Let me clear my throat

Creative commons image credit to Flickr user Francisco Belard

Here at Lark, where we have years of copywriting experience, we know that opening a piece of content with a positioning statement or scene-setting phrase can be a handy way of, well, getting a piece of content started.

We sometimes refer to this type of writing as “clearing your throat” – the writing equivalent of an elongated “ahem” or conversational ice-breaker. It seems like a neat way to fix your copy to a particular situation, so that you can connect with readers emotionally or create some sense of authority.

But do you really need that copy?

I think my intro would be better if I’d skipped the “clearing your throat” bits (e.g. “Here at Lark”, “where we have”…”we know”….) Maybe something like this:

“Your opening paragraph might seem like the best way to set the scene, and connect with readers. But beware of waffly, unnecessary ice-breaking – what we call ‘clearing your throat’ copy.”

That’s a bit shorter – and more to the point, right? And it doesn’t lose any of the emotional connection.

SEO content

Clearing your throat copy is often used as an SEO device. It’s all about plugging keyphrases and keywords into your opening gambit. This might also give you a tick from the inverted pyramid cognoscenti because you’ll be getting the point across before anyone needs to read too much.

Let’s take two keyphrases, and see how they work with clearing your throat copy (and without it).

  • SEO content
  • Writing for the web

Here’s the clearing your throat version:

“If you ever find yourself needing to create SEO content, it’s always a good idea to bear in mind the many different writing for the web principles that most copywriting experts use in their work.”

What’s wrong with that? It’s not too bad, it does the job. But it’s not the most compelling piece of writing is it? Let’s see if we can make it a bit better. How about:

“Great SEO content is about using writing for the web principles – and that means making every piece of content work for your audience.”

It’s shorter and much more direct. I’ve also managed to get those keyphrases closer to the start of the sentence – your marketing team might love you a tiny bit more for that.

Adding a little flourish

We’re not saying there’s no place for ‘clearing your throat’ copy. But there’s often a more efficient way of writing. If you’re weaving a narrative, it’s fine to write something with a little flourish. But every word should earn its place on the page – so if you can remove your first sentence (or two) and not lose anything, hit the delete button.

How to avoid clearing your throat

For someone like me (an unashamed throat clearer), I tend to over-write and then spend time editing, before passing on to someone for a proofread.

If there’s no one to do that, I often find it useful to get into character to edit my copy. A character who is more direct, not someone like DJ Kool: