Omit needless words.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. “The Elements of Style” William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
As a young journalist, these words were ingrained in me from day one. My Journalism 101 class valued Strunk and White’s writing rule so much that we had to memorize it for a test. From the inverted pyramid to brief paragraphs, newspaper style focuses on being succinct. Answer the Five Ws and end it.
However, like most every moderately ok newsperson, I fled the industry for job security in marketing, where I promptly had back-to-back-to-back layoffs. How ironic. Yet, while you can take the boy out of newspapering, but you can’t take “The Elements of Style” out of the boy.
As marketers, we often are called “fluffy” when it comes to content — at least by those moderately ok newspersons. It’s tricky to mix a friendly, helpful voice with an audience that needs to get to the point quickly.
It isn’t about writing short but writing what matters.
B2B marketers juggle multiple audiences with diverse buying groups that consume information across a variety of mediums and formats. That is a lot of content to keep concise.
So, with brevity in mind, tighter writing is as simple as 1, 2.
1. Focus on Topic
While it could be argued that “thought leadership” is one of the most overused phrases in a marketer’s toolbox, it’s still the goal for much of what we create. However, look closer: It’s thought leadership. Just one thought. #ThoughtsLeadership has never trended for good reason.
From robust eBooks to pithy listicles, our B2B content should be driven by answering:
- What is the topic?
- Who is the audience?
- How is the topic of discussion solving a problem your audience has?
Focusing on the connection between subject and reader creates a natural path for your piece. We have a lot of information at our disposal. It doesn’t all belong in what is currently being crafted. Extra information muddles a clear narrative.
Whether adding a few bullet points about more features, a strong stat, your latest testimonial, or a whole section of benefits, if the information doesn’t directly connect your audience to your thought (not thoughts), then save it for another piece.
2. Edit for Comprehension
Readability of content directly impacts how engaging it is. B2B topics can be complex, technical, and data driven. Even more problematic is a writer overly motivated to prove expertise. Complex topics are often confused with complex sentences, and complex sentences with prowess. If your readers can’t comprehend the point or lack the desire to get to it, all is lost.
Editing is as important as writing. Achieving clarity and brevity isn’t easy, but necessary.
For marketers, the rules of editing must be applied by prospect. What engages one reader could be snoozefest for another. Regardless, these essential tips will help you tighten up your copy by editing for reading comprehension:
- Are there redundancies?
- Using the same word multiple times likely means you aren’t being as succinct or descriptive as possible.
- Are your supporting statements amplifying your point or only repeating it differently?
- Is everything in active voice?
- Passive voice feels less direct because it is. It also uses more words.
- Active voice requires you to be clear on your position, prompting your reader to pay attention.
- Can complex sentences be broken apart?
- Is the prepositional phrase adding to overall meaning?
- Have you used extraneous words?
- If you can delete a word without changing the meaning of the sentence, do so.
- Keep an eye out for filler words such as: really, very, feel, like, just, that, simply, better, maybe.
- How useful is the conjunction? And, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet are all needed to keep your flow. Just don’t overdo it.
- How powerful are your adjectives and adverbs?
- Adjectives and adverbs are descriptive. Judge each to make sure it’s doing its job by adding both detail and meaning to your statement.
- Marketers need to keep an eye on usage. Adjectives and adverbs are often crutches to make an offering more exciting.
As B2B marketers, we often fall into the trap of defining a piece of content by format and, in turn, by that format’s length. We are doing a disservice to both our message and our readers if we are writing with that in mind and not letting the information lead. Everything we write should add to the message.
Concise writing is not about word count.
Now that you have read my 799 words, judging each for relevancy, I’d like to see if I can get this blog right. Let me start over: Omit needless words. The end.