Write better content with this one simple trick

Copyright Mervyn Chan

Copyright Mervyn Chan

Ever been burned by the ‘one simple trick’ trick? You click a link hoping to reduce tummy fat or look 10 years younger overnight, only to find the ‘trick’ involves handing over credit-card details in exchange for false promises.

But I promise this one simple trick – a basic editing technique - will help your brand content sing, with no need for credit cards or miracle pills.

Stop using 'is'

Can it be that simple? Yes. Read on to find out why this works and how to use this trick in your copy.

Expand this rule to ‘stop using passive verbs’, and your content will really take flight.

For those of you who can’t remember your grammar lessons, you’ll find the Oxford Dictionary explanation of ‘passive versus active verbs’ here: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/active-and-passive-verbs

But to sum up, ‘passive’ verbs, such as 'is’, ‘are’, ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘has’, ‘have’, ‘had’, and ‘am’, do what they say on the tin. They sit there, passively allowing sentences drift into dullness. 

Sometimes, the only way to say something without feeling contrived is to use a passive verb, so realistically, you shouldn’t remove all of them. But if you aim to replace 75% of passive verbs with active ones, your copy will keep people reading much longer.

Use an active voice

Inexperienced writers use ‘is’ and ‘are’ excessively – and this makes for exceptionally boring copy. (Poor writers also love clichés; find out how to fix that problem here.)

Think about what sets your heart racing in real life – passive or active experiences? Are you more energised by watching your mates play five-a-side or by kicking around the ball around with them? Listening to a debate or arguing a point? Looking at a pool or diving in?

Writing works the same way. Content that includes active verbs grabs readers and keeps them engaged, while passive verbs make them yawn and click away.

How to fix your passive copy

These three examples should help show how rethinking the sentence and paragraph structures can reduce the number of passive verbs in your copy. To achieve this, you'll need to write your copy, then go back and edit it at least once, if not twice (or even three times). Rarely will the first attempt at any content, whether a blogpost, Instagram caption or landing-page copy, start off in fully active mode, although having a clearly defined Tone of Voice guide can help reduce the number of required edits.

Tasty, but not nearly as good as what she had. Copyright: Jill Starley-Grainger

Tasty, but not nearly as good as what she had. Copyright: Jill Starley-Grainger

Restaurant review

Passive

This deli is where the famous restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed. This is where a fellow diner ordered ‘what she’s having’. They have bagels and stacked sandwiches on the menu.

Active

Remember the famous restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally? Step inside this deli and you can relive it. Don’t look at the menu of bagels and stacked sandwiches. Just ask for ‘what she’s having’.

All those uber-expensive transfers add up. Copyright Lexi Ruskell

All those uber-expensive transfers add up. Copyright Lexi Ruskell

Money-saving tip

Passive

There are often big differences in the cost of transfers in destinations with more than one airport. The fare from Rome Ciampino airport is £26, for example, and it is £43 from Rome Fiumicino, so while flights to Fiumicino are often cheaper, the difference in transfer price is so large that it is usually cheaper to fly into Ciampino.

Active

Don’t forget to check the cost of transfers in destinations with more than one airport. You’ll pay £26 to take a taxi from Rome Ciampino airport, for example, compared to £43 from Rome Fiumicino, so while flights to Fiumicino often appear less expensive, once you add in this difference in transfer price, Ciampino usually works out as the cheaper option.

Picnic among the vines with a bottle of vintage grape juice. Copyright Yair Aronshtam

Picnic among the vines with a bottle of vintage grape juice. Copyright Yair Aronshtam

Destination description

Passive

There are quiet lanes lined with orange-barked madrone trees in Dry Creek Valley, and it is possible to hire a bicycle here. There are tastings available at farmhouse wineries, which often have chickens in the garden and dogs that are happy to see guests. And the area has vineyards where you can have a picnic lunch of fresh salads and local cheeses.  

Active

Pedal a bicycle through Dry Creek Valley, its quiet lanes lined with orange-barked madrone trees. Stop for tastings at farmhouse wineries, where chickens scratch for worms in the garden and dogs rush out to greet guests, then spread a blanket next to the vineyard for a picnic lunch of fresh salads and local cheeses.

If your company needs help transforming its website and blog content from dreary to delightful, get in touch with us at info@InscribeContent.com