Bloated writing – when your copy is swelling with useless words and phrases.
I have a confession to make. I have a habit of creating bloated copy.
In my early days as a freelance writer, I needed to reach a specific word count to get paid – typically 500 words per blog post. Writing for content mills meant it was impossible for me to get to know my clients enough to create high-quality, sales-getting copy that really mattered. And at $5 per post, I couldn’t afford to create anything better than filler content sprinkled with a magic ratio of keywords.
Nowadays, Google has cracked down on meaningless filler content. I started writing better blog posts and copy. I began to charging based on the value I bring my clients, rather than by word.
Since I stopped using content mills, I get to see the results of my writing almost immediately. I get to help my clients promote their content, and show them ways to make the most of my carefully crafted copy.
But my first drafts remain embarrassingly bloated.
That’s what the editing process is for: bursting the bloat so the value of your words can shine through.
Be Clever, But Not Too Clever
Copy also suffers from bloat when we express ideas in more words than necessary to add imagery or cleverness. This is great for, say, a novel. Readers get hooked on novels. They love to slowly absorb each passage, imagining the characters and settings.
Online readers who visit your website, however, are unlike novel readers.
They don’t have time for imagery. That’s what images and videos are for.
Wordplay and clever explanations are sometimes appropriate, but they can lose meaning for an audience who is reading in their second language. At other times, readers are too tired or impatient to sift through double entendres and idioms.
Err on the side of simple. If your offering has value for your ideal reader, you won’t have to wrap it in cleverness to make the sale.
Breaking The Rules
Remember when your English teacher said you should never write incomplete sentences? Or when she corrected sentences that begin with conjunction words like “And,” “But,” or “Or”?
These rules still apply to many types of writing. But not online copywriting.
Short, choppy sentences keep your reader’s attention. They don’t have to be complete. Or perfect.
Incomplete sentences get your point across quickly. They help create a distinct, casual voice that your loyal customers will begin to recognize.
Common Causes Of Copy Bloat
I’m a repeat offender with many common copy bloaters.
In fact, I just typed “many of the common copy bloaters,” just a moment ago. I killed “of the” because those words were not crucial to meaning of my sentence.
Some bloaters exist to “cover your ass” so to speak. You might not be able to claim that your doggy dental chews cure gingivitis, but you can say “can help fight gingivitis” to avoid lawsuits. “Can help” sounds suspiciously non-committal to most consumers. But unrealistic promises are also suspicious. Go with your gut, and consult your lawyer if you’re not sure.
Split long sentences. Short and choppy, with a few longer sentences sprinkled in, makes for a great rhythm for copy that’s fun to read.
Don’t Let Bloat Slow You Down
If I, a copywriter who writes daily, cannot avoid bloat on my first drafts, you shouldn’t feel bad if you have the same issue.
Don’t worry about the bloat. Write from your heart. Don’t delete and rewrite as you go. Don’t second-guess yourself.
A long, bloated “sloppy copy” is a beautiful thing. Take a break, then go back to your draft and trim the bloat. You’ll be left with a concise, easy to understand text that online readers will love.
Adam Paudyal says
Short and choppy sentences, with fewer longer sentences sprinkled in…Lindsay, seems like this post is written for me 🙂
I know I have a big issue with bloated writing. I tend to write longer sentences all the time. It is a habit I picked up from my school days where we had to write essays after essays..after essays.. We had to come up with certain number of words in a certain time limit..and to make matters worse, we were encouraged to write longer sentences in my native, Nepali language. Old habits die hard lol..