Business writers can learn a valuable lesson from design engineers. When they craft a new product, they often use a process called optimization. Whether to slash emissions or cut shipping costs, their goal is to make the product as light as possible without reducing its strength or performance. They achieve it by removing material from the object and/or by building it from a different type of material. In a digital world that frequently demands impact in no more than 140 characters, we should be optimizing our writing in much the same way.
Optimized writing is text that is concise but pointed, simple but meaningful, free of excess but not stiff or dull. These six tips can serve as guidelines for helping you increase the power of your paragraphs while still extracting their bloat and expressing your style.
- Choose shorter, stronger words to make your point. For example, the first paragraph of this post contains a total of 92 words. I’ve optimized it so that 60 of them (65 percent) are words of one syllable. Yet the paragraph retains its intended impact. Look for shorter words that may add power, such as “shrink” instead of “diminish” or “hoist” instead of “elevate.”
- That said, your goal should be to optimize, not maximize, brevity. Using only words of one and two syllables produces a choppy, dull text. Don’t let the need to compact your writing obliterate your style. Feel free to use descriptive words that add impact and interest, but don’t use them simply for effect.
- Remove redundancies. Keep your writing flowing by avoiding wordy versions of simple expressions. For example, replace “at this point in time” with “now” or “yet,” “on a daily basis” with “daily” or “every day,” and “in the majority of instances” with “mainly” or “typically.”
- Unpile leading adjectives. Nothing inflates and blurs a sentence like a string of adjectives leading to a noun, especially in writing about technology. Instead of describing a “vendor-agnostic, cloud-hosted, end user-adaptive platform,” consider “a platform hosted in the cloud that is easy for anyone to use with any software.”
- Unhook your sentences. Avoid stringing sentences together with semicolons, dashes and colons unless they are grammatically essential. Break these long constructions into two or more sentences to add punch and clarity to them.
- Include links for references and sources. When writing for online publication, shorten your text by including links in place of detailed resource information and footnotes. Readers can open the links at their leisure to find your source without interrupting the continuity of the content.
With optimization, your text can be not just short and sweet but potent, too.
Steve Friedman is the Director of Marketing Communications for Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Silicon Valley and Detroit.