On Editing & Brevity

On Editing & Brevity

I’m sad to say that Mark Twain probably wouldn’t have cared much for me or my blogI’m a pretty nice guy, adore my wonderful wife, frolic with my Yellow Lab pups each day, respect my elders, hold the restaurant door for folks, treasure my friends, and “sir” and “ma’am” is go-to decorum.  I don’t drink, do drugs, or smoke.  I work very hard, show up on time for appointments, meet deadlines, sweat the details, and treat people the way that how I would want to be treated.

So why wouldn’t Huck’s creator warm up to me?  You see, Because “the father of American literature” (so said William Faulkner) had an immense aversion to excessive verbiage.  Mr. Clemens — world-renowned satirist, writer, lecturer — embraced brevity the way our elected officials embrace earmarks, pork, and political fragmentation.  Concerning the subject of brevity, not so much me.  I plead guilty to writing long.

(Editorial aside to do some charity work:  If you know me from my working career and couldn’t hold back a chortle or uh-duh tied to the incongruity of this blog post coming from me, you’re forgiven if you send a $50 check to your favorite charity before your head hits the pillow tonight.  I confess my writing sins, and you cackle.  Nice.  You’re forgiven … if you write the check.)

Communication ratchets up in quality is best when words are judiciously used.  Like garlic, rouge, a compliment, and a good change-up, moderation is key with words.  Indeed, there is no question that Brevity is sacred to first-rate writers and editors for one simple reason — it most effectively delivers the message.  It is not always easy to achieve succinctness because it’s far easier to write long than to write tight and crisp.  Copy should pop.  That’s why talented copyeditors — who are equal parts grammar and inconsistency police, as well as, more often than not usually, borderline obsessive-compulsive — are so valuable.  As well they should.

Twain often wrote about his annoyance with wordiness.  One of my favorites of his many quotes on the subject is, “To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself.”

Indeed.  Loquacious, rambling Verbosity can make for dull reads and a wandering audience.  If you want to memorably get your point precisely across, go back to your copy and lose some of the adverbs and adjectives, tighten up your prose, and replace the $9 word with a $2 variant word.  You’ll get your point across just as effectively (probably better), and you’ll be less likely to lose your audience.  Unless, of course, you’re a blogger.

To be sure, Other factors have to be weighed when writing.  For example, When sitting in the executive’s chair, there are times when you simply don’t have time to write a short report or email — so you write a longer one.  There is absolute truth to the assertion that, on occasion, one just doesn’t have time to be brief.  With many balls in the air, time is tight, and deadlines pressing, just crank — thoughts to fingers to keyboard — especially when your audience needs the information, and you need to move on to another item on your to-do list so as to be optimally productive.  After all, You’re a manager, and if you’re a decent one, the first thing you have to manage well is your workflow.  If you’re a reasonably talented communicator and your audience has a responsibility tied to the communication, just write it — they’ll read it.  But don’t get sloppy!  Knock out a first draft, edit and rewrite quickly but thoroughly. Meticulously reread your copy (perhaps out loud) to assure clarity and proper grammar, apply fixes, spellcheck, and … Pow!  Gone.  Message delivered.  What’s next on the to-do list?

It should go without saying that This grind-it-out mentality shouldn’t be tapped for important outreach projects and campaigns.  Advertising copy, marketing pieces, pitches, and important report copy must, by necessity, quickly grab the reader’s attention, creating the desired action on the part of the reader.  If you’re cognizant of the importance of good writing and if you’re a decent editor, you’ll Approach each assignment with discerning eyes — with an editor’s focused mentality.  Or select those on your team who can do this better than you — someone with a true passion for well-written copy.  The bottom line is that must be able There is nothing wrong with tapping a trusted co-worker to turn back your word faucet to a finely tuned stream, with no messy splashing about, to assure that the points you need to be made are optimally presented and polished.

Blogging, by its very nature, isn’t a medium that is going to get overly scrutinized by readers for copy length. , but it’s important to Still, recognize that bloggers can just as quickly lose blogosphere readers due to diarrhea of the keyboard as you can in a newsletter article, magazine editorial, press release or annual report.  Verbosity is simply not a tenant of good writing.  Brevity is.  Bloggers should write for a purpose, but should also keep in mind that it’s important not to fall in love with their own words.  To paraphrase the great comedian/actor/singer/writer George Burns, the secret of a good message (he was referring to a sermon) is to have a good beginning and a good ending and to have the two as close together as possible.  Even with a blog.

Web copy is an altogether different beast.  Such copy needs to elicit an immediate response, quickly guiding the reader to an action while at the same time offering further information should that be the route preferred by the visitor to your site.  Moreover, Writing and editing search-engine friendly content and incorporating keywords is a must with web copy regardless of whether you’re enlightening, educating, promoting, or selling.  Keep in mind that Most visitors are oftentimes scanning, so put the most relevant information, sans jargon, at the top, concise, memorable, and written in an active voice.

To me, language is a breathing organism.  Good-to-great editing is simply a higher state of writing.  On occasion, It’s okay to turn the editor off (or at least down) and just have fun stringing together rational thoughts.  As long as you use proper sentence structure and don’t butcher the grammar, you’re certainly not hurting anyone.  In fact, you’re probably making someone think and perhaps react or smile or tap into another emotion or action, which is a pretty good, desired byproduct of written communication, is it not, whether in a business environment, a personal blog or a heartfelt letter?

So, for goodness sake, tell your story and passionately sell it.  There is a place for the conversational writing style; however, on the whole, strive to write tight and crisp.  Be sincere.  Get your point across — content is, after all, king!  Do those things well, and you’ll be successful and in demand.

One last observation before I close — a message from me to the marvelous and brilliant Mr. Twain:  “To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as itself a prized composition just by itself.”


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