Do you remember high school, when your teachers kept trying to get you to write more? Sometimes I think back to that and wonder whether they were just trying to exercise a muscle (like football players running through tires during practice), or whether there’s actually some sense that you need to be able to write lots in order to convey the message. Perhaps somewhere in between.
But I think back to this and it seems so ironic, because today, I spend a majority of my “writing” time actually trying to figure out how to cut words out, and still convey the same information. In a sales call recently for a company needing some technical documentation, that was basically the takeaway: This document shouldn’t be 8 pages long, it should be 4 pages long, and most of that should be pictures. When I’m developing web content, my bullet points (bullet points are key in web content) usually start out about 15-20 words long, and a few minutes later they’re 8-10 words long. That 50% drop goes a long way: people get it quicker and it’s more visually appealing, meaning they like you more and they can spend more of their precious time filling out your contact page.
This isn’t new information. It’s the same thing that applies to essays, books, movies, newsletters, you name it – the more you can trim the fat, the better your product will be.
Tips for Concise Writing:
- Think about your audience: Always know who your audience is and in what circumstances they’ll be reading this document. A successful product doesn’t exist for its own benefit, but to fill a need – so if you can keep the needs of your audience in mind, and always look from their point of view, then you’re already moving in the right direction.
- Organization: The first thing I do when working with a client is to outline the project, and the few projects where I’ve failed to do that, the result has been a disaster of one kind or another. Most people don’t just get into a car and drive – they figure out where they’re going first, and if it’s somewhere they’ve never been before, they use a map and/or directions to lead the way.
- Edit, edit, and edit again: When writing Ups & Downs, my co-author and I spent about a year (much to his frustration) editing it down. From first to final draft, we probably cut about 15 of the first 20 pages. It’s important to be ruthless, keep looking at it with a fresh perspective, and figure out if each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter can get the point across quicker than it does.