October 28, 2011

Shorter Sentences. Bigger ROI.

by Steve Tannuzzo






Writer A: Those of a certain mind who believe that writing endlessly long, phrase-heavy, clause-jammed sentences chock-full of adjectives, prepositions, metaphors and—of course—adverbs, are doomed to fail miserably, because they simply don’t see that while grammatically correct, these bloated sentences are completely drowning the writer’s primary message under a tidal wave of unnecessary clutter and bluster.

Writer B: Shorter sentences deliver clearer messages.

Ever read a long editorial or a comment on a website where someone writes like Writer A? It’s hard to endure. Sometimes you leave the page before you’ve understood the point. Writers attempting to show their education, vocabulary or expertise often fall into this trap. OK, we get it: you’re smart. But you’re also losing the interest of your readers. 

Pass these tips along to your friends who use 40 words where 10 will do:

1. Long paragraphs were meant for novels, not business writing. You only get a few seconds to capture a potential client’s interest. Pare down your sentences to show one big idea. It should be crystal clear. Suppose the people at Nike proposed the following in place of their “Just Do It” slogan:

“We would like to suggest—somewhat boldly, we might add—that the world would be better served if its inhabitants moved from a sedentary lifestyle to that of a more active, productive and healthy one.”

ZZZZZZZZ. Boring. Each sentence on your website or brochure is like a quick jab that leads to a knockout.

2. It’s OK to split your sentences in two. Even if it breaks the grammar rules you were taught in fifth grade. (See what I did there?)

3. Take a lesson from Twitter. The 140-character limit will force you to make your point succinctly.

4. There’s nothing wrong with drafting a long, information-packed sentence. But once you’ve finished writing, it’s critical to go back and edit your work.

5. Read billboards, blogs and brochures. Pay close attention to TV commercials and radio ads. Limited space and time constraints compel writers to compress their copywriting coal into the gleaming, polished diamonds that get attention and make people buy your products and services.

Effective writing takes time—especially when you’re trying to persuade a potential client to buy from you. Factor in how long it takes for the reader to decide if they’re interested. Sometimes you only get a few seconds.

Here’s your homework: Go through every piece of your company’s marketing collateral, from your brochures to your business cards. Is the material confusing to the reader? Is your message buried so far down that your readers will give up digging for it? Are you saying in pages what could be delivered in a few potent paragraphs? If you can identify these issues, your readers have, too. It may have lost you their business.

Make the conscious decision to edit and strengthen your writing. If you need help, ask for it. The return on your investment will be worth the extra time or money spent on marketing your business.