5 Writing Tips for Clear and Simple Copy

Our intern Tom writing social media posts.

Expressing yourself clearly can help enrich your personal life and make your business communications more effective. Here are a few easy tips to help you deliver your message clearly.

  1. Active and Passive Voice:

    When a sentence uses active voice, the subject performs the action denoted by an action verb, as in the sentence “Downtown Houghton businesses hit record holiday sales.” Active voice is more engaging and immediate, whereas passive voice can seem a bit stiff and awkward, as in “Record holiday sales were hit by Downtown Houghton businesses.”

  2. Conjunctions:

    The pros call them conjunctions. We call them connectors. Technically, conjunctions link two or more ideas smoothly by joining words, phrases and clauses together. Our favorite reason for using these connectors is to help personalize the tone of the writing.

    Here are a few examples of coordinating conjunctions:

    • But
    • Or
    • And
    • Yet
    • So
    • For
  3. Serial Commas:

    One of the most debated and confusing rules of grammar is the serial comma — the last comma in a list. If you’re an Oxford-style writer, you prefer using the last serial comma, but others want it abolished! We have comma disagreements around the office, and while both sides have agreed to disagree, we do agree on one thing — comma consistency is important!

    Here are two options:

    • The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has many great communities like Houghton, Ironwood, Marquette and St. Ignace.
    • The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has many great communities like Houghton, Ironwood, Marquette, and St. Ignace.

    The only difference is the last comma!

    One reason to use the serial comma is to separate three or more items that might be confusing without the comma. For example: “I’d like to thank my parents, Mary and John.” Without the serial comma, we might assume the parents are Mary and John. With a comma after Mary, we understand that the writer is thanking four people: her parents, plus Mary and John.

  4. Get to the point!

    When we distribute a press release to thousands of people, we know that 10% will read the headline only, 5% might read through the first sentence, and less than 1% will read the entire piece. This is true for most B2B communications. So, don’t beat around the bush! Say what you have to say in the headline and lead sentence.

    Here are a few good examples:

    • We are launching a new health product today that will change how you think about breakfast.
    • 29 million Americans suffering from diabetes now have an alternative insulin solution, expected to hit pharmacy shelves next week.
  5. Bridges:

    As we discussed in the paragraph about conjunctions, sometimes entire paragraphs need sentence connectors. Readers may have to work too hard to make connections between paragraphs that don’t transition smoothly from one to the next. We nicknamed these connectors “bridges” — short words, sentences, and sometimes paragraphs, that link ideas to create flow.

    Here are several examples:
    Again, likewise, in addition, also, as well, furthermore, moreover, conversely, nevertheless, on the other hand, on the contrary, although, even though, but, yet, while, however, except, thus, therefore, consequently, as a result, because, since, as, so, inasmuch as, admittedly, of course, naturally, for example, to illustrate, if one looks at, as shown by, previously, before, prior to, next, then, later, afterward, while, as, at the same time, during that time, first/second/third, a/b/c, lastly, next, then, finally, after that, until.