A quick guide to lean/precise writing
Danny Mathew - Content Manager - Verbly Integrated Communications
If we can take a lesson from ‘The Office’ with real-life use, it has to be Kevin Malone’s, “Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick” (I highly recommend checking out Season 8, episode 2 if you haven’t already).
While it is easy to dismiss Kevin’s monologues as just another utterance from the office idiot, in this case, he does drop some wisdom related to effective communication, i.e.
Saying more with less.
So writing less means less work and therefore, less time?
Not always. If the extra time equates to more of your TA reading your copy, then it is worth putting in that time.
1. Trimming the fat
I don’t know about you, but there are certain habits from my daily life that carry over to my work. For me, it is decluttering. I like to keep my personal space occupied with things that I use regularly. Anything else, I either discard or give it away.
This utilitarian approach has helped me with copywriting as well. I like to call it “trimming the fat”. Let me explain with an example.
You start off with a rough draft and it can be messy. Don’t hold back or make edits to it yet.
Ex: “The Office” episode titled “Dinner Party” portrays the awkward dynamics that ensue when Michael Scott, the socially awkward regional manager, invites his coworkers, including Jim and Pam, to his eccentrically decorated condo for a dinner party. As the evening unfolds, Jan, Michael’s emotionally volatile girlfriend, adds to the discomfort with her peculiar behaviour, including cringe-worthy attempts at karaoke and showcasing her musical talents. The episode’s genius lies in its ability to blend humour and character development, resulting in a memorable showcase of the show’s signature style.”
While there isn’t anything wrong with the above, it does get lost on the way by overexplaining things that don’t add value to the summary.
“The episode’s genius lies in its ability to blend humour and character development, resulting in a memorable showcase of the show’s signature style.”
The summary will remain intact even without it and the reader will walk away with the needed information.
After some trimming (the fat), we can capture the core idea that will do most of the work without taking too much of your reader’s time.
Ex: “The Office” Season 4’s “Dinner Party”, Michael hosts a dinner party at his condo for coworkers. Awkwardness and tension arise as Jan’s peculiar behaviour and strained dynamics create uncomfortable yet humorous moments.”
The draft gives the reader just enough on what to expect without getting lost (or spoiling) in the details.
There is no upper limit on how many times should you trim the copy. Trim away until you feel satisfied as an objective reader.
2. Don’t ration out paragraphs
There is no news making the rounds that there is a crippling shortage of “text breakers”. There is no imposition that paragraphs need to be 3 to 4 lines each either. So let’s put those “enter” keys to good use.
Aim for only 1 idea per paragraph. If the idea is too large for one, split it into sub-units which dovetail to the final idea that you trying to explain.
Ex: “Kevin Malone, portrayed by Brian Baumgartner in “The Office,” is a beloved character known for his endearing simplicity and quirky personality. He works in the accounting department at Dunder Mifflin and often provides comic relief through his unique way of thinking and speaking. Despite his slow-witted demeanour, Kevin displays unexpected moments of wisdom and competence, such as his adeptness at poker. His love for food, especially his famous chilli disaster, is another defining trait that adds to his charm. Kevin’s interactions with coworkers, like his friendship with Oscar and a brief stint as a bar owner, showcase his versatility within the show’s comedic framework.”
A lot going on here. The profile breakdowns Kevin’s character extensively but it is a lot to take in as one solid wall of text.
By adding multiple paragraphs while employing our previous tool “trimming the fat”, the resulting copy can be a lot easier on the eyes and also keep the interest of your reader.
Ex: Kevin Malone, portrayed by Brian Baumgartner in “The Office,” is known for his endearing simplicity and quirky personality. He works in accounting, often providing comic relief through unique thinking and speaking style.
Despite his slow-witted demeanour, Kevin displays unexpected moments of wisdom and competence, such as his adeptness at poker. His love for food, especially the infamous chilli disaster, adds to his charm.
Interactions with coworkers, like his friendship with Oscar and brief bar owner stint, showcase Kevin’s versatility within the show’s comedic framework.”
By adding the much-needed spaces between ideas, you are giving the reader a pocket of breathing room to refill their attention reserves. The end result, the reader is able to read, understand and stick around till the end.
And if you are feeling adventurous, you can even get away with one or two words in a paragraph. But use this sparingly and only for emphasis.
Please note, the spaces need to be added at the end of one idea or the start of the next. Care should be given to not break in between an idea that could work against you.
Michael Scott once said,
“Sometimes I’ll start a sentence, and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.”
There is wisdom to be found in these words. Starting your first draft can be challenging, but if you let the thoughts flow indiscriminately without filters, you can rein them in later using the 2 tools discussed here.
What you have in the end is a primo piece of copy that says more with less.