How to Mean What you say and say What you Mean
Effective and impactful communication demands precise language
Circumlocution is no friend of mine.
When you write for a living, it shouldn’t be yours either. Getting to the point in as few words as possible ensures you don’t waste anyone’s time, be it yours or that of those who do you the courtesy of reading your work.
But don’t worry, how to write pithy copy is a skill anyone can master with a little observation and curiosity. It starts with being clear about your message, the tone in which you want to deliver it, and what register to use. Together, this ensemble makes up your writing voice, that is to say how you sound in print.
Before you start writing, you also need to be clear about how your insight, opinion, or findings can add value to others. Next, consider your emotional involvement with the topic and ask yourself how you plan to convey those feelings to an audience.
As vocabulary is loaded with myriad connotations that often belie judgment, the right words matter.
When in doubt, aim for the kind of dispassionate, neutral language that is the standard in public media. To wit, no news and current affairs outlet does this better than Britain’s BBC because they’re duty-bound to remain impartial. What’s more they’re never beholden to advertisers or what NPR in the United States calls “underwriters.”
For the broadest reach, aim for accessible language that doesn’t call for a dictionary or extensive internet research. When technical or specific jargon is needed, you can use hyperlinks or unpack the concept in simple terms.
The internet has changed the way we communicate.
In a culture where nefarious elements hide behind screens and pseudonyms to harass others, accountability is more important than ever. Alas, it’s a responsibility many online writers unfamiliar with various platform rules and the concept of ethics often choose to overlook.
Unless your writing could put your personal safety or livelihood at risk, it’s always a good idea to have the courage of your opinions. Write under your own name, remain open to dialogue and courteous but please refrain from insulting those who take the time to provide constructive criticism or ask for further clarification.
Because using hateful and derogatory language is the quickest way to torpedo your credibility and reputation.
Even if you hide behind a new screen name created for this very purpose, discerning interlocutors will know it’s you. Our true colors always show; we all have our linguistic quirks. Be it in marketing, journalism, or ghost writing, only professionals with years of experience are able to write in different voices.
Achieving that level of competence is a lifelong pursuit.
And please keep the text speak for social media. Not everyone is familiar with abbreviations that look like airport codes, especially when they refer to sexuality in a crude way.
The appropriate register can also influence engagement.
But if you’re starting out, proceed with extreme caution.
While there are many ardent advocates of conversational style, writing as we speak isn’t always advisable. We naturally use more filler words in speech as we do in print because speaking is spontaneous and there’s no editing function.
Filler words are the enemy of effective communication. They are distracting and dilute the impact of your message, which is why re-reading and editing is essential.
In addition, conversational style is a marketing technique employed by copywriters and content marketers. If you’re not ready to turn yourself into a product or a brand, it may not be the way to go.
Unless you’re a seasoned writer, do beware of long sentences that could easily trip you up and cause readers to get lost. But when they’re written with flair and guts in a stream of consciousness style, they can turn your words into works of art honoring our shared humanness.
Reading widely across different genres is the best way to get a feel for words. From the back of the cereal box to newspapers, ads, and literary works, you can pick up many useful tips and tricks on how to write better.
As a rule, you should never have to spell anything out to readers with countless subheadings nor rely heavily on formatting. If you find yourself doing this then recast your sentences until they become self-evident.
An oft neglected genre that can teach us all how to pack a punch in a few words is poetry. Although poems are often short, they are full of images and music courtesy of literary devices like form, rhyme, and figures of speech. As a result, they can read like movie shorts complete with soundtrack; they transport us into different worlds and sometimes stay with us forever.
Good writing is within everyone’s reach as long as we’re prepared to put in the work and learn from our mistakes.
And no, experience doesn’t insulate anyone against failure; I’ve written some duds and will write more as will you; trial and error is how we improve and grow as writers.
Writing is a craft and an art; we hone and perfect it when we practice it consistently, with dedication, humility, and heart.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.