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Common words that suck emotional power out of your content

blog writing with emotional words

You can’t bore someone into reading or sharing your content.

Every word has an emotion attached to it.

Every reader, regardless of profession or IQ, has an emotional reaction to your words. It is hardwired into the brain.

So when you are writing a blog post or other content for online marketing, your choice of words is important. Need convincing?

Legendary copywriter John Caples made a life study of persuasive writing. Once, he changed the word “repair” to “fix” in an ad and achieved a 20% increase in response. One word!

Related: A word reduction plan for lean writing

That illustrates an important rule of word choice for writers: When emotion meets intellect, emotion always wins. Analytical words activate the reader’s analytical brain instead of triggering an emotional response. Here is an example.

How would you respond to getting this email?

YOUR NAME HAS BEEN SELECTED BY COMPUTER TO PARTICIPATE IN A PRIZE-AWARD PROGRAM IN WHICH PRIZES ALREADY HAVE BEEN ALLOCATED. TO RECEIVE YOUR AWARD YOU ARE REQUIRED TO PHONE FOR AN APPOINTMENT BEFORE THE EXPIRATION DATE ABOVE.

It is loaded with intellectual words like “selected,” “allocated,” “receive,” and “required.” I think anybody with a pulse would be left cold by this message.

What if we replaced the intellectual words with emotional words? We might get something like this:

We have great news for you. You’re already a winner.

Here’s how you claim your award …

It is essentially the same information. But the words are far more likely to trigger a response.

Weeding the content garden

Like weeds in a garden, intellectual words can creep into your copy, choking its emotional impact. It is so unnecessary. When you are on the lookout for them, it is easy to shift word choice in favor of emotion. Here is a reference guide to get you started, courtesy of my copywriting hero Herschell Gordon Lewis.

content marketing emotion words

Boring or persuasive? You choose

Every good piece of copy has an emotional outpouring of words. But there is a big difference between writing with emotion and dumbing down your message. It comes down to understanding people.

People make judgments about you, your ideas, or your brand based on emotion. Then they justify their response with logic. It happens in that order.

Your challenge as a blogger is to choose words that arouse their senses and lead them to their logical conclusion. Intellectual words don’t do that. They make you sound smarter. They also make you sound boring.

What would you add to the intellectual/emotional word list?

 

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Make readers devour your content with these curiosity hooks

create curiosity in blog content

How to hook your blog readers into reading to the end.

On the night of April 14, the ocean liner Californian has progressed to within fifteen hundred miles of her destination, Boston Harbor.

Midnight.

Second Officer Herbert Stone is due for watch on the bridge.

Reporting for duty, Stone finds his apprentice seaman glued to a pair of binoculars, staring toward the black horizon.

He, the apprentice, has sighted a steamer in the distance.

He can make out the ship’s masthead light, her red light, and a glare of white lights on her afterdeck.

Stone asks the apprentice to try for communication by means of the Californian’s Morse lamp.

A bright beacon signal is flashed.

No answer from the steamer.

“Will that be all, sir?”

Stone nods; the apprentice leaves to make record in the patent log.

Now Second Officer Stone is alone on the bridge.

Glancing idly over the water, a white flash catches his eye—a white flash of light in the direction of the distant steamer.

Stone scratches his head, picks up the binoculars. Four more white flashes, like skyrockets burst in the heavens.

Stone notifies the ship’s captain.

Over the voice pipe, the captain asks if the flashes appeared to be company signals.

Stone cannot say for sure.

The captain then requests further communication attempt through the Morse lamp.

By now Stone’s apprentice has returned to the bridge. The beacon signal is employed once more.

Still no answer from the steamer.

Lifting the binoculars to his eyes once more, Stone observes three more flashes in the continuing light show, but now his attention is drawn to the steamer’s cabin lights.

They seem to be disappearing, as though the steamer were sailing away.

At 1:40 a.m., Stone sees the eighth and last white flash in the night sky.

In one hour, all the steamer’s lights have vanished into the blackness.

It is not until 4:00 a.m. that anyone on board the liner Californian learns the rest of the story.

The curiosity hook

paul harvey, master storyteller

Paul Harvey

So begins The Light Show, one of hundreds of stories told by radio personality Paul Harvey. One of the hallmarks of his storytelling was the ability to build curiosity that made you pay attention until the last word.

Listeners would eagerly sit through the commercial break just to hear the rest of the story. Isn’t that the desire of every blogger and content marketer, to hold readers’ attention through to the last word of your content?

It is one of the great challenges in content marketing today, and cause for concern. Here is why.

Recently Slate magazine did an online readership study that quantifies the problem:

The antidote is to build curiosity into your copy to keep readers reading. I learned a copywriting trick that works wonders for this. I call it the curiosity hook. Never heard of it?

Let me explain.

A curiosity hook is a short sentence that signals something important or surprising is ahead. It is a transitional phrase that links two paragraphs either at the end of one, the beginning of the next, or as its own one-line paragraph.

There is a simple reason it works.

It introduces a question in the mind of the reader that can only be answered by reading on. Let me give you some examples:

  • And that’s not all.
  • There’s one more thing.
  • Then I made a discovery.
  • Let me explain.
  • You won’t believe what happened next.
  • Here’s why.
  • That’s when things got weird.
  • So read on.
  • But there’s another reason.
  • Now here comes the good part.
  • Then it got interesting.
  • The story doesn’t end there.
  • Here’s the twist.
  • It gets better.
  • But I didn’t stop there.
  • Then she came to a decision.
  • I couldn’t stand it any longer.
  • And then inspiration struck.

Each of these hooks creates curiosity by teasing the promise of new information. It pulls the reader into the next paragraph. The curiosity hook puts a question into their mind that needs closure: What? Why? How? Closure comes when they read on.

Done well, your reader can’t escape without reading to the end.

And now, the rest of the story

If you have read this far, you’re probably curious how the story ends. Here is what happened.

Neither the Captain nor the Second Officer aboard the Californian had interpreted the white skyrocket flashes as cause for alarm.

titanic storytelling

Drama just nine miles away.

It was a matter of coincidence that they had been seen in the first place. For earlier that night – the night of April 14 – the Californian had reversed engines and parked as a precautionary measure, halted in her course by an immense field of oceanic ice.

That unscheduled stop in the middle of the sea had provided the Californian a ringside seat to an unimaginable drama.

The distant steamer had intended those rocket flares as distress signals, and the Californian – only nine miles away – might have rushed to her aid.

Except for one thing. The steamer was sending other distress calls by radio. And the Californian was well within range of those messages.

But her radio operator was asleep.

The Californian’s fledgling radio operator – fresh from training school – was fast asleep in his cabin. And that night the ship’s Second Officer, from his vantage point on the bridge, unwittingly watched the sinking … of the Titanic.

As Paul Harvey famously said, now you know the rest of the story.

Now that your curiosity is satisfied, will you help satisfy mine? Let me know if you think curiosity hooks will help you engage your blog readers. Or, if you have others you’d add to the list. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like:

Anatomy of the greatest brand story ever told

Why good blogging is like ‘follow the leader’

6 writer’s tricks for grabbing attention in the first paragraph

What every blogger can learn from Frank Sinatra

How to be a first-rank wordsmith in the next 10 minutes

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To blog is human

to blog is human

Sometimes you have to unlearn the writing rules to find a more human blogging voice.

It’s been over a year since I wrote my first blog post and I’m just starting to get to the humanity of it.

I started with the goal of blogging as an extension of my job search. Creating a narrative that shows my marketing chops. That shoots steroids into my resume. That builds my online presence and personal brand. You know, all that marketing jazz.

Turns out, to get good at blogging I had to unlearn some of that marketing jazz.

A blog seemed the ideal platform for me. Much of my career has been devoted to direct marketing copywriting, brand strategy and business publishing. I’ve been an editor for many business newsletters, so why not wade into the blogosphere?

I learned blogging is different.

I had to set aside some of the journalistic tendencies of detached reporting and put more of myself into posts. I had to let go of the “brand guideline” approach to controlling the message and polishing each message to a fine sheen.

Related: Before you write your next post, remember just one thing

The polished, technically well-crafted posts were still missing something essential: a human connection with the reader. They were missing a unique perspective, a personal story and emotional oomph. So I looked for ways to add that to new posts. In reading other blogs, I asked myself some questions:

How were exceptional bloggers accomplishing this?

Do they have unique skills apart from other writers?

How can I figure this out more quickly?

born to blogBorn to blog

The answers came in the mail when I received my copy of Born to Blog, the new book by two of my favorite bloggers Stanford Smith and Mark Schaefer. They have written the essential handbook for personal and business blogging.

It covers the basics of setting up a blog, content planning, attracting readers and monetization. Most exciting for me are the sections that help you focus on your purpose and find your unique voice.

Related: What every blogger can learn from Frank Sinatra

One of the things I love about the book is its examples of blogging success by everyday people who share their personal stories. The stories range from battling weight loss, surviving cancer, reaching fitness goals and sharing their hobbies. They touch readers on a human level, and in the process build a community of followers.

These stories lead into a practical examination of successful blogging traits and essential skills that everyone has and can develop. At least half of the book goes deep into the “inner game” of blogging with action steps to develop the tenacity, focus, flexibility, consistency and courage to succeed.

The authors help you understand the reason why before the how to of blogging. Their stated purpose of the book is to explore “how blogging is changing people and businesses from the inside out.”

It doesn’t stop there.

Discovering your blogging skills

Another insightful section of the book identifies the core skills shared by successful bloggers. It is exciting because they are not unique talents, but skills everybody has to some degree. Through their research the authors discovered:

Blogging isn’t an elite marketing strategy. It’s a natural form of communication with skills preprogrammed into us all. You practice these skills every day. You just need to know how to summon them and put them to work.

What are those fundamental skills? In a nutshell:

  • Dreaming – Do you dream of making a difference?
  • Storytelling – Can you tell a story?
  • Persuading – Do you have passions and opinions?
  • Teaching – Can you answer readers’ questions?
  • Curating – Can you critique or categorize a subject?

If you can answer yes, you can blog. The good news is there are ways to summon these skills and the book shows you how. Chapter nine provides a simple evaluation tool to help you identify your strengths so you can focus on your dominant blogging skills.

Born to Blog is a perfect example of the maxim “good things come in small packages.” In 165 pages it gets to the guts and glory of blogging. Whether you are a blogger or part of a social media marketing team, it will help you connect with your audience on a human level. I wish I’d had it when I started a year ago.

[Disclosure: I have met Mark and guest-posted on his blog.]

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Why is consistency hard?

November 14, 2012 6 comments
consistency and context marketing

Old Town Cozumel

For marketers, consistency has been a simple rule to follow for communicating across channels and optimizing customer experience.

However, it’s not always easy to achieve consistency. Let me illustrate with a story.

One of my favorite vacation spots is Mexico. Years ago I discovered Cozumel, and became infatuated by its charm. It offers all the things I enjoy in a getaway: tropical weather, beautiful beaches, authentic food and interesting tourist attractions like Mayan ruins.

Wandering around the port district is an escape into old town Mexico, where roving Mariachi bands and bazaar merchants are framed by colorful, historic architecture. It is an atmosphere that takes you into a different world.

One year I planned a return trip, but all the hotels were booked solid. The alternative was to go to Cancun instead. It was nice, but not the same experience I had in Cozumel. In particular, the shops did not have the same native charm. In fact, they weren’t shops at all. They were strip malls with all the slick stores and merchandise you’d find in any city in the U.S.

The contrast was striking. It set my marketing brain to reeling. Logically it makes sense for retail chains to create a consistent shopping experience for customers wherever in the world they may be. But the context didn’t fit my expectations. This consistency seemed, well, inconsistent. Does consistency matter as much as we have assumed?

The case for marketing consistency

Consistency is a key ingredient for social influence, brand loyalty, customer satisfaction and integrated marketing communications success. Consistent actions and messages deliver many positive benefits.

Consistency builds trust and integrity. In Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer’s book on influence marketing, he notes “a high degree of consistency is normally associated with intellectual strength, logic, rationality and honesty.”

Consistency establishes authority. This year Altimeter Group published a report on digital influence identifying topical relevance as a pillar of influence. When an individual or brand invests in a topic of interest, they earn authority and expertise from a community of focus.

Consistency builds confidence. Successful relationships thrive on predictable actions and messages. When others know what to expect of you, they are comfortable in knowing you will deliver on promises.

Consistency strengthens your message. “People cannot focus on two conversations at once,” says Harry Beckwith in Selling the Invisible. A focused message repeated over time has power to influence and persuade.

Consistency sells. “Would you like fries with that?” There is a reason fast food cashiers are trained to ask you that. Joseph Sugarman, author of Triggers, says once a purchase commitment is made, a buyer tends to act consistently with the decision and is more agreeable to buy more.

consistency and context marketing cancun shopping mall

Cancun shopping mall

Challenges to consistent messaging

The “always-on” nature of new media puts demands on business communications that make it difficult to maintain marketing consistency. In an environment of rapid change, it can even render consistency moot. Consider:

Information overload. With the sheer volume of information on the Web, social media messages can evaporate soon after they are published. One recent study found the median lifespan of a tweet to be 18 minutes. You have to question the real impact of consistent messaging in that environment.

Real-time communications. Being able to respond to events as they unfold on social media is a powerful marketing opportunity. In the heat of real-time marketing it is also an opportunity to veer off-message and off-brand.

The attention economy. Because of information overload, we are increasingly challenged to find ways to make ideas stick. In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath note one characteristic of a sticky idea is that it is unexpected. One way to get someone’s attention is to break a pattern. They explain, “Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out.”

Putting it in context

Are we witnessing the end of consistency as a marketing maxim?  I don’t think so. It’s more of an evolution pushing content marketing toward a higher degree of context. It’s a call to a deeper understanding of customer and prospect personas to reach them where and how they are consuming our message. And of course, this has a shiny new name: context marketing. One of the better explanations I’ve seen describes it as using known qualities of prospects to present content in a frame of reference that is natural or noteworthy.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Has marketing consistency become irrelevant?

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Measuring Klout: Love it or hate it, influence marketing is here

November 6, 2012 6 comments
Influence marketing is here

Social scoring has touched a nerve with some consumers, but it is a revolutionary business opportunity for marketers to reach influencers.

The Klout phenomenon escaped me for a while. It seemed to divide people into two camps: those who object to the principle of saddling individuals with a rating score; and those who obsess over gaming social media activity to elevate their score and lead them to glory. Much of the dialog felt like the jocks versus the nerds during homecoming week.

Now I realize both sides are missing the big picture. I finally got it when I read Mark Schaefer’s book Return on Influence. It was an eye-opener, which I can only describe in two words. Awe. Some. I knew I was in for an interesting read when I came across this passage in the introduction:

We are at the dawn of the creation of a new social media caste system determined by how and when you tweet, connect, share and comment. The haves may score better jobs, higher social status, even better luck on the dating scene. The rules of personal power in our world have been changed forever. And there’s no turning back.

The new rules of online influence

The book lays a solid foundation for understanding online influence from its historical applications in marketing, to its basic elements, its role in content marketing, scoring processes, and current and future applications. It covers a lot of ground and is a compelling read for today’s online marketer.

In the first section he talks about the evolution of earned authority on the Internet. The glut of information available to users renders choice irrelevant. So we have a natural inclination to seek out authorities as a filter. Authorities earn trust by an online presence characterized by consistency, commitment and affinity.

Scarcity also plays a role for online influencers. While content is free, the real commodity is time, attention and reach. Influencers serve as brokers or gatekeepers to move content. The real power on the social Web is in reciprocity, the subtle indebtedness of exchanging favors for the distribution of ideas and content. These new rules are a dramatic change from traditional marketing. And they are being incorporated by marketers in new ways.

Influence marketing in practice

In another section, Schaefer outlines several case studies of companies using social scoring as a driver of marketing strategy. It is a powerful testimony of the potential for leveraging influencers to create buzz that achieves business objectives.

APPLYING SOCIAL PROOF TO TRADITIONAL MARKETING

An online merchant that matches buyers with trustworthy sellers added Klout scores to seller listings and saw likelihood of sales increase by 500 percent. Social proof gave juice to the purchase decision. The scores gave buyers added comfort in purchasing when they could see how long sellers have been online and how active they were.

ENGAGING INFLUENTIAL FANS

Auto manufacturer Audi used Klout to engage technology influencers outside of traditional trade press to nurture brand advocates on the social Web. They also used Klout scores to interact with millions of Facebook fans, employing targeted content. It enabled a more meaningful engagement. The outreach resulted in the buzz and reach they were seeking over and above traditional marketing.

Return on Influence coverINTEGRATED INCENTIVE PROGRAMS

A consumer packaged goods marketer devised a conquest strategy by combining social listening and Klout data to identify unhappy competitor customers and targeting them with coupon promotions. It is part of an overall strategy to move from expensive coupon blasts inserted in newspapers to more organic advocacy and pass-along activity online.

MANAGING ONLINE SENTIMENT

One company CEO interviewed is integrating influence scores into customer service to craft rapid responses to customers with the most potential for spreading negative word-of-mouth online.

PUBLIC RELATIONS AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

A corporate director shared how he used social scoring to manage a potential PR disaster that could have affected company stock prices. A blogger posted that a key client might be going bankrupt, an assertion based on faulty data. After reviewing the influence scores of tweeters sharing the information, he concluded the misinformation was unlikely to spread enough to have an impact. The data gave the management team confidence to watch and wait. The meme quickly died.

These are a few brief examples of how businesses are currently using social scoring outlined in Schaefer’s  book. Beyond the applications of early adopters, he concludes with a look to the not-to-distant future.

The future of social scoring

In researching the book, Schaefer interviewed 70 prominent thought leaders on social scoring and influence. Here are some of the developments they foresee for influence marketing.

1. The social scoring trend will help people reclaim their data and the value of that data.

2. Scoring algorithms will advance to measuring the dollar value of probable referral sales from the individual.

3. Technology will enable the understanding of network structures and influence of interactions in the network. Scores will be more about subjects of influence and the impact on the network.

4. Social scores will integrate into other key business metrics such as customer loyalty, satisfaction, retention, attrition, CRM.

5. Marketers will look to combine influence scores with location-based data.

6. Technology will seek to connect online conversations with offline behaviors.

7. Social scores will evolve into a form of social currency, where services are customized to individual levels of influence.

In this video, Mark Schaefer talks about the ideas behind influence and social media marketing discussed in his book.

‘We are numbers now’

It should come as no surprise we have arrived at a time when we can put a score to our individual influence. Google and Facebook keep track of massive amounts of data about our activities, habits and preferences. We are scored for our creditworthiness. Database marketers score us for propensity to buy. The natural progression leads to scoring our influence on social media. It has gone mainstream and has led us to new opportunities.

For those who struggle with the humanity of being rated for social influence, Schaefer offers this concluding thought: “Yes, we are numbers now. Unavoidably, we will be known for our Klout scores and followers and badges of social proof. But the smartest marketers will always remember that we are people too.”

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The secret to blogging with flair

October 9, 2012 4 comments
The secret to blogging with flair

Creating a personal style for your blog writing makes you stand out in the crowd.

Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. The naked have little or no influence.” This was in reference to the power of presenting yourself with style to stand out in the crowd.

It is apt for bloggers too.  In the mass of content creators, brilliant insights still need a touch of flair to capture the attention and imagination of online readers. While form is no substitute for substance, your writing style IS what you are. It expresses your identity and makes a connection with the reader that enables influence and persuasion to happen.

Elements of blogging style

The focus of Web writing style is primarily on mechanics, which is the domain of guidelines found in the AP Style Guide for journalism, or the Yahoo Style Guide for content creators in the digital world. These are excellent references for developing consistent treatment of:

[Related: Headline writing secrets of advertising legend John Caples]

However, bloggers and content marketers also need to develop a personal style to stand out from the crowd. Your personal style flows from the voice and tone of your writing and how you structure your ideas. You won’t find your personal style in a guidebook. I would add to Twain’s observation by noting “the style makes the blogger – as long as it fits.” I would love to be able to wear skinny jeans, but alas, that style does not fit me.

Style is more than the clothes; it is how you wear them. So too, writing style is more than the mechanics. It is how you apply them.

In pursuit of personal style, bloggers might be tempted to accessorize writing with gaudy metaphors or splashy adjectives to create stylistic flair. Unfortunately, developing personal style is not that simple. Your style is organic to you, the writer.

While there is no clear formula for adding grace and elegance to a piece of writing, there are ways you can develop it. The best place to start is by studying devices used by graceful writers and practicing the fundamentals of clear, concise writing.

10 Principles for clear blog writing

The long and short of blog writing

Short sentences are critical to successful writing for the Web. A readability formula developed by Rudolf Flesch finds the ideal sentence length for business writing is between 14-16 words. This is a good guideline for blogging. However, on occasion bloggers will want to exceed that limit to break monotony and build rhythm.

Here are some helpful guides to maintaining clarity when writing longer sentences:

Check for subject-verb agreement. This can become easily confused in longer sentences containing clauses and modifiers.

Use consistent treatment of the topic. The topic is what the sentence is about, comments on, and flows from. It is usually the subject. When the topic shifts to different places in sentences within the paragraph, it causes needless confusion. Keep them in a coherent sequence throughout.

Place information at the end of the sentence that will be developed in the next.

Use logical connectors to transition from sentences and into new paragraphs.

  • Adding connectors: furthermore, and, also
  • Opposing connectors: but, however
  • Sequencing connectors: first, next, finally
  • Magnifying connectors: even, in fact
  • Concluding connectors: so, therefore

Structure coordinate series sentences so succeeding coordinates are parallel and longer than the one before it (see diagram below for an example)

longer sentences in Web writing

The second sentence in this example moves the parallels from shorter to longer improving the rhythm and flow. Some writers would break the sentence into two rather than attempt a long, complex sentence in a blog post. If you do make this stylistic choice, I recommend using it sparingly.

Beware of mixed metaphors. A metaphor invites the reader to see a familiar thing in a new way. Similes do the same, less intensely, the like or as moderating the force of comparison. If you opt to use either, be sensitive to choosing words that carry the meaning through consistently. Watch out for “looking over” a problem in order to “handle” it correctly, and similar mixed metaphors.

[Related: Do you make these critical thinking mistakes in your blog writing?]

Creating a personal blogging style

“Remember your primary goal as a writer is not to leave your imprint on the page,” offers Gary Provost in Make Your Words Work. “Your goal is to make the writing work. Make it do what it’s supposed to.” Many writers who write about writing say a style should be invisible. Rather than straining to make it happen, learn to write well and your style will emerge. Here are three ideas for creating your personal style:

  1. Master the mechanics. Learn the fundamentals of brevity and clarity as the foundation to making your writing do what it is supposed to.
  2. Read the masters. Make a habit of reading other writers – not only bloggers, but good copywriters and fiction writers. Studying how poets use language, structure and rhythm can give you new perspective on your writing.
  3. Let your personality emerge. As you continue to master the mechanics and read the masters, you will be inspired to express your voice in writing.

Bruce Lee was a model for self-expression. One of the greatest martial artists of all time, he was controversial because of his philosophy on style. He was first to merge several fighting styles into a unique hybrid.

He combined elements of Kung Fu, Jujitsu, grappling, boxing and other martial arts to create a new “style of no style” he named Jeet Kune Do. His vision was not for a new style of self-defense, but for physical self-expression.

When teaching students he told them, “Do not look for a successful personality and duplicate it. Express YOUR self.” Good advice for bloggers too.

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Style matters: Does this blog post make me look fat?

September 11, 2012 10 comments

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.

Blogger's Guide to Word Reduction

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.’]

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