I’m going to vent a bit here: few things fill me with anxiety faster than a rambling speaker who can’t get to the point. It’s like listening to a verbal version of Where’s Waldo, and it’s not nearly as fun as the original.
Unfortunately, a lot of writers do the same. You’ve all read that blog post or webpage that ambles along, repeating things and using unnecessary words as if you have all day to decipher their message. Your readers have a short attention span as it is, and they have no obligation whatsoever to stick around. According to a TIME article written by Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile, most users spend less than 15 seconds reading your website. So you best make your point and make it quick.
Conciseness is a hallmark of great writing. While we can argue about who had the “best” writing style of all time, we can all agree that great writers can tell an intriguing story without being longwinded.
Let’s take a look at a few rules to follow to make your writing tight, clean, and to the point:
- Avoid passive voice. Passive voice is weak writing. Active voice is tighter, more confident, and more engaging. Watch for “to be” verbs including is, are, was, being, etc.
Example: “James will be welcomed by the Queen”
Better: “The Queen will welcome James.”
- Cut out adverbs, or words that end in “-ly.” These words aren’t truly descriptive, and usually come before words that can stand on their own.
Example: “She danced happily through the rain.”
Better: “She danced through the rain.”
- If you have long sentences, consider breaking them up. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to say the sentence in one breath.
Example: Without giving the agument another thought, Sally buttoned her dress, and when she was ready, she walked out of the room with a confident stride.”
“Without giving the argument another thought, Sally buttoned her dress. When she was ready, she walked out of the room with a confident stride.”
- Replace negatives with positives. This makes your writing more straightforward.
Example: “You don’t want to give a bad impression.”
Better: “You want to give a good impression.”
- Avoid uncommon words. As a rule, use common language that your readers are familiar with.
Example: “Sally is quite effusive.”
Better: “Sally likes to talk a lot.”
Needs some more help? Check out the Hemingway editor, which will let you know where you can cut down on your text. Of course, use your own judgment when deciding whether or not to exclude words. These tips should put you well on your way to writing more readable content.