“Clutter is the disease of American writing.” William Zinsser, in his classic text On Writing Well.
The new year is a time for starting fresh. A time for clearing out clutter, shedding bad habits and – for some – adopting a leaner lifestyle. As marketers, what if we could do the same with our communications? What if we could clear the clutter from all of our communications, from emails and blogs to new business proposals?
Business writing is loaded with superfluous words. The problem? Our most important messages become diluted. Our audience misses the point.
The challenge is that we want to be emphatic. We want our products and services to stand out from the competition. We don’t just offer a widget that solves a problem; we offer the most unique, epic and innovative widget known to mankind. So, how are you solving your customers’ problem again?
As author Christopher Moore puts it, writers are buying time from the reader on credits—they don’t owe you, you owe them. Too much hype loses the reader.
And that’s the point. By writing in a more concise and direct manner, your audience should gain a clearer understanding of your value proposition. With that in mind, let’s examine a few ways you can cut to the chase in 2018.
Words/Phrases to Avoid With Recommended Replacements
Cutting-edge: Hey, we are living in a time of rapidly evolving technology….you better be cutting edge.
Innovative: See above. This used to be a great word. But its great overuse through the years has greatly lessened its impact.
In order to: To
This is a tough one for content marketers to give up. However, you rarely need to use it. A few examples:
In order to achieve our objectives…
Better: To achieve our objectives…
The car needed gas in order to run.
Better: The car needed gas to run.
Value-added: Do your other services not offer value? What do you really mean?
Very: Why say you’re very thirsty if you are parched? Challenge yourself to omit such words and go for the punch.
A large number of: Many
At this point in time: Now
At the present time: Now
Continues to be: Remains
Despite the fact that: Although
Due to the fact that/the fact that: Because
In the event of: If
In spite of: Despite
Leverage: Folks, this is not a verb, though we marketers have sure tried to make it one. Instead, try using: harness, apply, take advantage of, capitalize on
That: Skip it when you can. For example:
The CPA firm that is located in Michigan announced plans to expand to New York.
Better: The Michigan-based CPA firm will expand to New York.
The new CEO said that her team would announce new initiatives that would drive revenue.
Better: The new CEO said her team would announce new initiatives to drive revenue.
Unique: Say what you mean. And you can’t skirt around it by using “very” unique. After all, unique is already one of a kind. Either way, avoid the word entirely. It doesn’t mean much any longer.
We’re providing a unique software solution in order to improve the efficiency of your manufacturing operations.
Better: We customize a software solution to improve your manufacturing efficiency.
Ways by which: Ways
Adverbs – Like Cayenne Pepper, Best Used Sparingly
Author Stephen King puts it well in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs….”
Ask yourself, does it (really) improve your sentence to add certain words? While you may think you’re adding strength to give your sentence some oomph, you are likely diluting your sentence.
Our real estate company is especially focused on unique development projects in very large markets.
Better: Our real estate company focuses on large-market development projects. Boom. Done.
Five Adverbs to Avoid:
As we look ahead to a new year, resolve to put your content on a diet. Use simple words. Communicate clearly. Get to your point. Edit until your words are crisp and clear.
Or, as our friend Zinsser puts it:
“…the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.”
Hopefully, the words and phrases included in this post are a starting point for further discussion. In that spirit, I encourage you to share some of your most annoying, overused or unnecessary words and phrases. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; I’ll share the highlights (and lowlights) in a future blog and suggest alternatives that can help make your writing crisper, cleaner and clutter-free. For more information on our content development services, contact me at 440-449-6800.