Matthew Stibbe’s free e-book called 30 Days to Better Business Writing is an excellent resource for copywriters and creative translators alike. Download it from Bad Language and get straightforward advice about writing web copy, press releases, interviews, and more.
Did you notice I wrote the word “get”? According to Stibbe, “get” is not only authorized but encouraged.
His most useful lesson to me was Day 24: Write Readable Web Copy. Be gentle on your reader and make online writing clear.
His main points:
- be brief
- use short words
- write short paragraphs
- use bulleted lists
I try to follow this advice when translating websites, especially the home and about pages.
However, this can be a challenge to implement when dealing with a long-winded source text. Just last week, I translated a 73-word long sentence that took up four lines on the page…
As William Zinsser once said:
There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.
Sub-headings also keep the reader on track
Stibbe writes: “Use meaningful sub-headings to break up the text. They are landmarks for the reader.” In my experience, clients are generally pleased with the sub-headings I’ve suggested, even if they were non-existent in the French version.
The all-important first sentence
The opening sentence is the reader’s invitation to the party.
Stibbe’s Day 5 exercise is about coming up with seductive first lines. An amusing exercise. My subsequent homework meant brainstorming about future blog entries. I tried out several “ledes” on different blog stubs and the results were not bad.
Stibbe says we should use the “inverted pyramid” technique for website copy, going into more detail about this format in Day 6: Pick the Right Structure. He explains, “You give the highest level of detail first—when and where the fire happened—and then add layers of detail and information as the text continues.”
Starting out strong makes complete sense. Your main point should be “above the fold” so if readers just breeze through your page, at least they will leave with the crux of the matter.
On Day 12, Stibbe gives a list of words to be deleted from all your current assignments. It includes “offline” and “touch base” to my surprise. He insists, “Buzzwords and business clichés are the opposite of effective writing.” The word “solution” appears to be particularly annoying and overused.
I personally dislike “leverage” and anything which “pushes” any type of envelope.
The real question for me is about how to translate hype words from source texts. Do we tone down copy to make texts more credible? I have translated for a few companies who called themselves “leaders” who provided “solutions” in the “most innovative” manner.
Hostile position against long press releases
In Day 21: Write a Great Press Release, Stibbe continues his anti-buzzword speech while going back to the importance of brevity. He shows no mercy to press releases: “Keep them short and factual. 250 words should be the upper limit.”
What I would add to the book
Important words or concepts could be written in bold to help hurried readers.
Do revisions on hard copy and think about changing the font and font size to keep your eyes fresh.
Do your final revision after a good night’s sleep.
The mystery waffle
There is mention of being a waffle and talking waffly and waffling around. And it’s no reference to breakfast.
To conclude, I recommend that you download, print and bind this book. And do the homework! Matthew Stibbe is a cheerful and articulate teacher and you’ll have fun working through the well-chosen assignments. You’ll get insights about readability criteria, writing for impact, concentration, productivity, power naps, and more.
Sharpen your pencils and enjoy!