Posted on April 15, 2015
Writing for the financial services sector is a difficult balancing act. There are more regulations and complexities than most sectors, but the products and services are still aimed at human beings who are hooked by great storytelling and clear copy.
These 15 writing tips for financial services professionals help you walk that tightrope and produce compliant but also compelling, easy-to-read copy.
- Brush up on your grammar. Good grammar is about clarity: it’s how we construct language so as to convey meaning. If you want to communicate clearly and simply, you need to understand the basics of good business grammar.
- Do a little studying. If you’re going to be writing content regularly then study the art like you would any other skill. Strunk and White is a must. Everybody Writes and Writing to Deadline are good too (journalism skills have an important role to play in business writing). Read regularly and read all sorts. Get to know styles, tones and techniques from those who have already mastered it.
- Know (or develop) your brand’s tone of voice. When you write copy you are representing your brand: it needs to be consistent and recognisable. If your company doesn’t have any tone of voice guidelines, create some– they don’t have to be long or complicated, but you need a foundation to work from.
- Write for your audience. In financial services, it’s easy to think your target audience understand complex financial words, if you are writing for an end investor, keep it simple. A way to help you do this is to create semi-fictional representations of the customers you want to target – so you write the right words for the right people.
Writing tips for financial services
- Don’t use compliance as an excuse. While compliance has to come first, it’s not a license to use jargon and waffle. In fact, it’s a good reason not to – you want to be clear and understandable to both financial advisors and end customers. Accurate technical terms are fine in their rightful place, but good, plain English is best everywhere else.
- Use lovely lists. We love lists because they pre-categorise what we’re reading, so it’s easier for our brains to absorb the information. Bullet points and lists are great for conveying details simply. People can scan them, they’re easily identifiable and for key information they also draw the eye.
- Be personal and active. Which sounds better? a) Action A is carried out, which then necessitates action B to be completed by the client. Or b) We do action A, and then you do Action B. Unless there is a specific, legal reason otherwise, use ‘we’ and ‘you’ and keep your sentences active. If you can insert ‘by zombies’ into your sentence and it still sounds right, then you have the passive. Kill the zombies, kill the sentence.
- Short words. Research shows that short words are more impressive and convincing than long ones. Don’t try to be clever. Leave the thesaurus at home and be clear instead.
- Answer the reader’s questions in order. Think about what your reader will want to know first, then consider what questions this information will raise in their minds. That’s your next paragraph or section. Repeat until they know all they need to.
- Verbs not adjectives. Actions speak louder than adjectives so talk about what your product or service does directly – make it relevant to the reader. ‘Product A earns 10 percent a month on your savings’ is much better than either ‘Product A has a 10 percent monthly interest rate’ or ‘Product A is a high-interest investment vehicle.’
- Practice your headlines. Titles, subtitles and headlines are all key to hooking a reader’s attention and keeping it. You need to strike a balance between descriptive and enticing. Make sure your headings relate to the content underneath but add a little pizzazz too. ‘Where your money’s invested’ is better than ‘The investment portfolio’.
- Pay attention to design. Content is easier to absorb when it’s arranged clearly and logically. You want plenty of white space and informative or emotive images enhancing and breaking up the text. Writing and design should go hand-in-hand.
- Have a proofreading checklist. Credibility is valuable in every industry, but in financial services it’s particularly tough to establish and maintain. Little mistakes cost a lot: research on ecommerce sites has shown ‘sales figures suggest misspellings put off consumers who could have concerns about a website’s credibility’ and ‘a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.’ Check your copy. Thoroughly.
- The rule of three. Read your copy once as a whole, looking for general sense and structure issues. Read it a second time more carefully for grammar and spelling mistakes. Finally, read it out loud, backwards. This disrupts the rhythm you’ve got used to in your head and reduces the risk your mind will automatically correct mistakes without you noticing.
- Behind every writer is a great editor. Get someone else to read your copy. Not someone from legal or compliance, but another writer or someone who deals with your customers. When it comes to writing, two minds are always better than one. Don’t be precious. It’s hard to see your work bleed, but editing is important and when someone says something needs changing, ask why and consider it seriously. You don’t have to take every suggestion on board, but once you are at the editing stage you should cut the emotional tie you have to your words and just focus on quality.