Let’s Get One Thing Clear

Let’s Get One Thing Clear


Clear Writing

When you get praise from two of America’s A-list copywriters, you know you’re on the right track.

And when they tell you they like your ‘clear and punchy’ writing style, you know all those years of study were worth it, especially when that’s what you were aiming for.

These days I regard the A-list copywriters the way I used to regard the stars of the music industry. To me, they’re rock stars, and they do what they do for love, not just money. But, unlike many of those rock stars I used to worship, these people are friendly, approachable and more than willing to help out those of us who aspire to excellence but aren’t there yet.

The writers of the world have gotten a bad reputation for being brooding, angsty, bad-tempered hermits, perhaps because of all those brooding, angsty writers from early last century.

In my experience, most writers belong to one big happy family. Each one willing to step up and help those further down the ladder. There’s no competition because we all understand what it’s like to be a writer, all the joys, quirks and challenges.

Having waxed lyrical about my profession and my peers, this post is about the ‘clear and punchy’ writing style I’ve honed over the years.

Almost everyone has read (or had to listen to) something so long, convoluted and full of ‘fluff’ that it became an endurance event. The whole thing could have been cut to half its size and still said what it had to say. It was full of repetition and excess words, the opposite of ‘clear and punchy’, and a chore to read.

To me, life is too short to spend time looking for the meaning in such works. I just stop reading. It may well have good information to share but I’ll never know because it was buried in filler.

Many people feel the same way, so if your writing is overlong and rambling, it won’t be read. And on the WWW, that’s not what you want. You want to engage people and keep them reading so they’ll heed your call-to-action.

Having said that, I sometimes have the opposite problem. I cut so many words from my pieces that the meaning isn’t clear or, even worse, it’s ambiguous.

Many years ago one of my mentors told me to ‘avoid ambiguity at all costs.’

And it’s true. You don’t want your reader to think anything other than what you intended. Always read your work and if there’s any chance it could be misconstrued or taken to mean something else, or even confusing, then change it so your meaning is clear.

I’d go one step further and add, ‘avoid mediocrity at all costs.’

Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, one of the cardinal sins of writing is the use of adverbs. Arggg! Those mostly useless, and over-used, words ending in –ly that are often used to add extra meaning but seldom do.

If you feel the need to use an adverb with a verb to give it more clarity then you’re using the wrong verb. Try using a better verb and you won’t need anything more.

So instead of, ‘The man walked slowly.’ Try, ‘The man strolled.’ Or, ‘The man ambled.’

The same goes for, ‘She smiled happily.’ Try instead, ‘She grinned.’ Or, ‘She beamed.’

Get creative. There are plenty of words in the English language. Find one more suitable and make your writing sizzle.

And while we’re talking about sizzling writing, how about wheeling out some of those exciting adjectives we have at our disposal.

Instead of the bland, boring adjectives that mediocre writers use, try words like lachrymose, obtuse, nefarious, caustic, cerulean or garrulous. Just don’t overdo the more obscure words, you don’t want your reader spending more time consulting a dictionary than reading your work.

You want your writing to be expressive and convey the right meaning using as few words as possible. So don’t use words like really, very, awfully, totally or any other word that tries to convey the degree of the adjective. It’s ok to say, ‘I am happy.’ We get it. You could also be delighted or ecstatic.

Once you’ve done all that go through your work and remove every word that isn’t working hard to get your point across. In some cases that could be half the words you’ve written. We just want to read what you have to say. We don’t need to read hundreds of superfluous words with no meaning. Please be mindful that we are busy and have lots to do.

Use these tips and your writing will be tight, clear and punchy. You’ll get your ideas across without waffling on and your work is more likely to be read to the end.

After all, everyone has great ideas and the rest of us want to know about them, just make it quick, could you?




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