Bad advice for your body.
Good advice for your body copy.
Do you sometimes ‘waffle‘ on? Where did you learn to do that? I’ll tell you: school and university.
With every assignment, you were given a word limit; e.g., it had to be 5000 words long.
How often did you have so many good ideas that you had to cull them to stay within your word limit? Or (like me), did you have to fluff them out to fill up your word limit?
Many (most?) have taken this habit to work. Unfortunately, busy people hate it. Wordy, unfocused writing wastes readers’ valuable time. People also make snap judgements about waffley writers: They must be muddled thinkers.
So give them less waffle, and more cream.
- Maybe how you think it isn’t how you should write it. Writing is a great way to figure out stuff (EM Forster: ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I write?’). But think twice before you present your thinking process to your reader. Perhaps where you ended up (e.g., the conclusion/ recommendation) is where your document should begin. So start with an outline of headings and bullets (instead of fully-fledged sentences), and get your structure right first.
- Stay on task. Write your objective down, and stick to it. A common reason for waffling is being unclear on what you’re trying to achieve in the first place — you have words looking for ideas. Clarify your ideas first.
- Write as you talk. One of our course attendees recently said he’d emailed his report to his boss, who replied, ‘Please have another go; I couldn’t crack the code.’ Don’t be that guy. Use plain English. Once you get your key points down, try to write it as you’d say it if the reader was sitting in front of you. Conversational writing is engaging.
- Cut to the chase. They’re looking for the most interesting bits, so try to put them first. You don’t always have to tell a ‘story,’ leaving your ‘big news’ until the end.
- Make it about them. Writing a proposal? Lead with their need, not a hymn of praise to your company. Writing an email? Tell them how it’s relevant to them, why they should care. And tell them the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) if you can.
- Make your subheads tell the story. Accept it: They won’t read every word; they’ll skim-read (like you do). So catch their eye with subheads throughout, and make them ‘newsy.’ Not ‘Recommendation,’ but ‘Recommendation: Give chocolate to staff.’
Got a question about cutting your waffle? Leave a trail of crumbs as a comment below.
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