Brevity is the soul of wit, as some playwright once said. (And also of lingerie–Dorothy Parker.) It’s pretty important for copywriting as well. The first Maslen on Marketing, October 2001, was 518 words. The latest, 679. Was that 31% increase all content, or was there some lexical inflation too?
We all have a tendency, at times, to keep writing when we should stop. Perhaps we feel we are on a roll and don’t want to interrupt the creative flow. Maybe we just CAN’T stop. Or do we imagine our hard-pressed reader actually wants 1,000 words rather than 250?
See page 178…
There is a widespread and mistaken belief that important subjects call for long-windedness. For example, big projects call for big proposals. Yet all too often their authors are forced to resort to padding.
My favourite section in proposals (and one I freely admit to having used myself) is the one headed, ‘background’. This is where the hapless writer tells the client what their business is. You know the kind of thing:
“Watkins Widgets of Wolverhampton is the leading manufacturer of off-the-shelf and bespoke widgets in the West Midlands, Black Country and metropolitan Birmingham.”
Since the text is invariably cut and pasted from the client’s own website, you wonder why anyone bothers.
War is a pretty important subject, so it follows that those in charge will need lots of words, yes? Not necessarily. Just look how much power Winston Churchill packed into this 34-word telegram to General Alexander, Commander in Chief in the Middle East, on 10 August 1942:
“Your prime and main duty is to take and destroy at the earliest opportunity the German Italian army commanded by Field Marshall Rommel together with all its supplies and establishments in Egypt and Libya.”
Not much ambiguity there.
This month’s message
Brevity is the sister of talent, said Anton Chekhov. If you have the talent to be a good writer, you must pair it with a ruthless desire to cut your copy to the bone. We’ll return to this subject next month with some simple ways to be brief.