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Go further

After you finish a first or second draft, take a break and let your work rest overnight. Look at it tomorrow with fresh eyes. Ask a few friends or fellow writers for an outside opinion. Find ways to push your writing a little further.

Try different options

One thing you can do to improve your copy is to come up with a few variations. This can help you explore a specific idea in the copy or find the best way to express it. Try words and phrases with slightly different meanings. Think of different directions you could take the feeling or essence of the word. As an example, here are some variations on a button label:

  • Post
  • Publish
  • Comment
  • Send
  • Share
  • Save

Which one works best? How are they different? Along with different words and phrases, try variations in length. Here are some examples for a nonprofit:

Donate

Make a donation

Donate now

Save a life today

Give back

Help us save lives

Fund a project

Join the fight. Make a contribution.

Longer labels may work better as links or headlines. Write alternate versions to find the best words for your audience. A visual thesaurus or online tool like Wordnik (www.wordnik.com) is a great resource for this.

For longer sections of text, switch the order of your main points. Here’s a basic example using the same button label:

Get the best deals on zippers.

Create an account.

Join Zipzip by creating an account.

Get the best deals on zippers.

[Create account]

[Create account]

Presenting a few options can be especially helpful if you’re part of a team. Most people aren’t content experts, and it may be hard to know what they’re expecting from you. Show your team some copy variations to get them involved and speed up the decision-making process. This is also a great starting point for running simple tests on your content.

Read on

People will read your work in different places, on different devices, and in different formats. They could be reading on a phone, or tablet, or computer. They could be on a train commuting to work, eating dinner, or relaxing on the couch. Read your writing in different contexts, so you can experience it the same way. And if you wrote the text in a word processor, be sure to read it online after you publish it.

Check your work

Read your writing on paper too. This is useful for improving drafts, spotting typos, and checking your tone. Tape your current draft to a whiteboard, or find a quiet corner to sit down and read. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a pen (any color will do) and go to town. For longer pieces, you can check the structure by cutting pages and paragraphs into strips and reordering the sections. As you read, listen to how the words sound and consider each point you’re making. Keep an eye out for redundant ideas. Check for the basics: Are there typos? Are there clunky sentences? Does it all make sense? Would links or references help the reader? Take some time to reread and reconsider your work.

Ask for feedback

We all get too close to our writing. Ask a friend or coworker you respect to read over your draft. We call these people early readers. It might feel embarrassing to share unfinished work, especially earlier in the process, but it can dramatically improve your writing.

Tell your early reader what kind of feedback you’re expecting. Does it make sense? Does it flow? Is it interesting? Are there any gaps? Does it sound like you? Or, you may have more specific questions about themes or details in the piece. Be clear about what you need from your early reader and respectful of their time. You may need to move things around or make other changes afterwards, but it’s better to learn that early in the process. Talking about your writing is a great way to make it clear, concise, and polished. (For more editing tips, see Chapter 11: The Revision Process.)

Edit it live

Try editing an existing piece of text in its real habitat. We love this little trick! It’s helpful in meetings where you’re debating headlines or labels with your team. It’s also helpful for copyediting on your own. And it’s easier than you might think. Let’s look at two ways to edit your text in context.

Inspect element

Open the page in your browser. Right-click the text you want to edit. Choose Inspect Element in the pop-up menu. The text should be highlighted in the source code. Replace it with something new. Press the Return key to see what the page would look like with the new text. If you want to show a few variations before making the changes, take a screenshot of each one.

Use Keynote or PowerPoint

Open the page in your browser. Take a screenshot of it at the appropriate size (small for mobile, larger for tablet, and so on). Drop the screenshot into a blank presentation slide in Keynote or PowerPoint. Add a text box over the current text. Give it a background color that matches the background of your site. For example, if the background is white and the text is blue, make the background of the new text box white. Then, write over the image in blue text with the copy you’re trying out.

Make a reverse outline

You probably remember making outlines in school. To outline something, you typically write a list of things you want to say, put them in order, and then expand on each of the list items. To review longer pieces of text, try making an outline after you have a draft (we call this reverse outlining). Pull the main ideas from what you wrote into bullets or headers. This can give you a sense of what you’ve covered and what’s missing. It can also help you see larger themes in your writing and show you where you might need to move things around. This is also a great time to review the labels and headings you chose to guide readers through your piece.

Keep practicing

As you work through drafts, keep pushing toward being clear, concise, considerate, and honest. In the next two chapters, we’ll show you how to write like you speak and bring your voice to the page.

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