Keeping it simple



When writing for your website, it’s essential to make every word count.  Reading webcopy is not like reading a book or magazine article: you can’t skip to assess the whole piece, so short sentences and paragraphs are key.

The essential question to ask is: who will read it?

What do you want your readers to understand and – most important – want them to do once they’ve read your invitation or exhortation?

How much and how long?  Again, it’s all in context.  A Chinese takeaway can afford a brief description on its menu: chicken chowmein in black bean sauce.  Unless it’s angling for Michelin stars, that’s all anyone needs to know (along with the price and delivery time).

If you’re selling a book or report, then you expect a customer to be willing to read a lot of words – so you can put a lot of words into your sales piece.

You can elucidate the benefits, build up slowly, provide a number of examples and establish your credentials.

If you’re selling something simple and obvious, then describe it in the same way.

Here’s a homely example of getting to the point:

A fishmonger (yes, it was that long ago…) chalked a board outside his shop:

                                                      FRESH FISH SOLD HERE

Later that day, he looked at it and thought: ‘I’m obviously not in the business of buying fish, am I?’

So he cut it down to:

                                                      FRESH FISH HERE

Then he realised: ‘I’m not selling fish anywhere else.’

He cut it down to:

                                                              FRESH FISH

Next morning, he looked and thought: ‘I’m not selling any fish that isn’t fresh.’

And so he got to:


We see the same principle at work on roadside signs for strawberries, vegetables and flowers.

One simple word is enough.  The passing motorist knows what’s on offer.

Is it clear what’s on offer from you?  Don’t be afraid to put it in plain, simple language – at least for starters.  You can always elaborate once you’ve got someone’s attention.


PS: there’s nothing modern about using superfluous words.  On the front of Christchurch, Spitalfields, a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street in London, is a sign:

                                                On Ash Wednesday February 17 1836

                                                This Tower was burnt in fire.

What else could have burnt it?!


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