Feb 25, 2011

Keep it Short. Keep it Smart.

The way we read has changed. We used to read anything we could get our hands on. Now we are hands-free skimmers, scanners and multi-platform multi-taskers. We hunt for and devour information that satisfies our needs. Empty, cumbersome content is skipped.

Today, more than ever, brevity and scanability is critical for a message to be heard. The people, places and apps that provide information quickly get read: businessweek, twitter, cnn, facebook, google reader, etc. While reading tactics are changing, the appeal of quality, concise writing has endured. Here are some tips and tactics for creating compelling content:

Be pointed.
Every written piece must have a purpose. Start by outlining your thoughts around messages and communications goals. If your aim is to educate, do your research carefully. If you want to share your opinion, consider both what your audience already knows and what you have to offer them.

Make every word tell.
To sound smart, people cloak their messages in clich├ęd words and phrases. Write honestly and select a tone your audience would be comfortable with. Read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style again. The book’s mantra – ‘make every word tell’ – is as important today as when the book was first printed 50 years ago. Maira Kalman’s illustrated version is particularly great.

Easy is also good.
Writing should be brief and to the point. Before publishing, read your writing aloud. Readers respond to active verbs, varied sentence lengths and interesting syntax. Stick to one idea per paragraph and present your ideas up front. Call attention to pertinent information with bulleted lists, pull-quotes and sub-headers. But select formatting carefully – if you call attention to everything on the page, nothing will stand out.

Headlines should headline.
A good headline summarizes the story. Clever headlines are great but should be avoided if the cleverness obscures the meaning. Stick to these rules to create good headlines and avoid long words.