How many times have you opened a long email and just skimmed it, or completely scrolled past an extremely long Facebook post? We don’t want to admit it, but our attention spans are short. We save our focus for the things that really need it, and not for someone’s long explanation — or even worse, their rant.
Still, people are surprised when you didn’t read their long message, and you’re surprised when you spend time crafting the perfect post that no one reads. Why is this? Because the best way to get your message across is to keep it short and sweet.
I may be a writer an editor, but that doesn’t mean my work automatically comes out perfect and error-free in my first draft. Sometimes, I will use too many words to say what I want to say. We all tend to do this because 1.) We’re human and 2.) We take pride in what we create. Our words are our thoughts and ideas, and we want to share them — not chop them up.
Since keeping our messages short and sweet does not come naturally, we have to learn to edit ourselves. I once heard a book reviewer and editor say that it takes her twice as long, if not longer, to write a short piece that is restricted to a certain word limit. It takes more thought and it requires you to make more decisions about what really matters.
I learned how to do this best when I worked in news. We had to follow a strict set of guidelines to make scripts readable. Much of this now applies to crafting a good Twitter or Facebook post, or a good, easy-to-read email. I’ve come up with the following lists of guidelines and questions that will help you edit your own work.
- What does the audience need to know to move forward?
- How and why does this information directly impact my audience?
- What actions do I need my audience to take right now?
- What is the desired end result?
- Keep your sentences as short as possible, without too many commas or conjunctions.
- Make sure all of the adjectives and adverbs you use are necessary.
- Avoid passive sentence construction.
- Make sure your verbs are actively and lively. Try not to use too many “to be” verbs (am/was/were/be/being), and generic, catch-all verbs like “get.”
- Make sure you can read your work aloud with ease.
As I said, we’re not all perfect, so this list is not exhaustive. Tell us what tricks you use when editing your own work. Do you find it easier or harder to writer shorter pieces?