How to Write Clear and Effective Copy?

Writing guidelines

How to write clear and effective copy

Whether you are writing copy for marketing and promotions, customer service letters, or information packs — even if you are writing reports — the following guidelines apply.

If you follow them, your writing will be crisp, your style clear, and your tone friendly.

Follow plain English principles:

  • Use personal words
  • Cut out unnecessary words
  • Try to avoid using the passive voice
  • Don’t use nouns if you can find a verb
  • Avoid using formal words.

The most important part of the sentence is who is doing what.

If you can find the ‘actor’ (subject) of your sentence and their ‘action’ (the verb), you will find editing your writing much easier.

Sometimes they are easy to find: The dog sat on the wall

The boy kicked the ball

The committee considered the recommendations.

Sometimes they are more difficult to locate:

With no knowledge of background information in terms of findings of research or funding allocations, it was impossible for committee to make an informed decision on project development in the future.

Because the committee did not know the background information, the research findings or how funds had been allocated, they could not decide how to develop the project.

Here’s an example:

1a Customer orders will be dispatched within 48 hours of receipt of order.

And a re-write:

1b We will send out your order within 48 hours.

This not only sounds more human and ‘smiles’ at the reader, it’s easier to write too!


Put personal words into these sentences, and try to cut out the unnecessary words, the passive voice and heavy nouns.

2a Payment for services can be made in any currency of your choice and a receipt issued by e-mail following the purchase in that currency.

click to see a sample edit

3a The content of your letter has been noted and passed on to our Quality Assurance Manager. The complaint will be investigated and a response sent in the nearfuture.

click to see a sample edit

4a Where an application has been received without the inclusion of a cheque, the application form will not be processed.

click to see a sample edit

5a I recently sent our a mail advising of a Report Writing Course which we are planning for July 2006.
The tutors have asked for each of you to submit two reports you yourselves have personally written.  Upon receipt they will ascertain at what level you are currently pitched, and tailor the training appropriately.
Please ensure that you forward the reports by Friday 26th May ( NB: DO NOTinclude ANY confidential/business sensitive reports).

click to see a sample edit

6a A wireless sensor and control network facility can enable realisation of effective management control of business critical operational processes.

click to see a sample edit

7a On receipt of this necessary information, your outstanding claims for benefit for the period outstanding May – August last year will be considered without further delay.

click to see a sample edit

8a As detailed in prior correspondence 31 st May 2005 upon receipt of your letter, both organisations were faxed for further verification and confirmation was in course obtained from X. However, as no reply has yet arrived from Y, your claim cannot currently be processed.

click to see a sample edit

9a To rectify this matter, I would be most grateful if you could arrange for the highlighted sections on the enclosed application form to be completed and returned for my attention at your earliest possible convenience.

click to see a sample edit

10a Section 1 (b) included in your statement of offer of employment states that the offer is conditional upon satisfactory completion by yourself of a three-month probationary period and that termination of employment may be instigated due to unsatisfactory performance on one week’s notice given prior in writing by the Company at any time during this period.

click to see a sample edit


What else can prevent writing from being clear and accurate?

Grammar, punctuation and word choice determine the accuracy of the text, the meaning and the overall impression your document makes on your reader.

Here are some examples of mistakes people often make when writing:

1 The dangling participle
Walking through the park, the flowers looked beautiful.

2 The misplaced modifier
We only sell fresh eggs. (We don't sell butter, cheese, or milk ?!!)

3 The ambiguous pronoun
Polythene bags can be a hazard for toddlers and babies. Throw them away, or lock them in a cupboard where they can't be played with.

4 Subject - verb agreement

Neither the manager nor the team leader accept responsibility for the error.
Neither the manager nor the team leader accepts responsibility for the error.

Make sure that you don’t put too many words between your subject and your verb:

The housing consultation document detailing Lewis Ltd’s and the Council’s planning Department’s amended recommendations on the Newbold Estate Redevelopment was considered by committee.

The housing consultation document was considered.

or better still :

The Committee considered the housing consultation document.

5 Relative clauses and commas

My husband who works abroad a lot suffers from anxiety attacks.

Not at all surprising: this sentence means that ‘my husband who works abroad, but not my husband who doesn’t work abroad’ suffers from anxiety attacks.

Information that further defines the subject needs to be cordoned off by commas:

My husband, who works abroad a lot, suffers from anxiety attacks.

or you could use ‘em’ dashes:

My husband — who works abroad a lot — suffers from anxiety attacks.

6 The dreaded apostrophe:
cherrie's, grape's, apple's
key's cut here
The Kings Arms
The committees' decision is final.

The following points are important for the tone of business writing, and can determine the clarity of your text, its tone and the impression it creates on your reader.


7 The active and passive voices create very different tones in writing.
Be sure to select the right one for the message you wish to convey. Compare:

1 A mistake was made on your invoice …….

2 We made a mistake on your invoice ……..


1 Because this direct debit was cancelled ……

2 Because you cancelled this direct debit ……..

8 Unnecessary words

Is your writing concise? Lengthy phrases and unnecessary words make texts less appealing to the reader:

Compare these two sentences:

1 There has been a decision taken to award the contract to a local consortium.

2 The contract has been awarded to a local consortium.

9 Word choice and formal words
The words you use determine the tone of your text. Too many nouns make writing (and the writer!) seem dull, heavy and formal.

Compare these two sentences:

1 To install this satellite antenna, the submission of a planning application will not be necessary.

2 You will not need to apply for planning to install your satellite dish.


However, don’t be too informal.

This is a genuine e-mail we received;

the writer was serious about applying for work!


are you looking for freelance writers? i'm a bit busy at this time but can work for you from December-January if you want. I can write, editing and proofreading is something i don't usually do, but can do that as well. do let me know. 


When you use our professional Document Doctor writing and editing service, you can be sure that your document will be accurate, clear, and concise and that it creates the impression you want.
We also offer a total document design service and can help you to enhance your corporate identity by working on layout, colour schemes, graphics and illustrations.

If you book one of our letter or report writing courses ,your employees will learn some easy-to-follow steps to help them create accurate, clear and natural sounding documents. The writing courses are fun and hands-on; your employees will see how to apply plain English principles to company documents and will find that writing clear reports and effective letters is easier than they thought!

Editing Services
Document-Doctor provides a wide range of professional writing and editing services: proofreading; in-depth editing and quality re-writing for all business, academic, technical and policy documents; and for plain legal language.

The Write Way writing courses that can show your employees how to write naturally and confidently. We offer courses in Writing in Plain English, Report Writing, Letter Writing , Writing Audit Reports, Writing Procedures, Writing Copy as well as customised writing courses.

Our wrting courses are practical, hands-on and fun, and they are suitable for any professional group.

How to write clear and effective copy
Writing Effective Documents click here to see our guide to creating clear and effective copy. We've included writing exercises for you to use to try out the techniques.

Writer and trainer,
Pamela Jones,
"My greatest pleasures spring from finding the right word or phrase to express a concept or product, and from helping others to express their thoughts in a way that satisfies and surprises them. I believe that with a few nudges to set us on our way, we can all write in a unique voice to convey our personal and professional messages."