By Joe Diorio
Dull writing, in an age when we seem to spend less and less time looking at the written word, is the proverbial kiss of death for marketing communication professionals trying to carve out a niche for their companies or clients.
Almost a decade ago Nicholas Carr asked the question in The Atlantic magazine, “Is Google making us stupid?” He discussed the scan and graze nature of reading in the age of instant information. “[The] Net seems to be […] chipping away at my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” he wrote.
In the ensuing years social media seems to have done to prose what Google may have done to reading. The demand for quick and up-to-the-nanosecond communication is leaving good writing in its wake. A quick scan of my news feeds on Twitter and LinkedIn shows the text in each post possesses the same banal monotony.
- “We are so proud …”
- “Today I had the chance to …”
- “This is super interesting …”
- “Humbled by my introduction to …”
- “Excited to announce …”
People, people, please stop! We can do better.
OK, so writing and grammar are ever evolving. Fans of William Safire’s “On Language” columns in the Sunday edition of The New York Times understand this. Also, there is a lot of pressure to produce content. Jayson DeMers writes in Forbes, “The growth of the internet means that everyone is publishing more content than ever […] the sheer volume of social media posts, articles, blog posts, images, videos, and more means that there’s that much more potential for error.”
Still, we need good writing when people spend less time reading. Is there a solution? Yep. “Omit needless words” advises The Elements of Style. Each of those introductory lines cited above can and should be axed. We know you’re proud, excited, and humbled. Tell us WHY you are that way.
Ted Sorensen, who I had the privilege of meeting in 2009, gives the same advice, but with more style than I can muster. (I’ll shorten his advice since we’re all reading this online.)
He said a salesman was setting up shop to sell seafood. First pass at a sign: “Fresh Seafood, Fish for Sale.” Well, the salesman thought, who would sell stale fish? He shortened the sign to “Seafood, Fish for Sale.” Heck, fish are seafood, so the word “fish” was dropped. But if I’m selling seafood in a store why say it’s for sale? The final sign outside his store read, simply, “Seafood.”
And, by the way, I’m confident he was proud, excited, and humbled by the chance to open his store.
Let’s write carefully out there, folks.
Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. You should tell your friends and colleagues about him.
BONUS: Hootsuite offers a list of Twitter feeds exemplifying good writing.