Attention spans are shorter than ever and, as communicators, we’re often charged with grabbing readers’ attention and getting them to take action. As attention spans continue to shrink, this means that every word needs to count.
It’s a delicate balance to write a piece or post that’s interesting and useful while also being concise and driving a call to action. It’s far easier to write a flowery and verbose column than one that’s carefully considered and thoughtfully edited.
Most Americans read at a fifth-grade level, and they’re frequently consuming short bits of information through text message and TikTok. Concise content stands to reduce readers’ confusion and increase their reading comprehension.
Use these six actionable writing tips to make any piece of content shorter and more powerful.
- Consider the purpose. Before starting any writing project, ask yourself: What do I need to convey or accomplish with this piece? Who is reading it? What do they need to know about this topic and why? Use these answers to keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write.
- Get to the point. Your readers shouldn’t wonder about the point of your piece. Lead your readers through the information to understand a clear point or point of view. Use the nut graph — the paragraph that’s the “nut” of the story — to tell readers why they should care, either in the lead or shortly afterward.
- Use active voice. Passive voice is confusing and hard to follow, while active voice is clear and direct. With active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb. It closely matches the style of how we speak to one another, which makes it familiar and easy to understand.
- Put verbs to work. It’s common to see headlines and subheads that start with verbs. But most writers overlook the power of starting a sentence with a verb in articles and blog posts. The verb creates action and increases the pace for your reader.
- Use short sentences. Compound sentences muddle the message. They’re hard to understand, and frequently lead to grammatical errors with mismatched verb conjugation. Split compound sentences into two sentences, and aim for 8-12 words per sentence. Think of each sentence as making one point and one point only.
- Be a brutal editor. Reread your copy at least three times, even if it’s a two-paragraph social media post. Tighten it, and then tighten again, sentence by sentence. On your first edit, you should be able to cut at least 10% from your piece. Then ask if every tidbit supports your main point and if every word serves a purpose.
Commit to the practice of writing short and your skill will improve. Your readers will thank you for the brevity.
B2 co-founder & principal Missy Hurley, APR contributed this article to the February 2023 issue of Strategies & Tactics, the award-winning newspaper of Public Relations Society of America.
Copyright © 2023 by Strategies & Tactics. Reprinted with permission from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA.org).