Why writing tips are the worst enemy of your brand’s voice.

Goddamn writing tips. They’re everywhere. "Write more like you speak" “Avoid the passive voice” “Stay away from adverbs” “Use contractions”

Pithy little gems plastered all over my LinkedIn feed; bursting out of blogs right, left, and centre; popping up at the fingertips of some mute, pointing guru on Stories.

And they seem pretty innocent, right? Well-intentioned, certainly.

But the thing is that following them will be the death of your voice. Because their very existence is predicated on the idea that there’s some objectively ‘good’ way of writing – one that can be found if you just follow a certain set of rules. And, unfortunately, that’s a big old load of bollocks.

For every tip I see, I can show you a hugely successful brand whose writing does the opposite.

"Write more like you speak, be conversational" would be the kiss of death for the dramatic, high-status weightiness of the CIA website.

“Avoid the passive voice” is often good advice, but there’s no way the copy on the contact page for The Ritz would be as brilliantly butler-esque if they hadn’t employed it.

“Don’t use too many adverbs and adjectives” would kill the sensuous extravagance of aristocratic perfumer Penhaligon's tone.

“Use contractions, they sound friendlier” may be true, but The School of Life’s measured, erudite, eloquent brand of empathy sounds all the better for not using them.

Not to mention the innumerable cardinal copy rules my own writing style casually kicks to the curb, from calls to “Keep your language simple” and “Keep your sentences short” (better not let the powers that be see the 195-word monster in here) to the imperative to “Always use sub-headings so your copy is easy to scan” (actually I prefer not to decimate the flow of my narrative, thanks). Yet a steady stream of clients suggests that my verbosity – bugger, there I go again – isn’t doing me any harm.

Ultimately there's no one 'good' way of writing. No single right way to communicate. It completely depends on who’s doing the talking, who’s doing the listening, how you want to sound, and what you want to achieve.

So leave the tips. Ignore the hacks. Scroll on by those ‘5 easy ways to instantly improve your copy’. Ultimately they’ll sink you.

You have to work out what good sounds like for your company. Because the only thing generic writing tips will improve is your ability to sound just like everyone else.

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