Writing Web content, even for veterans, remains a tricky task. And when I do it—and I’ve done my fair share of it—I often refer to my favorite lines from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets for guidance. They go a little something like this: "And every phraseAnd sentence that is right (where every word is at home,Taking its place to support the others,The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,An easy commerce of the old and the new,The common word exact without vulgarity,The formal word precise but not pedantic,The complete consort dancing together)Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning."Thanks for the unattainable goals, Eliot may be your gut reaction. If so, take a second look at the excerpt. Eliot offers a common sense approach for writing Web content: Every word and sentence needs to fit the content and concept. But it’s never quite that simple, is it?As a Web writer, or any type of writer, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all your diction options. But I try to keep Eliot’s wisdom in perspective with a little checklist I’ve derived from this poem.Thus, T.S. Eliot’s Web Writer Checklist:
- Is the copy direct but not off-putting?
- Are common words and phrases (e.g., "cut the check" rather than "pay for services rendered") appropriate in this context?
- Likewise, are formal words and phrases (e.g., "amortized payments" rather than "pay in monthly installments") appropriate in this context?
- Does the balance (between formal and common words, long and short sentences, etc.) work, or does it seem bipolar?
What’s common, what’s formal, and what’s the difference between direct and off-putting are up for debate, but adhering to this checklist always helps me keep my copy in perspective to my audience and my client. The next time you’re wondering if your copy is working, take another glance at that poet your high school English teacher either loved or lamented. (But, for now, just gloss over that portion about "The intolerable wrestle with words and meanings" …)-Jesse