On brevity

I think people have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Whether it’s in life in general, or solving problems, I like to believe the simplest solution is usually the best. The same applies to the written word.

I am often guilty myself of going on a full-no-holds-barred-stream-of-consciousness-that-goes-on-forever-and-encapsulates-every-tiny-thought-that’s-going-through-my-brain-oh-look-there’s-a-bird-outside rampage of words, and I think that’s because my brain seems to act faster than what my fingers are capable of typing – a bit like my tongue at times – so things can get a bit messy.

If you do this too, there’s a chance you’re getting in your own way between what you’re trying to communicate and your audience.

Remember: your content is not for you.

If you’re creating content for your audience, you should think about them first – who are you writing for and what ideas are you trying to communicate to them.

Getting those ideas out of your brain and onto paper (or, these days, on some screen) as quickly as possible is a good approach, but it’s all in the editing.

Try not to fall in love with your first draft.

Think of your ideas as a big heap of clay. All the stuff is there, you just need to give it a bit of work. Take time to sculpt your language and chip away at the raw stuff, to make the message as clear as possible and so that your reader can get from it what they need.

Follow the KISS rule: keep it simple, stupid.

It’s not all about short sentences, although it is a good place to start. It’s all about speed. Faster reading means quicker understanding.

In the same way that quality is better than quantity, more ideas does not equal more value.

That being said, while I could say that you should avoid using more words than are absolutely necessary, I could just say “be concise”, but this would be bereft of any personality! The trick is not waffling on for paragraphs upon paragraphs just for the sake of it. It wastes your audience’s time and in this day and age, time is precious.

Keep the specialist language for the specialists. 

Try not to overcomplicate your writing with jargon or technical mumbo-jumbo, unless you really want to say things like mumbo-jumbo. That being said, if your audience is technical then feel free to speak their language. If you must use jargon and you’re not 100% sure your audience will understand it, then clarify it in the first instance. There’s nothing wrong with teaching, but you don’t want to make your audience feel uneducated either.

Break up your paragraphs with subheadings

You’ll see I’ve done this here – it’s really up to you on how you use these but it can help readers ‘skim’ your article to see if it gives them what they’re looking for.

Did this piece do it for you? Hopefully these tips will help you write better content for your audience.

  • Yva

    Great post Ross! I definitely prefer content that gets to the point – waffle gets you nowhere!

  • Like the point you made about a ‘heap of clay’ and it just needs ‘sculpting’. That’s how I tend to work at my writing. You do find then that you will cut out what is not really needed.