“Imagine for a moment that you could write boldly, clearly and powerfully every time you sat down at the keyboard.” Author Josh Bernoff
One year ago, I wrote a blog about cutting extraneous words in your communications—turns out it was one of our most-read blogs of the year. Why? As author Ann Handley states in her book, “Everybody Writes,” we are all authors. Who doesn’t want to improve their emails, blogs, proposals and letters?
At Content Marketing World 2018, I bought a book that was eye-opening—even to this professional writer. Josh Bernoff’s “Writing Without Bull—-” has changed the way I approach writing. Bernoff’s book made me realize I still had plenty of clutter in my writing.
As a new year gets underway, I want to share some of my greatest takeaways from this fascinating book.
1) Leave the Wind-up to the Major Leagues.
We often provide unnecessary context. I was dubious about Bernoff’s suggestion that we can often cut the opening paragraph or two from our writing. To test his theory, I reread a blog I had written. While I loved the wind-up I provided, it wasn’t needed. Look at the opening of this blog. What if I deleted the first paragraph? I get to the point in the second and can easily insert the link to the past blog later in the text. Examine your own writing, including emails. Determine whether you are falling prey to the wind-up.
“We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.” William Zinsser
2) Write Tight.
Get rid of those extra words. How many “howevers”, “therebys” and “therefores” do you need? As Bernoff suggests, we use extra words to hedge when we’re uncertain. Cut the words that don’t change meaning. You will do your readers a favor.
Example: Based on the results of a comprehensive survey, we have determined that our benefits should be adjusted to accommodate the critical needs of our employee population. Therefore, we will be holding an important meeting at noon on January 25 to discuss some significant changes we will be making.
Revision: Please attend our meeting on January 25 to learn about updates to our benefits package.
Challenge yourself to write shorter. Eliminate the waste.
3) Go on an adjectives diet.
Bernoff calls out the following qualifiers as “weasel” words: most, many, very, few, millions, rarely and a popular culprit—generally. Why? They are words we use to make “flimsy” generalizations that sound important but are crutches because they are not provable. This may be the most difficult change to make. After all, the services and products we offer are more comprehensive, unique, greater, efficient and so on. Say what you really mean. Instead of writing that you can save significant costs, can you provide statistics or a specific example?
4) Put it aside.
I get it. We’re multitasking like crazy to get things done. Who has time to revisit communications? I promise you, if you take the time to reread your writing, you will spot extra words that don’t add anything to your message. Cut the clutter—your readers will be grateful and you’ll get better results.
Questions about this blog or your content development strategy? Email me to learn how to write crisper and cleaner. For more information on our content development services, contact me at 440-449-6800. Wishing you a clutter-free year.