Write better - or shut up

Poetry is obscure — poets are out to lunch. If you’re a great poet, you might be able to hack it on the internet. But otherwise, ordinary poetry is a poor guide to great communications.

Well, that’s a cheap way to start attacking the writing habits of your competitors.

I used teach business writing.
Way back in the 1980s — the key advice was “Keep it short & clear”. People in business haven’t time to read the sort of prose you were taught in school. Short sentences make faster sense. Long complicated sentences show you’ve mastered the use of semi-colons, colons & dashes — they’re no good. People at work haven’t time for re-reading paragraphs. They bin long sentences. Eyes glaze over.

As for words like “automatically” & “didactically” — they should be retired. All 3-syllable words are liable to be cut — said the wise editor.

I was a teacher in the business world … obsessed with clarity
I used to show people how to judge how clear their writing was: you add (the average number of words per sentence) + (the % of long words — with 3 syllables & more)

and if the result was higher than about 25 — you better edit your copy.

The “fog index” was brutal
 — it gave you a quantitative measure of how easy it was to read your stuff. The great thing was — it gave you a number & a guide.

Chop your sentences in half + find short words = prose busy people would read (unless of course it was gobbledigook).

That was the 1980s — and the Plain English Society helped business people produce readable copy.


Fast forward to the Internet era… 
writing for the web became the big thing.

Sentences got longer…
Words got longer (comprehensive, professional, effectively, efficiently)

We must get all our keywords in.”

“We must sound impressive.”

Here’s a test for you to carry out:
(1) Pick 5 websites you know
(2) Count the average number of words per sentence on the landing page
(3) Highlight every word with 3 or more syllables, then the % of long words
(4) Record the score for each website.

I bet every one is over 25.

Poetry is the art 
of using as few words as possible to make as much meaning as possible. Poets don’t even use the whole line. When a good poet uses a long word — it’s because only that word will do.

At school you were told you could impress people by using long words & complicated sentences. Your teachers meant well. But they hadn’t a clue about how people conduct business.

In business
only lawyers are valued for their ability to compose convoluted prose. Contracts must be watertight. Agreements must specify everything. Lawyers must write for other lawyers.

But when you write for a person who’s busy working (and doesn’t really want to be reading anyway) — you better forget those childhood tricks. You better become a poet, a word-sculptor, a vicious editor. 

Start now. 
Crystal clear from today. OK? 

Disclaimer: I’m a poet, copywriter, story-teller. My art is simple. To be meaningful to others, you need to cut out the verbiage. Stick to your core message. Stop hiding behind obscure constructions you’d never use at a dinner table.