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Write Less, Say More: Why You Need to Create Concise Content

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Write Less, Say More: Why You Need to Create Concise Content

There is a lot of hype these days about long-form content. But does a lengthy piece actually do all it needs to do to engage users? Don’t people love concise content or infographics that are supposedly more captivating?

Wouldn’t the following trends present a compelling argument for creating concise content?

In light of that, we could say that concise content that is likely to be read possesses four distinct qualities: it is eye-catching, easy to consume, emotional, and engaging.

Let’s take a look at each of those qualities in turn.

1. Eye-catching

With so much noise and content being directed at your audience every day, you have to earn their attention. To do that, you must first catch their eye.

How?

Get Their Attention with One Big Idea

Your headline is the first thing that most readers will see or look at – before they look at the image and the copy. So what makes for a good eye-catching headline?

One big idea. This idea is your most important point or benefit.

For example, one of the most viral articles last year was titled New Alzheimer’s Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function. It gained more than 5 million Facebook shares.

Why so many? Because it was newsworthy and touched upon an issue that many millions of people encounter daily.

Sites like BuzzSumo and Upworthy are known to have attracted millions of readers as a result of the headlines they use.

So what can you do to create magnetic headlines, even if the content is not especially newsworthy or sensational? Here are a few tips:

  • Use numbers.
  • Use a unique rationale.
  • Be ultra-specific.
  • Convey a sense of urgency.
  • Ensure the headline shows your audience the usefulness of your content.

Use Visuals

According to Adobe’s report, The State of Content: Expectations on the Rise, most people would choose to look at well-designed content over something plain and are likely to disengage if the content is too lengthy. This is also backed by the findings of psychologist Albert Mehrabian. According to him, 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal.

So just how effective can visuals be in your content?

A study from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand shows that simply adding an image to copy made that copy more believable to readers.

David Ogilvy in his research also found that visuals mattered a lot. In fact, it had to relate to the natural order of reading. What is that order?

Readers look at the image first, if there is one, then scan the headline and then read the body copy.

He also found that using relevant images matters a lot. In other words, use images that tell a story related to your content or show what the content is about. Ogilvy also found that image captions tend to be read a lot more than the body copy.

Want to learn more about how best to use visuals in your content? Study the page layouts in newspapers and magazines, to see how they use visuals in their content.

2. Easy to Consume

Let’s assume you have caught the eye of your audience. You now need to work to keep it. To do so, it is essential that you make your content easy to read and to comprehend.

How?

Shorten Your Intros

We know that to catch the attention of your readers, your headline and image must evoke sufficient curiosity and emotion to cause them to read more of your copy. If the copy starts off with a poor or lengthy introduction, you stand a pretty good chance of losing your audience.

So what can you do to make your introductions effective enough to keep your audience reading?

  • Grab their attention with a question, a statistic, a story, or with empathy.
  • Validate the reason why your post exists and is worth reading. In other words, explain its purpose by explaining the problem it addresses.
  • Present how the post will address a problem that your audience can relate to. In other words, set expectations and get your audience to continue reading.

Take Jeff Deutsch’s post, for example – Confessions of a Google Spammer. It has a short, tight introduction.

Post Intro

Write for Seventh Graders

According to Neilsen:

On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28 percent of the words during an average visit; 20 percent is more likely.

The more complex your writing, the harder it will be to comprehend, and therefore less accessible to your audience. Some of the key things to keep in mind while writing is to make thoughtful transitions between ideas, use simpler words, less jargon, fewer adverbs and adjectives, and of course attend to grammar and spelling.

You can check the accessibility of your content by using the Readability test tool or the Hemingway app.

Keep Paragraphs Short

Stephen King says that “paragraphs are almost always as important for their look as for what they say; they are maps of intent.”

Look at any popular blog and you’ll notice it uses short paragraphs, usually of two to four sentences. There will even be some one-sentence paragraphs.

Why is this?

Because it creates a sense of space. It makes the page look less intimidating and more inviting, encouraging people to have a read and stick around to see what you have to say.

Take, for example, this post excerpt on Search Engine Journal.

shorter paragraphs

Avoid the Passive Voice

Dan Zarella’s Science of Social Media report showed that verbs generate more Twitter shares. In other words, by using verbs and avoiding the passive voice, more of your audience is likely to take action. Ott Niggulus also found this to be the case when it comes to calls to action.

So how do you avoid using the passive voice?

By using the ‘By zombies’ test, which means adding the phrase “by zombies” after the verb. If the sentence still makes sense, then you are probably using the passive voice.

So, for example:

The book was bought (by zombies) yesterday. {passive voice}

He bought (by zombies) a book today. {active voice}

Cut the Flab and Choose Value over Word Count

Write for scanners, to hold their attention and keep them going through your content.

A BBC report indicates that readers spend less than 10 seconds on a webpage before moving away. So you need to ensure your readers do not have to make an effort to read your content.

Keeping your audience’s attention with reader-friendly copy that provides value is especially important in this day and age.

So, like Apple does, use short sentences that are not only easier to understand but also give the text a rhythm. They don’t worry about starting sentences with “And” or “But”; look at this piece on the iPhone 7.

image4

Try to keep your sentences below 12 words on average.

3. Emotional

You must also engage your audience by evoking emotions that they can identify with.

A study by CoSchedule found that posts with a higher emotional value get more shares than those without.

So how do you write emotional content?

By using words that evoke feelings.

Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions provides a framework of core emotions that writers can use to help frame their content. Writers should be able to identify the emotions that matter most to their audiences and use them accordingly.

For example, fury may strike a chord with those interested in politics but it won’t necessarily have the same impact on college graduates shopping for a new car or looking for a car loan.

By zeroing in on the right emotions, your content can be kept concise and focused around issues that matter to your audience.

Take for example the video below, on the subject of Google search and how it is used to solve problems and improve lives.

4. Engaging

Most importantly, if you are to get your readers to read your content all the way to the end, it must be engaging.

How do you make your content engaging? Here are three ways.

Write to Add Credibility

Presenting details, including technical details, is a sign of expertise. You needn’t give every little detail, but providing data or information on research or technical aspects can raise your credibility in the minds of your readers.

Gary Henneberg, a distinguished copywriter, was hired by the Collin Street Bakery of Corsicana in Texas to help increase sales of fruit cake. Gary observed taste tests and did some digging to find that the bakery was unique in that they used Texas native pecans instead of commercially grown pecans like other bakeries. So Gary’s story focused on how rare these pecans are.

Here is a sample of his copy:

image3

The Collin Street Bakery fruitcake was also rebranded as Native Texas Pecan cake. That, along with the new copy, increased sales by 60 percent.

Write Like You’re Speaking to a Friend

It is often suggested – Paul Graham does so – that you should write as though you were talking to a friend.

You will be more likely to draw in readers when you write like you speak. The tone becomes natural, approachable, and engaging, and you avoid complex sentences. That said, beware of a style that’s too informal and conversational.

Peter Elbow, professor emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says that research indicates the spoken word can be more clear and comprehensible than written language when it comes to ideas flowing naturally. Elbow also warns writers about creating confusion when revising their work, by removing too much of the natural flow of the words.

It makes a lot of sense to write in the same way that you speak. Think “conversational and lively.” Who likes to read a boring, dry document? No one.

An example of this kind of writing can be seen in this excerpt from Nick Hornsby’s novel, “A Long Way Down”:

concise content - speak to a friend

Be a Writer and Then an Editor

Ernest Hemingway, in giving advice to an aspiring writer, said:

Ernest Hemmingway advice

It is better to write your draft first before editing it. Here are a few reasons why.

  • You finish your draft all the way through without interruption.
  • Until you finish the draft you do not really have a good grasp of what comes earlier.
  • Once you have the draft you can stand back and see the piece in a whole new light.
  • Until you write the draft you do not know the end, and until you write the end you can’t refine your beginning.
  • The less time you devote to making every word perfect in the first draft, the less painful it will be to make cuts and revisions.
  • It gives you the chance to get someone else, such as an editor, to review your work.

Conclusion

Your audience is being inundated with information and messages every day; so much so that their brains have reached saturation point. If you want your message to be heard, your content must be concise. Give your content the best chance of success by making it eye-catching, easy to consume, liable to evoke emotion, and engaging.


Image Credits

Screenshots taken by Vinay Koshy, September 2017

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Vinay Koshy

Vinay Koshy

Vinay Koshy is the founder of Sproutworth and helps digital marketers and businesses build influence, increase sales and conversions with ... [Read full bio]

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