrote about catering for “many interest levels”, from no interest to detailed interest and beyond: “Every person has a certain level of interest in every piece of information. A writer should help each reader get their desired level of information as quickly as possible.”

There is another good reason for adopting this writing approach and it has to do with the ever increasing importance of the mobile web. In his article on writing mobile-friendly content, the SEO guru Neil Patel observes that the “bite, snack and meal” approach is similar to the “inverted pyramid style of writing where the reader is presented with the most important details before the secondary ones”.

Good old basic web writing principles continue to apply to mobile, content-hungry readers of the 21st century.

By our WiseGuy Andrea Spila

Copywriting is rewriting: scannable is readable

“Easy reading is damn hard writing” wrote the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. This holds particularly true for web writing, that is writing for an environment in which reading is a particularly difficult activity.

As Jakob Nielsen wrote in a seminal article, more than ten years ago, readers on the web often don’t read, they simply scan content and pick out individual words and sentences.

So, the best way to create an easily readable text for a web reader is to make it scannable. Nielsen proposed six techniques to achieve this goal:

  • using highlighted keywords (e.g. hypertext links, bold or colored text)
  • using meaningful sub-headings (including relevant keywords)
  • using bulleted lists (as this one)
  • writing one idea per paragraph
  • adopting the inverted pyramid style (i.e. starting with the conclusion)
  • using half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

Although Nielsen’s article was written in the past century, these techniques still apply to many types of content, as well as to different devices. For example, Neil Patel introduces mobile-friendly writing techniques that are partly similar to Nielsen’s: particularly interesting is the bite, snack and meal technique that I will cover in the next post of this series, and in general the idea of content chunking, i.e. offering small, meaningful and visually distinct paragraphs that can be easily read on a mobile screen.

Writing a scannable text indeed requires “damn hard writing” particularly with regard to content structure, but if “easy reading” is our objective we need to rewrite our content in order to adapt it to the harsh environment of our readers.

By our WiseGuy Andrea Spila

Copywriting is rewriting: the art of lightness

“The only kind of writing is rewriting”, wrote Ernest Hemingway, referring to the painstaking revisions that writers have to make to their own texts. Not only writers but translators, copywriters, web writers, you name them… All text creators rewrite continuously, until they reach their objective: being understood and appreciated by readers.

Each author has a different idea about rewriting, a different working method, different priorities. Italo Calvino focused on the importance of lightness: “My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

How can we apply Calvino’s lesson to copywriting?  How do we subtract weight?

Here are a few ideas that will help you to make your texts “lighter”:

  • substitute “marketing” hype (“an awesome hotel”) with realistic terms
  • substitute passive verbal forms with active equivalents
  • substitute long words with shorter synonyms
  • eliminate unnecessary sentences
  • eliminate clichés
  • eliminate redundant words (especially adjectives)

There is a lot of tightening and cutting involved, the main aim being to reduce verbosity. But lightness is not only achieved by subtraction, by chipping away at your text until you can’t eliminate anything else. A lot can also be achieved by substituting – not an easy task for a writer because it entails finding new ways of saying things and abandoning habitual forms of expression. As we will see, using synonyms and adding variety to content is a crucial strategy also for SEO copywriting. Lighter texts are more digestible, both for humans and engines.

By our WiseGuy Andrea Spila