Writing Wednesdays is a series on writing tips and tricks that are published on Wednesdays. Not necessarily every Wednesday. But Wednesdays.
I freaked out over writing email copy the other day at work.
The task was to write a punchy email of about 50 words
long short that would entice readers into clicking a link to find out more about the client’s product. Oh and the topic wasn’t an easy one; some niche subject in the field of enterprise technology.
It took several rounds of research, writing, rewriting, feedback, and hair-pulling, before I nailed the kind of short+snappy that the client wanted. I was so happy to submit the final copy … but also a little bummed that I did not think of writing it that way earlier.
I’ve always had a propensity for verbosity. Long-form writing never daunted me; I like that I have more “room” to talk about the things I know or care about. In university, I specialised in International Relations, and regularly wrote essays of about a few thousand words long throughout my four year degree. My longest ever was my Honours thesis of about 17,000 words long. Every time I got an essay to do, I ALWAYS had to pare down my word count substantially after the first draft.
So, when I started my content marketing career, one of the biggest learning curves I faced was learning how to write in a shorter and more concise way. It’s hard because:
- You need to be able to understand the subject/idea well enough to distill it to The Point.
- You need to convey The Point in an attention-grabbing, impactful way. Preferably with less words.
I don’t find it as challenging now that I am more experienced, but there’s still room for improvement. If you have the same tendency to write a lot, try the five tips below for crafting more succinct content. They worked pretty well for me.
- Never skimp on research: Research the product, competitors, general industry, industry trends, and more — get as much understanding as needed to write convincingly.
- Read PLENTY of good literature: Learn from pro writers. The International New York Times is a big part of my reading diet. Maybe I should try reading loads of Hemingway too.
- Practice, feedback, practice, feedback: Good to have someone who can critique your work and point out unnecessary ramble. Or ruthlessly edit in front of you.
- Develop a rich and wide vocabulary: You can minimise explanation or description if you know the right word to use e.g. instead of describing someone as “feeling very sad and hopeless”, just say “despair”.
- Use active voice instead of passive voice: Sentences written in active voice tend to be more impactful and shorter.
Before I submitted the finalised email to my boss, my colleague who edited my work said “Look, this short little email may appear easy enough for a child to do. Huh! It’s not just about understanding the topic and client well enough. You also need to strike the right tone, pick the most impactful words, present the most relevant data and facts, etc. Never underestimate the research, thought, and care needed to pull off an email that inspires people to find out more.”
I hope to write like her some day.
Thank you, J.
Image source: Lum3n.com @ Pexels