It’s often said that some salespeople don’t take the time to listen to their prospects as they are so in love with their own sales pitches. Extending that to the field of writing: some are so obsessed with selling their products, that they don’t take the time to read back their articles from the viewpoint of the reader. Had they done so, they would be appalled: constant knocking of the competition, endless lists of features and benefits, redundant restatement of the obvious, and turning up the volume on overworked adjectives and adverbs.

I have to edit these stories. Sometimes they begin full of promise. A well-crafted intro and a few paragraphs of decent content. But many sink quickly. The writer just can’t help himself or herself in trotting out that well researched sales pitch. It reads poorly. Here are some of the worst crimes.

Knocking the Competition

To my money, constant carping on about the failings of competitive solutions is a sign of a poor salesperson. Yet that is what goes on in many submitted articles. “Unlike blah solution, we don’t subject buyers to expensive maintenance contracts.” Or, “Most blah solutions, rely on outdated legacy technologies, but we …”

It’s better to be fair, and perhaps even concede ground on certain issues. A balanced article that gives the pluses and minuses of each technology is going to be read and referred to far more than a bias one that emphatically states how great we are and how bad they are. Why? It’s realistic. If you aren’t being completely truthful on a few issues, your entire article becomes suspect.

The best approach is a conservative tone that avoids knocking the competition. But if you must, then knock your own side, too. Of course, you may not be permitted to state your own failings. So why is it OK to endlessly cover the shortcomings of others?

Listing Features and Benefits

Lists of features and benefits have their place – on product web pages, and in brochures. But not in articles. The worst example is an article full of bullet points covering one feature or benefit after another. It makes poor reading. And it appears lazy. It’s not hard to take a list of bullets and weave them into readable paragraphs.

It’s like being at a car dealership. You want to tell the sales guy you are looking for a car with high mileage at a certain price range and were considering XY vehicle. But you can’t get a word in as the sales guy is trotting out dozens of features about a car you would never buy. Just as you soon leave that dealership, you stop reading articles that lists features. You want technical data to back it up, not something you can refer to on a webpage. The key is to inform and educate the reader, rather than adopting a sales posture in your writing.

Stating the Obvious

I get to edit a lot of content. A major crime is stating obvious things redundantly. For example: this will save in fuel costs, which will increase facility viability, lower budgets, and improve profitability. You just said the same thing four ways. Put a period at “costs.” Delete the rest.

Or: By eliminating downtime, the plant can continue operating, which will increase productivity and impact the bottom line. Place the period after “downtime.” And dump the rest of it.

I put this down to a sales obsession. You are trying to make sure the person gets all the implications of a feature. “This cup holder will give you a place to leave your coffee, freeing up your hands for multitasking, eliminating potential spillage, and enabling a cleaner, safer journey free from scolding incidents.” I mean, come on.

The selling comes once they read your material, check out your website, and then reach. At that point, sell away.

Over Abundant, Redundant, Unnecessary, Superfluous Adjectives

It isn’t a “new widget.” It’s a “new, advanced, innovative, highly reliable widget with a proven and elegant design.” I tend to be a little suspicious of products that say they are “highly reliable” or have “advanced analytics.” Was the previous product unreliable? Were the old analytics retarded? Something about the presence of those adjectives makes me wonder about the previous version.  When I edit, I remove this redundancy. It’s a widget and its new features are X, Y and Z.

Skip most of the modifiers. Go through your draft and delete as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. It makes a more readable document.

Drew Robb