As all writers know, words are immensely powerful. You can make readers laugh or cry with fewer than a hundred of them. You can part people from their money. You can make someone’s day. You can change the course of lives.
And you don’t have to be Spider-Man to know that “with great power comes great responsibility.” But why not let ol’ Spidey give us some tips for responsible word power?
Spidey Says: Your Writing Should Be Honest
Of course you should check facts and, where possible, cite sources in your articles. That’s just the basics. Being honest in your writing goes further than that.
It means you’re responsible for including information that you might prefer to omit. If you’re reviewing a product on your blog, for instance, you need to give the bad as well as the good.
It actually builds your credibility and often increases sales to admit the downside. Any good copywriter will tell you that.
Being honest also means sharing something of yourself with the reader. It means being willing to put your own experiences on the page. It means using your heart, and not just your brain, to produce what you write. It may even mean turning down a copywriting job if you feel that you cannot honestly advocate the service or product that you’re asked to write about.
Spidey Says: Your Writing Should Be Good
Along with every other writer, you’re responsible for the future of language. That means doing the best you can to produce a polished piece of writing, without getting lazy or sloppy in your rush to finish the job. “Good writing” means different things to different people – but at least hold yourself to your own standards.
That might mean:
- Don’t use words that make you cringe when you read them.
- Use powerful words sparingly.
- Don’t go for the easy cliché or stock phrase.
- Avoid woolly language and euphemisms – be confident enough to say what you mean, and where appropriate, don’t pull your punches.
- Don’t make simple grammatical mistakes or punctuation errors.
Spidey Says: Your Writing Should Be Clear
A piece of writing might be perfectly “good” but incomprehensible. Take care to express your words in a way your audience understands. Unless you’re writing an academic paper, or a very technical software manual, express yourself in “layman’s terms”.
No reader will struggle through advertising copy that makes them feel stupid. Avoid jargon. Spell out acronyms – even if you think everyone knows them. What will better engage your readers: using long words to show off your vocabulary, or using short, direct words to demonstrate your ability to write clearly and vividly?
Spidey Says: Your Writing is a Reflection of You
When you’ve finished a piece – article, blog post, direct marketing letter – consider whether you’d be glad to have your name associated with it. Even if it’s ghost-written, is it something you’d want people to know was yours?
If you have reservations, take a good hard look at what you’ve written. Are there places where you’ve misled readers? Have you exaggerated the benefits of a product in a way that’s only going to lead to an unhappy customer? Have you left clumsy phrases or poorly-expressed sentences in the piece?
Don’t send off a project to the client, or publish the article on your site or in your newsletter, until you feel it’s something you can proudly put your name on.
What about you? Do you have other criteria that guide the use of your word power?