Monday, January 31, 2011

Lessons learned from spam emails: Writing concisely and clearly

I received a spam email at my school account the other day. You know, one of those emails asking you to help relocate money from some foreign bank account to various charity organizations. Needless to say, I didn't bother replying. But these emails do make me laugh. They're so terribly written, you'd have to be an airhead not to recognize them as spam.

Their mistakes are mistakes marketers, or any writer, should be careful to avoid. While the poor grammar and sentence structure may be obvious in a spam message, the mistakes in your own writing are much more difficult to notice.

Good writing is concise and clear. It does not contain random changes in case or structure, and it does not contain excessive wording. While your writing will probably never be bad enough to give a reader a headache the way a spam message does, it can still lose a reader's attention.
  • Stay active ("She sells sea shells by the sea shore" is much better than "The sea shells were sold by her at the sea shore.")
  • Cut excess words.
  • Make sure your writing is clear of any jargon.
  • Make sure you keep indicators like "that" or "then" when you're writing to a broad audience.
  • Stick to basic punctuation, but realize it may change for different countries.
For more specifics on writing concisely, I recommend reading The Yahoo Style Guide, which you can purchase on Amazon or read on Yahoo's website.

What are some tips you have for making your writing effective?

1 comment:

  1. I would stress the important of the boldface statement. Sir Walter Scott said that he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client. We develop "situational blindness" after seeing the same things repeatedly. I often don't see glaring mistakes in my own writing until AFTER I've hit Submit.

    With a nod to Sir Walter, we should remember that a writer who is his own editor has a fool for a client.