How interesting is your writing? Your wisdom and knowledge can get lost if your readers start thinking about what color to paint the ceiling instead of absorbing your message.
A wonderful editing client here in Seattle recently asked for my help in making a business-oriented white paper more lively and interesting. He wanted the paper to maintain a healthy degree of professionalism, and he didn’t want the text to be overly conversational or jaunty. His topic was a serious and thoughtful one, but one he didn’t want to be too dry.
An editing challenge? You bet. But perfectly doable. Here are some of the techniques we used.
Use Fewer Words
You might guess the first thing we did: we used fewer words. Being more concise is the easiest and one of the most powerful ways to improve your writing. More on that in an upcoming article. (Or contact me and I’ll send you a handout I give to clients.)
Choose Active Verbs
We also carefully chose more active, interesting verbs: create orshape or even sculpt vs. make. Invigorate. Revitalize? Okay, that’s getting a bit too commercial-y. Use interesting verbs, but don’t overwrite, or you’ll have readers rolling their eyes.
Because repetition is annoying and, well, boring, we caught words that repeated—both within a paragraph and throughout the document. We all have our go-to words. (Ask your spouse or best friend what words and phrases you use over and over.) This is normal in everyday speech, but it can weaken your writing. As an editor, if I find a word that seems overused, I’ll do a find/replace on that word, replacing it with the same word. Microsoft Word then gives me a total count of that word’s appearances in the text. (Did you notice the repetition ofword? Irritating, wasn’t it?)
Contractions: Aren’t they great?
Contractions became the preference in this white paper. Contractions are more friendly and more compact, and they’re how most of us speak every day. You will want to do this, too, will you not? (Or even: You’ll want to do this too, won’t you?)
Write in Active Voice
We limited the passive voice and re-wrote to active voice. More on this in another article.
Clichés are just. . . cliché
We eschewed businessisms, like utilize and facilitate and bottom-line and drill down and value-added. But you’re not using those anyway, right? Right?
Of course you’re not. Just like you’re avoiding general clichés, which are old hat. This is a hard one, even for experienced professional writers. Sometimes this means a sentence rewrite, which takes more effort. But the result is often worth it. Google the cliché along with the word cliché and you might just find a new angle. I did this with old hat and came up with musty, moldering,and warmed-over. All of which are improvements on old hat. A thesaurus works, too, in a pinch.
Make the transition
Transition words – so, and then, reasonably, in fact, in other words, as you can imagine, later, meanwhile—these words help with flow and readability, connecting sentences, paragraphs, and ideas. Again, use ‘em, but don’t overuse ‘em.
Keep it short
Short sentences can be beautiful. Reading a long sentence can get readers lost in the words, like a poor map can get you lost in the woods. We varied sentence lengths for maximum interest and rhythm.
Tell your story
Finally, we added a couple of genuine stories. As in, real-life anecdotes (with a few details changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent) to draw readers in. Details and examples, when they feel real, are powerful writing and teaching tools.
What other ways do you use to make your business writing lively? I invite your comments!