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From the Trenches

How NOT to Write Web Copy: 5 Pet Peeves

Right Source | February 22, 2011

Your website looks fantastic. Your blog is easy to navigate, full of compelling images, and keyword rich. You tweet great insights about your industry regularly. Your Facebook page has tons of custom tabs.

All of this is wonderful, but without good writing, don’t even bother. Marketing—especially online marketing—depends on skill with words (ok, a red wheelbarrow, too).

Every day at Right Source Marketing, we write for ourselves and for our clients. And rewrite, and rewrite again. Everything we write is analyzed and edited for strategy, flow, and much more.

So when we see poorly written blog posts and awkward website copy, it drives us a little crazy. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, but below are some of the writing mistakes that absolutely make us cringe:

1. Exclamation points!!! Isn’t it so exciting to be reading this blog post!?!!! Actually, you probably want to take my exclamation points, and throw them off a cliff, don’t you? Of course, there’s a time and a place for everything, even exclamation points. But next time you feel yourself using more than one every five sentences or so, stop and think. Do you really need those exclamation points? They’re annoying, immature, and a crutch for weak writers. With a little rewording and reorganizing, you can get your point across by using strong diction and syntax, not ridiculous punctuation.

2. Over utilizing utilize. People don’t read blogs and websites for vocabulary lessons.  So hold the cream and sugar and the fancy words. Of course, you should sound intelligent, and use your business’ lingo (especially if you’re writing for a business to business audience). But don’t use big words just because they’re bigger. “Utilize” is a prime candidate for this. Sure, “use” gets…over used…but most of the time, when you feel the urge to write “utilize,” a word like “use,” or even better, a more specific verb, will do the job.

3. Than vs. Then. It’s amazing how many seasoned writers and business people don’t know the proper usage for the words “than” and “then.” For example: If you have more gusto than your boring competitor, then you might put them out of business. Than is for comparison, then is for sequence and order.

4. Its vs. it’s. The rule here is so easy to follow, but also so easy to get wrong. “Its” is possessive, and “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” For example: It’s fun to watch a dog chase its tail.

5. The fact that. As Strunk and White, authors of The Elements of Style, would say: “omit needless words.” Unless you’re stressing that something is a fact, and not a guess, 9 times out of 10, you can replace “the fact that” with just one word, even if it means you have to rearrange the sentence. For example: “My business is better than yours because of the fact that your employees smell bad” should be “My business is better than yours because your employees smell.” Ah, much better.

What are your biggest pet peeves? Spotted these mistakes anywhere funny recently? Comment, and let us know.

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.