Before I begin, I hold my hands up – I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. Writing is a skill that really does get better the more you practise; a muscle that has to be flexed and trained, dressed up in a gradually new and improved style, accessorised with an ever-growing vocabulary and knowledge of your subject. It’s always a work in progress.
But lazy copy is everywhere, and never more so than online; a natural result of having so much content that’s churned out every day. Most of my early work involves attempts at making ‘pamper yourself’ sound exciting rather than vomit-inducing – but writing around such a specific topic for so long is a surefire way to learn (the hard way) that your copy needs to sparkle every damn day, not gradually dull with time.
A writer’s job is to write well, and so I thought about the few things that, as an editor, I believe make it clear you’ve half-arsed your content. (As they say, if you’re going to do something, never half-arse it. Always use your full arse.)
Starting a piece with a comment about the weather
Look, I get it. We’re British. We freaking love to talk about the weather. It allows us to be slightly less awkward than our standard British selves and to moan all in one. But please don’t start a tanning feature with ‘As the temperatures start to rise….’. I’m certain I’ve written that before. But you live and you learn…
Overuse of cliches
I know they’re cliches for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you should use one in every other sentence.
Using adjectives so much that they become redundant
With the rise of bloggers and social media, I’ve really noticed this one and have even caught myself doing it on occasion – and quickly changed tact. If you’re writing a review and everything is ‘amazing’, ‘incredible’ or ‘lovely’, those words very quickly become utterly meaningless. What does it feel like, smell like, look like? Your reader doesn’t know yet, but is trying to find out. Imagine you’re telling a friend and throw real detail at them whether they want it or not.
Use of sickeningly sweet copy instead of standard words
You know the ones I mean. ‘Peepers’ has to be the most offensive word in the beauty dictionary (JUST SAY EYES) and then there’s the ever so overused ‘desk to dance floor’ (no one goes from desk to dance floor. There’s always a quick stint in the office toilet mirror or at least dinner/a drink before you dance, you fools).
An obvious one, but good lord, PROOFREAD. My journalism tutor at uni always said that writing wasn’t the important part, it was the rewriting that counted – proofread everything, check it for mistakes, check it for the above sins, check that it makes any kind of sense to a fresh pair of eyes. Errors in spelling and grammar are the quickest way to rid you of your credibility; and online, everyone has to be their own sub-editor.
What are your biggest lazy copy bugbears? Let me know and let’s be pedants together.