My parents didn’t bless me in the genetic lottery for future professional athletic success. I don’t have a cannon for an arm. I can’t hit a curveball. Michael Phelps isn’t exactly losing any sleep over me breaking his Olympic swimming records, for alas, I have the buoyancy properties of a large boulder. God knows I can’t run a “4.4 40”, but my genetics did give me one very special gift: the abilities to write copy well and determine when it isn’t written well.
Thus, I think divine intervention guided me toward a career as an editor.
Over the course of said career, I’ve pored over countless words. Regardless of the messaging and its medium — white paper, technical bulletin, blog entry, social media, direct mail, etc. — I have one mission in mind every time I work on a piece. My goal in every assignment I touch doesn’t ever waver: maximize the impact of communication.
In Other Words, “Make It Read Better.”
All too often, I’ve found that writing professionals want to show off how well they can write by crafting as much copy as they can fit onto a page. Unfortunately, this does the opposite of improving the messaging; it detracts from it. Case in point: I was given an assignment to edit down a series of campaign emails to half their copy length. I was told today’s readers simply won’t want to sift through hundreds of words in order to decipher a marketing message; they’d prefer to quickly read, understand and absorb the messaging in a matter of seconds, not yesteryear’s minutes.
Remove Jargon and Create Clearer Messaging
The first thing I’ll do with such an assignment is delete any jargon terms. Using jargon within marketing communications is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it demonstrates knowledge about an industry subject; however, the practice sometimes comes off as braggadocious to readers. Don’t get me wrong, jargon has a time and a place in various business settings, but it isn’t always essential in written communications — especially when you’re simply trying to increase attendance for a webinar, trade show, presentation or anything else that will occupy someone’s valuable time.
There’s No Place for Table Stakes in Your Writing
After I remove as much jargon as possible, I’ll look for ubiquitous marketing verbiage that appears literally almost everywhere, within just about any industry. Come on, you know the lyrics for this tune, so feel free to sing it along with me: innovative, state-of-the-art, cutting edge, global leader. Trust me when I tell you that eliminating those terms puts a significant dent in the word count of many a marketing deliverable.
Be Clear and Concise
Next, I’ll cut copy from longer sentences and phrases to form concise messaging (i.e., “tightening it up,” if you will) without detracting from its overall meaning.
Let’s review an example:
The increasing complexities inherent in today’s business world demand a mastery of communications to excel operational efficiencies across an enterprise in order for intended recipients to necessitate the requisite understanding of a product’s functions, features and benefits.
Which could be rewritten simpler as:
It’s important for B2B marketers to convey messaging in the most effective manner possible in order for it be fully understood by its intended audience.
In my (albeit humble) professional opinion, there’s absolutely no reason to generate copy simply for the sake of hitting a predetermined word count when you can succinctly convey the message in fewer words. As has been covered in this very blog space before, Americans’ attention spans are getting shorter. Messaging of all types and genres are vying for reader attention and engagement; marketers are constantly devising ways to entice readers. But when readers do engage, how long are they staying on that URL? Verbose copy or lengthy introductory paragraphs that bury story leads are akin to giving a lost traveler a map that’s written in a foreign language: it might eventually be helpful — but they also may consider it’s just not worth their time or effort to try.
My point is this: in a world where time is money, a good editor who can “make it read better” can increase your content ROI simply by trimming some of your FAT.