Copywriter, Journalist, and Content Coach

Give it Style

Create Rhythm

Basically, don’t let all your sentences be the same length. To see if your text has rhythm, beat out the time with your hands as you read it aloud. If there’s a long sentence with lots of clauses, follow it with a short one. Follow that with a medium-length line. Vary the speed and density of the language.

Create Pacing

In longer pieces, such as multi-page articles, avoid making all the sections the same length and style. Break up the running text with pullouts: key sentences or paragraphs set in larger type to emphasize the importance of the idea. Or put supporting data in an inset box.

Use Decks

At the very beginning of the piece, write an overview paragraph that gives the main point or promise of the piece, and set it in larger type. This gives readers a chance to decide if they want to read the whole thing. Hopefully your deck will make an exciting promise or dangle an enticing hook.

Watch for One-Line Comments

Here’s a trap I fall into: following a meaty paragraph or ending an article with a single short, snappy line that makes a wry comment on what went before. These can be very effective, but if you use too many of them, it sounds formulaic and affected.

Cut to the Bone for Business

Most business people have too much to read, and most writers write too long. Think about your reader again, get to the point, and cut anything that doesn’t drive the story forward. Eliminate elaborate phrases, and hunt down repetitions and irrelevancies.

But Slow Things Down Sometimes

If you have a fact-filled piece, don’t rattle the facts off one after another. No one will remember any of it, and your logical sequence will be spoiled. Here’s where stories are great—you can illustrate each fact with anecdote. You can also use what I call thinking-time phrases: comment on the information, show how it harks back to an earlier idea, or write a fancy transitional phrase: “After dealing with the mating habits of the Macaque, we moved on to their highly opportunistic eating habits.”