When it comes to writing, I’m a firm believer that less is more: wordy sentences are difficult to understand and confusing, which we emphasise on our writing courses.
However, all too often, people use long words and complicated sentence construction which mean that the reader has to work far too hard.
For example – what on earth does this mean?
“Notice of Proposal to enter into a Qualifying Long Term Agreement for a Contractor Management and Software Platform Contract to provide and manage a digital repairs platform.”
The problem is that once you’ve got into that writing habit it’s a difficult one to break – as we find often when we run writing courses.
In my dim and distant past I worked on Teletext where every headline was a set number of characters, every page had the same number of paragraphs, and each paragraph had to be a particular length.
This really imposed a discipline which made you cut out unnecessary words.
When Twitter allowed only 140 characters, it did much the same thing.
When we run writing courses, we use lots of examples and exercises to help delegates write more succinctly and snappily. Here are some of them:
“High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.”
Why not say: “Good schools are important for children’s education.”?
“It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.”
How about: “Please read this information before completing the form overleaf, then return it to the council in the envelope provided.”
“If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.”
Or: “Please call if you need further information”
“Much too frequently, the criminal escapes the scene of a crime because he manages to escape the visual capability of the responding officers,”
Try: “Too often, the criminal escapes because the officers can’t see him.”
“Businesses planning sales strategy perceive buying power as a gauge of the general ability of potential customers to buy their products.”
Cutting a few words
These are extreme examples. Another technique we discuss on writing courses is how cutting out a few words can make your copy sharper, crisper and easier to read.
“Which is a company that provides SEO analytics and reporting tools for large enterprises. But you must build links in a much different manner than you used to.”
Why not say: “A company providing SEO analytics and reporting tools for large enterprises. You need to build links differently.”?
“Like a lot of businesses, yours can utilise the benefits of using this system. Working alongside this there are more tools and principles that can help your business to grow and work as a focused team.”
An alternative: “Your business can benefit from this system. It includes tools and principles to help your business grow and work as a focused team.
“There have been many PR nightmares that have plagued organizations over the past few years.”
“Many PR nightmares have plagued organizations over the past few years.”
“We found the day to be professionally organised … “
“The day was professionally organised … ”
Instead of saying “In order to …”, why not just say “to … “, and “Whether or not” can become “whether”.
You’ll also find that 90% of the time, removing the word “that” from a sentence doesn’t change it’s meaning at all. (You’ll also find 90% of the time, removing the word “that” from a sentence doesn’t change its meaning.”)
Other writing tricks
Here are some of the other techniques we discuss in our writing courses.
1. Use the active, rather than the passive case:
“We won the war” rather than “The war was won by use.”
2. Avoid negatives:
“We all believe we can win” rather than “There’s not a single man who believes we can’t win.”
3. Any kind of copy, whether it be marketing materials, web copy, or press releases, one of the best ways of making sure your copy is crisp and readable, is to get into the habit of setting it aside and reviewing it later with fresh eyes.
Even better, read it out loud, when you’re likely to skip all the extra words you don’t need.