Sparks from a sparkler

Writing (and Editing) for Humans

We hear a lot these days about pleasing search engines by “writing for humans.” Writing for humans means writing sentences that are clear and whose meaning is apparent to a weary person reading your blog at 9 pm on a Wednesday night.

When writing or editing copy, think clarity first. I am not a hard-core grammarian but employ some editing tricks that instantly improve communication. I share them with you here.

Know your audience.
Ask yourself, “Who’s my audience and where will my content appear?” The answer will drive your approach, including the length of your content and your tone. Your voice in social media could be much friendlier and casual, say, than on your corporate website.

Use as little jargon as you can. Jargon and acronyms can go over the heads of lots of people you want to attract, not alienate. When in doubt, spell it out. Then use the acronym on second reference.

Just say it.
So many writers try to sound smart when all they do is obscure their meaning – and drive their readers away. The meaning of what you have to say should be paramount, not the fancy words you use to communicate it. Here’s an example I learned so long ago I can’t remember who first shared it:

Scary-bad sentence: I am desirous of attaining gainful employment. (Reader’s response: What? Zzzz…)

Reader-friendly sentence: I want a job that pays well. (Reader’s response: Cool! I know someone who’s hiring.)

Keep it short and sweet.
I constantly shorten the phrase “in order to” to just “to.”

I like to edit copy in order to help writers elegantly say what they mean. (See? Take out the “in order” and you get the same meaning with fewer words. Whew.)

A corollary to this is…

Use active verbs and make them count.

If you see words like “utilize” and “by” in your content, root them out like weeds. Utilize is an overly fancy way of saying “use” and besides, more expressive verbs communicate effectively on their own.

Long and convoluted: We are instituting new policies to utilize when interfacing with clients.

Shorter, clearer: We are instituting new policies for interfacing with clients. (You don’t need “utilize” when you have “instituting” and this sentence sounds more decisive.)

The word “by” often lurks in passive-voiced copy. Passive voice is as annoying as passive-aggressive behavior, and leaves your reader bored.

Passive: A safety video will be watched by all the employees every year.

Active: The employees are required to watch a safety video every year.

Keep these simple editing tricks in mind next time you write or edit copy. Your readers – at least the human ones – will thank you.