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Brevity Is the Soul of Wit

…wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet. Only most of us aren’t brief.

You have pressing information, a delicious new product or a life-altering service that benefits the world! You believe in it, which is essential for success. It propels you and keeps you going even on the worst days.

The problem is, you don’t connect to your potential fans through belief alone. A mass of information sits between you and them—the ones who will really get you and like what you offer.

Unfortunately, your potential fans have limited time and patience to listen even to you.

Despair not. A thriving brand can employ many tactics. Shorter copy is one.

You are more likely to delight, inspire, humor, motivate or activate with less copy.

But short doesn’t mean simple, hyped, incomplete or inconsistent with your brand. The goal is better words in a better order—resulting in shorter copy. Overdo the editing and you sacrifice the gratifying threads that hold key ideas together. But overediting is rare.

Why does shorter copy delight, inspire, humor, motivate or activate?

Because it gets and keeps the reader’s attention.

Below are common writing problems that reduce reader attention, and can also cause people to lose confidence and trust in your brand.

“Ly” adverbs: “Ly” adverbs weaken verbs. Replace the adverb/weak verb pair with one vivid verb to enrich your message. (One of my favorite tools for finding synonyms is Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus or ye old’ Roget’s.)

We will quickly and effortlessly install your new network.

Better: We excel in fast, flawless installation. (Sexy and confident, no?)

Redundant words or expressions: Terms like “a sum of 80 trees” or “fully 300 of our followers” add words and sound suspicious.

We’ve been in business for a total of 10 years.

Better: We’ve been in business for 10 years. (Then explain how that benefits your customer in tangible ways.)

Passive voice: It takes more words to describe an action being done to someone or something. In active sentences, the real subject is doing the acting and your message is more confident and credible. People love that.

All ages of people are welcome to attend.

Better: We welcome all ages.

The better sentence also humanizes the writing. People want to connect with you.

It was determined by the board that the findings were inconclusive. (hmmm)

Better: The board determined the findings were inconclusive.

You can also raise suspicion with passive voice even if you don’t intend to hide information. Organizations, but also many businesses, avoid brevity and clarity. Most often their brand lacks a strong foundation. This makes for fence-sitting and trying to reach everyone, which doesn’t sound confident.

Another reason is political. If you must avoid ruffling feathers use passive voice. But is it necessary, or an unquestioned default mode?

Sloppy word order: Free your sentences of excess noise and make the signal stronger. This is an easy and satisfying fix.

We collect only the best beans from the top of the mountain.

Better: We collect only the best mountain-top beans.

Master these and you invite people to connect with you in a more powerful way…now that they’re paying attention.


(Image credit: Flickr/kanelstrand)

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