A dinner event speaker steps up to the microphone and starts with “I’ll keep this brief,” and the room exhales with relief. Knowing she stood between attendees and their prime rib or chicken florentine, the speaker wisely edited herself, hastening the click-clack of cutlery, chatter and bonhomie.
Such is the magic of brevity in speech and, of course, in writing. From Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit” to the singular pleasantry of the “Yo” app, copywriters are on an endless hunt for the brief and beautiful.
Just don’t go too far. There’s no need to resort to “The Emoji Movie,” in which the teen protagonist decides “Words aren’t cool” and texts his crush a single emoji.
Words are cool. Just follow these tips.
Don’t double (or triple) dip
Why let extra words weigh down your prose? Consider a piece of financial copywriting that aims to tell a client that the plan you develop will be personalized. “Bespoke, financial plans tailored just for you,” the website copy boasts. Do you see the problem? “Bespoke” is just a fancy word for tailored, and “just for you” is just as redundant. The writer not only double-dipped (a classic Seinfeld sin), but triple-dipped, using words that meant the same thing multiple times. “So what?” you might say, as rebellious as Pink, as hip as Miles Davis, who asked that question even earlier. Here’s what: A fat check for your financial services will not be forthcoming because your writing is redundant, and it makes your business seem as if it is run by amateurs. Simplify, always.
Clean your word house of clutter
A surprising number of tips from Japanese cleaning guru Marie Kondo apply to writing, such as throwing out everything that is not precious to you. In her bestselling book, “The life-changing magic of tidying up,” Kondo suggests readers “take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ if it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.” So much of writing entails rewriting, examining each word skeptically as if it were a foreign object. Now, some words, like the articles “a” or “the,” are grammatical workhorses that may not make your heart flutter but must stay or your sentences will crumble into nonsense. But consider the rest. Do you love the way each verb, adjective, and noun expresses your message? Do you need them all? Eliminate unnecessary words, then stand back and enjoy prose that is as spotless as a freshly scrubbed floor.
Learn to love links and verticals
Readers love shorthand. Even our text message acronyms have gone international. Instead of LOL, the French use MDR, “mort de rire,” which means, roughly, dying of laughter. Now we’re not saying you should scatter acronyms throughout your copywriting. In fact, it’s usually a bad idea unless you’re sure your audience knows exactly what they mean. Consider a business’s homepage, for example. As an agency that provides website copywriting services, we believe a homepage should express who you are very clearly, and in short order. It should state what you do in lucid but tantalizing terms that make a potential client thirst for more. Don’t overdo it on that main page. Use web links and simply-named verticals that put key information a click away. Use an FAQ page to avoid answering dull but frequently asked questions upfront.
Avoid the abstraction trap
Abstract words are the hallmarks of bloated writing. They are the puffed-up perpetrators of many a writing crime, hijacking precious space, yet adding nothing. A restaurant boasts that its “menu fluctuates on a daily basis” could have said “menu changes daily.” A winery that coaxes tourists to “experience our breathtaking views” could have ditched the first two words. Imagine if you were to walk into that winery and elbow past someone saying that you’d like to “experience the view.” You’ll sound like a pompous ass and you’ll get a well-deserved eye roll. The same is true of writing. Words such as experience, institution, situation, problem, nature, and question are just surplus words tacked on to other words but with no real function. In those cases, we have to agree with The Emoji Movie. That’s not cool.
Need copywriting that is sharp, snappy and inspires action? Get in touch with MarketSmiths.