In a world of taglines, Cliff Notes, and Adderall, it’s no surprise the attention span of readers is dwindling . So when creating content for your website or business documents, rather than mimic the style of Jane Eyre, keep your writing light.
Sounds simple, but if you grew up like me with teachers requiring minimum page lengths, it may not come easy. I would always fluff up word counts and try to sound sophisticated only to be left with a heavy writing style. When your writing is heavy, your readers gloss over and stumble over the content. And whether they skip words altogether or try relentlessly to get through them, the point you tried to make probably got lost.
To shed the word-weight, try this trick:
After you finish writing and completing the usual grammar and spellcheck, go back and try to cut each sentence in half. By that, I don’t mean delete all intro clauses or lengthy examples, although maybe you should. Instead, comb through each sentence and get rid of each word that just adds fluff. Here’s a few to get you started:
Words clogging up your sentence without furthering your point. They can include THAT, ALSO, JUST, IN ADDITION TO, THEN, CAN.
The word THAT is a huge culprit we don’t even realize we say. For example, I originally wrote “it’s no surprise that the average length of a reader’s attention continues to get shorter”. Instead I removed THAT along with a few other words, and what’s left? “It’s no surprise the average attention span of readers is dwindling.” The message remains the same.
Poor Tense Words
Words related to present progressive, past progressive, or future progressive tense. Look for verbs ending in –ING, the verb BE, and the word HAVE.
Instead of “Next, you are going to fill out this form,” say “Next, fill out this form.” Instead of “Last week, we were moving to the new office, and next week, we will be going to the annual conference,” say “Last week, we moved to the new office, and next week we head to the annual conference.” Instead of “We have been focused on hiring people that have just graduated college,” say, “We are focused on hiring new graduates.”
Words you think help clarify your point, but just get in the way. Look for those ending in –LY.
Instead of using an adverb to further describe a word, why not leave the word alone so it stands out or use a better word? For example, “Carefully examine each material,” sounds like you’re babying me through the steps. “Examine each material,” is much more direct and the focus is on “examine.”
Once you finish chopping up your word count, read your first draft again. Do you find yourself stumbling through it? Now read your new draft. Feels lighter, right? This isn’t to say you should never use the words above, but if you can remove them, and the sentence still conveys the same meaning, then delete away.
Like any workout, it may take a while to get rid of these words in the beginning, but soon you’ll be crossing them out as you write. They’ll feel heavy as you type. The effort of combing through each sentence is better than leaving that weight on your readers.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (French writer, aristocrat, and aviator) once said:
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Even I can admit, when I first let loose on this post, my word count was up to 800, now it sits at a much lighter 610.
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So wise, so true. And this is coming from an engineer that writes long reports crammed with boring information. It takes more time to write with fewer words than more.
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