Yes, you already know it: ‘less is more’. We’ve all heard the minimalist platitude ad nauseum – in so many contexts. And I know it’s been widely documented in relation to writing good copy. So much so that I probably don’t have a great deal to add to the conversation in terms of clarity of message and simple good practice, but I wanted to share a recent experience with you.
For professional communicators, getting a message understood is something that we live and breathe on a daily basis – it’s our modus operandi. But I had ‘a moment’ during the week when I was reminded yet again of the importance – and the implications – of using clear and precise language.I’m currently editing some web content. The subject area is new to me, so I’m challenged by getting my head around some pretty complex concepts. Much of the current content was created by the academics and scientists who originally developed the concepts – so it’s highly technical and incredibly dense. The organisation has a goal to develop a wider interest in the area of work so that people outside the speciality become more familiar with the research and its outcomes. Which of course means that people who aren’t academics, scientists or subject matter specialists have to be able to read and understand it. It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to ‘dumb it down’ . We just have to make it clear.
Given that the content has come from an academic environment, I found myself reflecting on the way I used to write back in my university days. My (misguided) goal back then, was to fit as many big, multi-syllabic words into each sentence with the intention of making myself seem really, really smart. I made a concerted effort to seek out longer words. I thought it made my writing better. More high-falutin. I was probably trying to show off a bit, too.
From my recent experience, it seems the writing styles in academia have not changed much, but what I now know about communicating a message has altered my approach significantly. The timely reminders that this web content review has provided me are: a) it’s difficult to write good copy; and b) writing good copy takes time. It actually takes longer to create a clear, concise communiqué than to bang out pages of big words that leave people scratching their heads.
“I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” — George Bernard Shaw
In the context of writing good content, ‘less is more’ has never been truer. Less is: more clear, more precise, more (better) comprehension, more time – and often consequently costs more money. It’s also more readers, more page visits, more subscriptions, more sales, more clients – and yep, you guessed it – more money (in a good way).
So Freelancers, next time a client baulks at your quote – remind them that quality copy takes time to create and getting the message right is a worthy investment that will pay dividends by delivering on their business objectives.
Managers take heed – you only ever get what you pay for, and that is a good example of when less really isn’t more.