It is certainly true that we don't get a second chance to make a first
impression. As the impression we make on the Internet is almost always with the
written word, is it unfortunate that there is so much poor writing bouncing
around in cyberspace. The following tips are intended to help you make a better
Speaking of first impressions, I don't want to present myself as "the Final
Authority". Dave Barry readers know that would be "Mr. Language Person". I'm
just a guy who's been writing marketing and training materials for a couple of
decades and I've picked up a few things. If they are of value to you, I'm glad I
- Know your audience. Who are you trying to reach and what is the best
approach to accomplish your goal? Should you be informal, strictly business or
- Plan what you want to say before you type the first word. Make a few
notes. You will stay on message better and present a more readable piece.
- No matter how extensive your vocabulary, resist the impulse to dazzle
your readers. You may impress some but you'll lose many more. Common, everyday
words work just fine - that's how they became common.
- Avoid jargon whenever possible. Yes, almost every undertaking has its own
language, just write at the level most appropriate for the vast majority of your
readers. If in doubt, see 3. above.
- Syntax (sentence structure) matters. When I hear something like, "Me 'n'
John went to..." it's like fingernails down the chalkboard! People who speak
that way probably write the same way, I figure. If your word processor has a
grammar checker, use it - the spell checker won't help in this kind of
The other person always comes first, so it is "John and I went to...". The
trick for determining whether to use I or me is to drop the other person and say
it. I doubt you'd say "Me went to...". Right?
- Short sentences are more powerful than long ones. They are easier to read
and hold the reader better. It might just be two words: Janet smiled. Depending
on what preceded it, those two little words could be very powerful indeed. Think
how important this sentence can be: I do.
- If you're writing ads and you'd like them to stand out, avoid using the
same approach "everyone else" is using. Look at how many ads use some variation
of "Make $16 Million Before Lunch!!!!!!!!!" and then do something else for
yours. Nobody really buys that stuff anyway, do they? Use your imagination.
- Some words simply cannot be modified, so don't. Among these,for example,
are unique and pregnant. Nothing can be "very unique" because unique means
something of which there is only one. And a woman is either pregnant or she
isn't. She cannot be "somewhat pregnant".
- Punctuation is critically important. If you don't think so, study the
following sentence. It can be punctuated to create opposite meanings: Woman
without her man is nothing.
I think the most grossly overused punctuation mark is the exclamation point!
There is a school of semi-thought that seems to have concluded that a thing is
more important, or exciting, or urgent if multiple exclamation points are used,
as in: Buy NOW!!!!!! Actually, it just means the writer doesn't know much about
- Use comparative suffixes (-er, -ier, -est) rather than "more". The
weather is getting cooler, not "more cool". She is happier, not "more happy".
Enjoy your writing, it can be a real adventure!
About The Author
Copyright © Kent E. Butler/Butler Marketing Group
Kent Butler has been in marketing and sales since just after the discovery
of dirt. He has written a great variety of things, from sales letters to
screenplays. If this piece was helpful to you, he's happy. You are cordially
invited to explore his Internet Resouce Center at
http://www.ButlerMarketingGroup.com If you became a customer, of course,
he'd be even happier (not more happy).
This article was posted on February 4, 2002