"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." The old quote—attributed at times to Winston Churchill—says it all. Concise writing is difficult. But it’s important—not just as a matter of good writing, but for effective marketing.
In 2013, a human being’s average attention span was calculated at 8 seconds. That was down from 12 seconds in 2000. A goldfish’s attention span? 9 seconds. That’s right, we have shorter attention spans than goldfish.
If you consider that office workers check their email inbox on average 30 times per hour, the data aren’t surprising. We have information flying at us from all angles at every second of our lives, and it’s hard to keep up with it all. That’s why companies that understand—and pay attention to—today’s buyer habits and information length “pain points” will succeed.
How to say much in little
How do you achieve word economy? First, focus on your message. Hammer a draft out. Don’t edit yourself while you are writing. Then return to the draft with chisel. Look at each sentence and ask if each word is critical to the meaning. If it isn’t, cut it.
Here are some examples* to start training yourself to spot unnecessary words:
- Useless introductory words:
“Upon reflection, I recall…” → “I recall”
- Unnecessary relative clauses:
“The smoke that comes from factories that are situated in the valley pollutes the air” → “The smoke from factories in the valley pollutes the air”
- Overuse of prepositional phrases:
“College students are required by the university to make payments of their tuition fees before the time of their registration” → “University students must pay tuition before registration”
- Vague nouns:
“The nature of the crisis situation was such that it called for our immediate attention” → “The crisis required our immediate attention”
- Passive voice:
“The match had been won by the world champion shortly after it started” → “The world champion won the match shortly after it started”
*Examples from Brigham Young University’s The Writing Center.
A few more examples:
- “Located at 1608 Walnut Street” → “At 1608 Walnut Street”
- “Will be held at” → “Will be at"
- “In an effort to” → “to”
- “A total of eight” → “eight”
- “The proceeds from the event go to benefit Ronald McDonald House” → “Proceeds benefit Ronald McDonald House”
Get into the habit of spotting superfluous words. Word economy is respectful of your reader and imperative to marketing success in today’s digital age.