From the newsroom
Sangeeta Cavale RK
Be brief, be clear!
“Just stick to the point’’… that’s a phrase that you will hear from the mouth of many an editor in a newsroom, especially while they are dealing with writers who are verbose and unclear in their writing. There’s a certain magic to being brief and lucid when you write a good piece. The person reading it gets your point, and though your words are few, he or she understands what you are trying to say and does not get distracted or lose interest half way through.
Clarity is king
of When you write, you should have clarity of mind and expression. You are writing for millions of readers and they must be able to relate to your article and be interested in it. Imagine you write an article that feels and sounds good to you and a few others, but is confusing and unclear to most! And worse still, what if it comes across as boring… That defeats the whole point of an article that is meant to inform others and educate them about something, right? Here’s what I think – A person who is himself confused cannot tell a story to others. Only clarity of mind is not enough unless it is accompanied by clarity of expression. Without clarity of expression, clarity of mind is meaningless.
Here’s an example of a piece that is clear and concise, without getting too long winded. It’s a recent article from the New York Times Blog and talks of the homeless in NY in just about 800 words. The topic is one that has scope for reams and reams of writing, but the writer succinctly discusses the issue of housing and economy and its impact on the larger American population in just about 10 paragraphs.
Clarity and brevity go hand in hand. It’s sometimes tempting to sacrifice one for the other but that is a slippery path to walk on. You cannot skip essential details and assume that your reader knows everything. Brevity is part of clarity; some even say that it is the soul of clarity. Aren’t both one and the same, you may ask? Not quite! You can be brief and unclear or clear and verbose! The magic mantra is to be clear and brief at the same time.
Here’s how to do it,
Web readers have little patience and even lesser time. As writers and bloggers, you need to stay focused and stick to the point. Avoid use of redundant words to cut out words like very, actually, really, fact of the matter etc. tighten up flabby phrases, cliché, jargon and slang make your copy as concise as possible as no one really has time these days to go through a long winding blog or article use active voice more often; sentences written in the active voice are more concise, direct and powerful use short snappy sentences which are easier to understand.Remember, Gen X has a low attention span compared to your grandparents! In this age of small screen sizes, anything more than a page or two is considered way too long!
Be fair to your reader
You may have a million thoughts running in your mind that you are itching to put down in words. Dumping all that on your reader is simply not fair. Be sharp as focused as a laser and make a point only when you have to and not for the heck of it. How many times have you started reading an article only to think, ‘this goes on and on, how boring! ‘Flush the extra words, write like you are talking to someone you are meeting for the first time. Do not fall in love with your own words. Practice being merciless while editing, without losing the essence of what you are trying to convey. Writing is a process. Keep as it so as to maintain the flow. First keep writing and then start editing. You can always remove or add later. You use your words carefully and keep it short and sweet… that is what brevity is all about!
Use word count, please!
Sometimes fewer words are enough to make an impact. When in doubt, just go to word count and ask yourself if the number of words in your piece sufficient for your piece. For e.g.: a poem can’t be three pages long; a research piece can. A movie review should be between 300-500 words at best, but an article on how to use a DSLR camera can be even 1500 words long.
Replace superfluous words with a few strong ones that convey the same message with more punch. For example, instead of saying ‘at that time’ or ‘at that point in time,’ you could just say ‘then.’ Do not write ‘in the near future,’ say ‘soon’ which means the same thing.
Probably the greatest example of the power of brevity comes from what is widely considered to be the greatest speech in American history: “The Gettysburg Address.” President Lincoln’s speech was only 10 sentences long (272 words), and lasted less than a mere 3 minutes in length. Contrast Lincoln’s brilliant example of the power of brevity with the keynote speech that day. Orator Edward Everett preceded President Lincoln on the podium at Gettysburg. Everett’s speech was an amazing two hours in length. He was after all the President of Harvard. But which speech was more effective, and more memorable? Oh, the power of brevity.
Blogger Dennis Mathis says, “Web writing must be brief because web visitors are on the move. You cannot realistically expect a web visitor to ponder your message at their leisure. Web visitors are like bugs that skate upon the surface tension of ponds, sampling and moving on. Your website message should grab them like a sticky frog’s tongue, if you’ll forgive the metaphor. Yet brevity is at seeming odds with clarity. You want your message to be brief, yes, but not at the expense of being understood.”
Harness power of simplicity
Good writing often relies on simple words and sentences, more so news writing and blogging. However simple does not mean simplistic. Complex events and ideas can be conveyed using basic words of these words are chosen well and used correctly.
So, ask yourself the next time you write a piece – is it brief, is it clear? If you feel that you have scored on those two points, you are already half way there in creating a superb piece of writing.
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