Digital Marketing Strategy

Help Your Writing With These 2 Short Tips

To give you time to explore more of this week’s Content Marketing World sessions, we’ve kept this post short – just two helpful writing tips.

Even great writers appreciate tips for more effective writing. And audiences definitely appreciate more effective writing. They have short attention spans. They consume content in small windows of time.

Do you write and edit for a world that consumes your content in short bursts? Try these two writing tips for content that resonates better with your readers.

Tip 1: Use short, simpler words
Everyone loves to sound smart, but your audience will tune out if they don’t understand what you’re saying. Don’t encourage your audience to stop consuming your content because you inflated it with complex words. Don’t make your interested audience leave the page to look up a definition.

Don’t discourage your audience by using complex words in your #content, says @virtualpenny via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #WritingTips Click To Tweet
Short words are easy to digest. Long or unfamiliar words slow down the reader. Readers may skip over key points or give up on the content.

Compare these before-and-after examples to see why simplifying really works.

Save your stellar vocabulary words for your next Scrabble game or your groundbreaking novel. Use simple words in your content marketing. Even readers of complex subject matter appreciate the simplest writing possible.

TIP: Unsure of how easy to understand your content is? Use the Flesch-Kincaid reading scale calculator like this one. This check also helps identify how well you implemented the next tip.

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Tip 2: Use short, direct sentences
It follows that readers who like to consume short words also appreciate short sentences.

Writing guru Ann Wylie frequently shares research from the American Press Institute to prove this point.

All surveyed readers understood a sentence of fewer than eight words. And almost all (90%) could understand a sentence between nine and 14 words. As the words increased, comprehension went down. By the time a sentence hit 43 words, only 10% understood the information. Though the study was done over 10 years ago for newspaper writing, it applies well to content marketing. And one might assume even shorter might work better today.

Only 10% of readers surveyed understood 43-word sentences, according to @AmPress #research via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #WritingTips Click To Tweet
Are you writing sentences full of clauses and conjunctions? Could those be broken up into a few shorter, more impactful sentences?

Let’s look at one of the most challenging sentences to write – the introduction. You want to catch your audience’s attention and spur them to continue reading the content. The trick is to be concise.

Let’s walk through this example. I’ve changed a few details to hide the writer’s identity:

“For the past months, we have seen remote work as a trend that is requiring more people to use home internet for work purposes, a trend that also introduces cybersecurity risks.”

At 31 words, that sentence is too long. How can we shorten it and retain its intent?

First, consider what’s not important.

The clause “for the past months” dates the piece. Is time a necessary factor? In this case it isn’t, so it’s cut.

“We have seen remote work as a trend that is requiring more people to use home internet for work purposes, a trend that also introduces cybersecurity risks.”

Now, the sentence is 27 words.

Next, “we have seen” is first person, present perfect tense. While the verb tense could change to a simple past or present tense, the phrase is unnecessary because attribution isn’t required. Plus, in 2020, remote work is a well-known trend. That doesn’t need to be mentioned:

“Remote work is requiring more people to use home internet for work purposes, a trend that also introduces cybersecurity risks.”

Now, the sentence is 20 words.

A couple more edits: Delete “requiring more people” – who works remotely is a given. Your dog does not use home internet. Change the verb to active voice.

“Remote work requires the use of home internet for work purposes, a trend that also introduces cybersecurity risks.”

Now, the sentence is 18 words.

Remember that we deleted the “trend” angle earlier. We need to do it again.

“Remote work requires the use of home internet for work purposes, introducing cybersecurity risks.”

Now, the sentence is 14 words.

With the shorter sentence, it’s easier to see the word “work” is used twice. Let’s get rid of one reference:

“The use of home internet for work purposes introduces cybersecurity risks.”

The sentence is now 11 words. Even though the plan was to cut one word, the editing opportunity revealed redundancies in concept. “Home internet for work purposes” is a more precise phrase for “remote work.”

Do any more extraneous words exist in the sentence? Yes. Let’s adjust again:

“Using home internet for work introduces cybersecurity risks.”

Now, the sentence is eight words.

Reducing the sentence from 31 words to eight words retains the original general idea. It also hits the number of words understood by 100% of those in the American Press Institute research.

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What are your short tips for better writing?
We write, edit, and read it every day – content with long, confusing sentences or complicated words.

Let’s be better than that content. Let’s think about our readers, their short attention spans, and their appreciation for easy reading. That requires us to go short in words and sentences.

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There’s still time to get access to dozens of Content Marketing World 2020 sessions, including Penny’s 10 Simple Tips for Savvy Writing. Sign up now and watch them over the next six months.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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