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Marketing 360® Blog

How to Avoid Powerless Speech In Your Web Content

Post By Scott Yoder | Content Marketing & SEO

Powerless speech lowers your credibility and makes web copy wordy. In the worst cases, it makes you sound downright weak. Here’s how to avoid coming across as powerless.

I don’t want to jump the gun, but I think there is some degree of possibility you might, you know, find this article to be useful. I hope you can take the time to read it and, if you can follow these best practices, you just might improve your writing.

Wimp Alert!!!

That is an example of some wimpy copy. It’s weighed down by powerless speech, which is filled with:

  • Hedges (sometimes, sort of, maybe, it could be)
  • Hesitations (let me think, hold on a second, just a moment)
  • Intensifiers (very, definitely, really, without a doubt)

Usually, powerless speech is discussed in the context of verbal delivery. But unfortunately it’s infiltrated online writing, wilting the effectiveness of far too much content with:

  • Excessive qualifiers (in addition, in total, one last point, currently)
  • Cliches (bottom line, can of worms, drop the ball, raise the bar)
  • Buzzwords (industry leading, paradigm shift, world class, ROI driven, cutting edge features)
  • Superfluous phrases (afford the opportunity to, at the present time, due to the fact that)

That’s not all. Online writing is filled with passive voice, wordy grammatical constructions, and weak verbs. These problems suppress clarity and muddle main ideas.

For speaking or writing, powerless speech is well named. It lacks conviction and smacks of uncertainty.

With online writing, it commits a number of deadly sins. Powerless speech:

  • Makes writing wordy and redundant.
  • Causes main ideas to be pushed away from the front of paragraphs and sentences.
  • Substitutes clarity for inflated expertise.
  • Lacks originality.
  • Makes it difficult to skim read.
  • Weakens arguments and hamstrings persuasion.

Read the following examples of powerless speech, redundant word choice and their corrections. See if you recognize patterns in your own writing that you can correct to make your writing more persuasive and clear.

Hedging

Hedging is a prevalent type of powerless speech in online writing. When you hedge, you mitigate the impact of what you’re saying. It might be necessary when speaking to your grandmother, but it cripples business writing.

Hedging is a sad problem because usually, the writer doesn’t mean to hedge. They’re just using unnecessary qualifiers and weak grammatical constructions.

The most common type of written hedge uses constructions like if you want to, if you wish to, if you would like to, in order to, and if you’re looking for.

Before:

If you’re looking for a great deal on a new pair of sandals consider visiting us today.

After:

Visit us today to get a great deal on a new pair of sandals.

Before:

If you wish to hire the best tax attorneys in Denver, we suggest you schedule an appointment today.

After:

Hire the best tax attorney in Denver. Schedule an appointment today.

Avoid using you can, you can choose to, you can decide to, or similar constructions. Replace them with a direct verb.

Before:

You can choose to shop for dresses, shoes, or slacks.

After:

Shop for dresses, shoes, or slacks.

Really watch for you can constructions, which are overused by novice writers. Edit them out with direct verbs.

Prune indirect verbs like allow, enable, and let.

Before:

Using our software allows you to finish your work fast.

After:

Finish your work fast with our software.

Before:

Our training program lets you learn the material in half the time.

After:

Learn the material in half the time with our training program.

In business copy, you want to use strong verbs in the imperative voice, particularly with calls to action.

You also want to front-load important information. Hedging causes you to push vital info back while weakening your statement. That’s a fast way to lose online readers.

Don’t hedge. Say what you mean with conviction. Tell people what to do directly.

Passive Voice

Passive voice literally weakens writing because it takes what should be the main idea of the sentence (the agent performing the action) and turns it into something being acted upon.

Before:

The garlic was chopped up by Steve.

After:

Steve chopped up the garlic.

Before:

Top physical health has been maintained by using the peak performance program.

After:

Members can maintain top physical health by using the peak performance program.

Better:

Maintain top physical health with the peak performance program.

Passive voice confuses and bores readers. Use the active voice to clearly identify the agent performing the action. This will front-load your sentences, keeping them crisp and brief.

Superfluous Phrases

There many common words and phrases that can be replaced with briefer, more direct words. Redundant phrases make writing unnecessarily wordy, which distracts readers. Below are some examples.

Instead of…use

a few of the…a few

a large number of…many, most

added bonus…bonus

adequate number of…enough

advanced warning…warning

ahead of schedule…early

as of this moment…now

at this point in time…now

because of the fact that…because

create a new…create

determine the location of…find

during the time that…while

for a period of…for

in conjunction with…with

has the ability to…can

has a tendency to…tends

it is our opinion that…we think

make modifications…make

provide that…if

the manner in which…how

sufficient amount of…enough

with the exception of…except

would be able to…could

There are times you need to use longer phrases to avoid confusion. However, if your text is laced with extraneous words and pretentious vocabulary, simplify it.

Remember that for general online audiences, you want to write at about the 5th-grade level. Complex wordiness will confuse and bore most people.

It’s not easy to prune superfluous phrases out of your writing; they tend to sneak in. To clean a draft up, you’ll have to revise it, probably multiple times.

Cliches and Buzzwords

Cliches and buzzwords rob your work of its originality.

Cliches make you sound stale, predictable, and even annoying.

Buzzwords substitute real ideas with empty phrases. Novice writers who think they need to inflate their expertise tend to fall victim to buzzwords.

Cliches and buzzwords are signs of a writer trying to compensate for their lack of ideas. Instead, think of what you want to say, then say it using your natural voice.

The key to avoiding cliches and buzzwords is to recognize you’re using them.

You might be using a cliche if:

  • You recognize it in your writing or as you write (all bets are off, no-brainer, think outside the box, give 110%).
  • It’s alliterative and/or rhyming (tried and true, one-stop-shop, win-win, bite the bullet).
  • The ending is obvious (laugh all the way __ ___ ___, hit the ground ____, knock the ball out __ __ ___).

Buzzwords are kind of a crossover of cliches, catch-phrases and industry jargon. Like cliches, they are a substitute for original thought.

Buzzwords become trendy for certain businesses and are particularly prevalent in tech, medical, and legal industries. Here’s an example of copy we intentionally overloaded with buzzwords:

Let me tell you about an industry leading product that is going to set the standard in our vertical.

This turnkey, user-friendly product is an enterprise-class, feature-rich design that’s a complete paradigm shift.

Our goal is to empower your staff with a cross-platform, solution-driven product so easy to use you’ll be amazed.  Use it out-of-the-box without even understanding its cutting-edge features!

We’ve always been an industry leader in innovation, creating world-class, dynamic products.

Terms like solution-driven, industry-leading, and feature-rich sound good on the surface. Readers may come away thinking the writer is a real expert.

But if you press them, you’ll learn they don’t know what you’re an expert in. Saying you have world-class, dynamic products sounds impressive, but it doesn’t actually convey any information.

Buzzwords rob you of persuasive power because they don’t have any real impact on readers. They’re a dangerous type of powerless speech because they disguise themselves as the opposite:

“Our buzzwords will pump you up!”

But cliches and buzzwords are just another type of hedge or hesitation. They bloat writing and diffuse meaning.

Today’s internet is a deluge of content. To get your work noticed at all, it needs to be relevant, interesting, and well-written.

Eliminate powerless, wordy, unoriginal writing from your content. If what you write lacks conviction, clarity, and impact, you’ll find you’re in a tough fight you don’t have the power to win.