Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is a favorite among the Fluxe team. We consider it essential reading and give it to all new team members. Handley’s writing manual covers the essentials for creating compelling copy and marketing material that connects with your audience.
Whether you’re in a climate of crisis or an economic boom, clean copy always creates better results. Here are a few of our favorite nuggets from the book that’ll help you improve your communication no matter what you’re writing.
1. Brevity & Clarity Matter More Than Ever
Handley points out that we’ve become “a planet of publishers.” That’s a gift for your business but also for your competitors. Brief, clear copy seizes the opportunity to share your messaging, despite all the voices shouting for attention.
It’s never been more important to create copy that’s both brief and clear.
Brevity and clarity matter more than ever.
2. Make it All About Your Reader
Make your writing all about your reader by adding utility, inspiration and empathy. Handley says that: “If the value of any one of these things (utility, inspiration, or empathy) is zero, then the sum of your content is a big fat zero, too.”
It’s good to break up your body copy with a few images.
A survey by Fluxe Digital Marketing found that 94% of B2B blog readers appreciate images because they break up the copy and make information more digestible.
3. Most Important Words Start the Sentence
Clogging up the start of your sentences with qualifiers isn’t helpful. Your readers are more engaged when you put the most important words at the start of the sentence. Common examples to avoid:
4. Frame Your Reader in the Picture
Ask yourself how you can make your content a gift to your reader. That means you, as the writer, are in service to your audience. Handley offers six questions to keep in mind as you write.
It’s important to frame your reader.
When you frame your reader, your audience can see how your content is relevant to them and how it can impact their lives for the better.
5. Produce “The Ugly First Draft”
Handley recommends starting content creation with a super rough draft that she calls The Ugly First Draft (TUFD).
Just get words on the page or “write badly...as if no one will ever read it” knowing that you can “slap those words around a little” when it's finished. The idea of TUFD is to break through that terror-inducing blank white page, so don’t worry about:
6. The More the Think, the Easier the Ink
If you’re struggling with a sentence, it’s probably because you haven’t thought about it enough. Handley says: “the more you think about what you want to say... the easier it is to say.” After taking time to consider the key points, it's easier to convey ideas and their supporting arguments.
7. Make Every Paragraph Earn its Keep
Create sentences that develop your point without jumping around from one aspect to another. Each sentence should add something unique to its paragraph. Build on your idea with each line and, when you’ve made your point, call it a paragraph.
8. Show, Don’t Tell
Great content “shows how your product or service lives in the world” and it does this by bringing copy to life with details. Instead of a deadpan statement, use descriptive language to paint a picture in your reader’s mind.
We generate more leads with content.
Thoughtful content delights your audience so they hit the subscribe button to hear more of what you’ve got to say.
9. Make it Simple, Not Simplistic
“No one will ever complain that you've made things too simple to understand,” says Handley. In a marketing context, this means making your content simple for the customer to understand.
Use graphs, diagrams, and even whitespace wherever they may help your reader understand the message your content conveys.
10. Use Analogies
Analogies help the reader understand something unfamiliar by using familiar terms. They’re a great tool to help explain more complex ideas, and their descriptive nature makes use of the Show, Don’t Tell principle above. Handley recommends using “familiar yet surprising” analogies. One example from the book is:
30 million people were affected.
30 million people were affected. That’s almost 10% of the US population, or just over the population of Texas.
11. Approach Writing Like Teaching
Good content strives to help the reader make sense of the world. If you understand the subject a little better than your reader, work to help them up to your level. This is true even when writing content that isn’t instructional. Use supporting evidence where possible and share why things are the way they are.
Longer words, sentences and paragraphs force the brain to postpone comprehending ideas until the words come together to make sense. This is bad for readability.
Everybody Writes offers some basic guidelines:
13. Use Real Words
Avoid the kinds of words you’ve heard too often in throwaway press releases. They’re okay to use occasionally and in the correct context, but don’t overuse them. Examples include:
14. Passive vs. Active
Many find the passive vs. active voice principle tricky. It’s easy to underestimate the negative impact passive voice has on your content.
Handley explains the difference between passive and active voice in simple terms. “Passive means that something is being done to something, instead of that something doing the action on its own.” Here’s an example from the book:
The video was edited by a guy named Hibachi.
A guy named Hibachi edited the video.
Let us Know Your Writing Tips
If you’ve got writing tips from your favorite marketing or writing books, or if you’ve read this book and think I’ve missed out on a good one, let me know in the comments.