Style matters: Does this blog post make me look fat?
A guy asks his tailor, “Does this suit make me look fat?”
“No sir,” replies the tailor. “That would be your enormous gut.”
Like the guy in this story, you can’t dress up a piece of writing that is bulging with an excess of words. Wordiness is to writing as potato chips are to your waistline. One chip seems harmless enough, but one leads to another and in time you are bursting at the seams. The same is true for writing. One needless word here, one extra phrase there and soon your prose is bursting with overabundant verbiage. Like a fat guy in a little coat.
Why concern yourself over a few extra words? Because being concise is essential to effective writing for the Web. Readers scan. Every unnecessary word slows them down, discouraging them from reading on. Wordiness also gets in the way of your message. To be viewed as a thought leader you need to write lean.
In his book Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity & Grace, Joseph Williams says, “To write clearly, we have to know not only how to manage the flow of our ideas but also how to prune and compress them.” This is accomplished by following two principles:
- Compress what you mean into the fewest words
- Don’t state what the reader can easily infer
In this post, third in a series on effective blogging, we focus on the first point. This infographic examines common culprits of wordiness.
Trimming the fat
Words are the most important tool a writer has. However, more is not better – especially when writing for the Web. Here are some considerations for trimming the fat from your writing:
1. Don’t mistake leanness for anorexia. You want to get rid of fat, not muscle.
2. Keep your writing tight enough so it fits the reader’s skimming without forcing a comprehension stop.
3. Use redundancies only when you want the reader to know you’ve repeated or doubled words to show emphasis.
4. Don’t hang on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful or clever.
5. Note the distance between subject and verb. The greater the distance, the higher is the propensity for wordiness. Bracket the adjectives, qualifiers and adverbs that modify a verb within the sentence and make sure each one serves a function.
William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well offers this final thought on brevity: “The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure where you are leading them – these are what weaken the sentence.”
[Related articles from this series: Do you make these critical thinking mistakes in your blog writing? and How good blogging is like ‘follow the leader.’]