Do you remember the song Inside Out by Eve 6 from a few years back? It was playing over the sound system at the grocery store last week and I’ve had it stuck in my head ever since, especially the line about putting “my tender heart into a blender, watch it spin around to a beautiful oblivion.”
Sometimes writers seem to put their words into a blender and watch them spin around into a not-so-beautiful oblivion. And, sad to say, the higher up the corporate food chain, the more likely this mess of words tends to be.
I say this because I recently helped a CEO tame a wild beast of an article, taking it from 2,400 words to 1,600. The experience offers an important for all of us who are writing at and for work.
More does not mean more
That lesson? Writing more words does not necessarily lead to better communication. In this case, the 2,400-word article meandered all over the place. The hypothesis made sense, but a reader got lost trying to follow the argument supporting the hypothesis because, well, because one couldn’t.
With a rewrite, the article was restructured to have a logical flow and to build the case in a way that’s easy for the reader to follow, like leading them down a path. And obviously we had much to leave out that didn’t help make the argument, since we removed 800 words. Much of that editing involved removing repetitive information. We didn’t have to repeat anything once we had a flow.
Which takes us back to the lesson: more words do not equal more convincing.
Instead, the kind of more we are after looks like this: a thought-leadership piece more likely to be read because it’s two-thirds the length, with a more compelling argument that’s more likely to convince the reader.
Saving time or waste of time?
I suspect busy managers and executives rush through their writing at work because of lack of time. But here’s the question: Are they saving time or wasting time? If someone spends 2 hours writing something that no one reads, isn’t that 2 hours wasted? On the other hand, if one writes for 2 hours, then revises for 30 minutes, and that means the piece is read and the argument is made, then the 2 hours of writing are not wasted but time well spent…as is the half hour spent revising.
Too much time is wasted on ineffective writing at work. We can stop wasting time if we invest a little more of that precious commodity to write something worth reading.
Did your words go through a blender?
What if you are working on a longer document, or you’re helping someone with one, and you aren’t sure how to bring clarity to it? What are some ways to conquer your own wild beast and write a convincing piece, not a piece of oblivion? Here are some tips to help (beyond taking the time to revise, that is):
- Be clear on your goal. You have to know what it is you’re trying to accomplish before you can write clearly. What is the takeaway you want your reader to have? Be crystal clear on that.
- Use an outline. I can hear you groaning from here, but hang on. This isn’t some boring exercise from high-school English. It’s a tried-and-true technique that you should be using in your writing at work. If you’re not sure how to outline (because high-school English was either too boring or too long ago), see the tips here. You can also “outline” after you write by figuring out what each paragraph is about and then reordering them.
- Take a break so you can read your writing at work with fresh eyes. A good rule of thumb? The longer the document, the longer the break before you re-read it. A 2,400 word article is going to need more than a lunch break to give you a fresh perspective when re-reading it.
- See 17 ways to write for your reader. Using these tips will help you avoid any wild writing beasts and words blended into oblivion, I promise.
And if those tips don’t help or you’re a busy CEO who could use some one-on-one coaching to improve your written communications, I’m here to help.
Photo by Chait Goli: https://www.pexels.com/photo/womna-pouring-powder-on-the-blender-1797103/