No matter what we write, we never want to become overly wordy or let the message of our work get buried halfway down the page. Doing so causes minds to wander and readers to click away from the page. The most important thing a writer can do for any piece of writing is to get to the point, and quickly.
We’ve all done it. We use flowery language and lots of words to make ourselves sound smart and authoritative. I know I’ve done it! But did you ever go back and read aloud what you just wrote? Did it make sense? Did the words flow easily? Or did you end up asking yourself, “What am I saying, here?”
The venerable William Strunk, Jr, and E. B. White said it best in their book The Elements of Style (a book I highly recommend): “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should have 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.”
They go on to give examples of common expressions that can become verbal pitfalls in an otherwise well-written article:
The fact that is particularly noxious, as Strunk and White point out. These three little words are so easy to slip into a sentence in an attempt to give it more validity. (This is a fact! See?) But do they really say anything? Not really.
We all fall for the word trap: the belief that the more words we throw into a sentence, the more intelligent we will sound. I mean, why not? Shakespeare got away with it!
Well, Shakespeare wasn’t creating content for the web—and we are not Shakespeare.
At best, we bore our readers. At worst, we confuse them. It’s at this point the writer’s message is completely lost and the reader clicks away to another page.
Writing in concise, well-crafted sentences will hold your readers’ eyes to the page and get your message across. This is especially important if you’re writing about anything very technical or esoteric. If you can explain something in simple language, you are more likely to make your reader understand. You also become a more trustworthy source. A sentence full of technical jargon only turns readers off and makes them wonder if you truly know what you’re talking about or if you are just quoting the latest research.
The Upside-Down Pyramid
Do you remember all of the introductions you snuck into high school papers, just to make them longer?
Since the beginning of time, man has . . .
Webster’s dictionary defines literature as . . .
There once was a man from Nantucket . . .
Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get my point. We used these because we thought they sounded epic and really deep. In truth, our English teachers were rolling their eyes as they read it for the umpteenth time.
Likewise, readers will roll their eyes if they have to dig through long introductions and explanations to get to the point of your piece. The best way to avoid this? Just be upfront about your message!
In good, old-fashioned journalism, this is called the “upside-down pyramid” style of writing. The most important information in the article should appear in the very first paragraph, often referred to as the “nut graph.” The biggest facts go in the widest part of the pyramid. From there on, the writer can include the details in order of importance.
Journalists knew that a large amount of their readership was not going to continue to read an article if they had to turn a page. So, they put everything the reader really had to know in the first few sentences. Likewise, your readers are not going to be patient enough to scroll down or click to another page if they can’t understand what your article is going to be about.
Your keyword forces you to get to the point right away, actually. You want the first occurrence of that word in the first 100 words of your article to catch the web crawlers. And your keyword is a big part of your message, right?
So get to the point and keep your readers!
Laurie Mega is a trivia junkie, on-again-off-again blogger, and a lead editor at Skyword. She loves to comb the blogosphere for interesting and irreverent stories to share and tweet. Follow her at @laurieann78.