I recently had a conversation with a client that went like this:
Excited client, “I want my content to sound more like Michelle Obama. I’m reading Becoming and I just love how she paints a picture.”
Me, after the client had read some passages from the book, “This is awesome and we can certainly try something like this, but in the online world there is a fine line between describing something in order to sell it and describing it for the sake of describing it.”
Marketing-based writing is structured in a particular way to achieve a specific outcome. By including too many “leisure content” techniques (such as the uber-detailed descriptions you find in fiction novels), you risk losing your message and not achieving your objective.
The term story-telling has caused massive confusion between the techniques of writing to sell and writing something someone reads for enjoyment. Story-telling doesn’t necessarily mean “make it long” or “add loads of adjectives”.
It simply refers to a way of communicating your message using the basic structure (intro, body, conclusion) and the key elements (a character, a problem, triumph over said problem) of a story.
Golden Rule: Brevity
The best way to approach writing (especially for the digital space) is by sticking to the absolute essentials someone will require to clearly understand what your message is.
Let me clarify my point by way of the image below.
Your message is the tiny dude running at the bottom of the picture. Each of the diagonal lines above the runner is an adjective, an anecdote, side note or piece of additional information.
Without a doubt, these added bits paint a picture. But in the attention-poor world of digital content, not many people will wade through that amount of text to find the tiny snippet of info you’re actually trying to communicate.
In the online space, you’re looking for this:
Hot tip: edit mercilessly
Here is a quick rundown of how I approach writing for the digital space:
- Bang out a first draft, including every last random thought on the topic.
- Put the draft away and have a cup of tea.
- Come back and read the first draft again. Highlight the most important points.
- Cut as much of the in-between bits out as possible.
- Write something to provide context for (and link) the bits that remain.
On longer pieces I repeat steps 2-5 several times until I have a flowing, coherent and easy-to-read piece that delivers, above all else, the most important message.
PS. Check out my article on online layouts that help elevate the readability of your content.
Exception to the rule
There are obviously factors such as platform, type of content, brand persona and objective that could lead to more detailed explanations or elaborate descriptions being required.
But these are certainly the exception to the rule and, even if your piece requires the added info, the merciless editing technique described above should still be applied to ensure you’re not getting too carried away.
Always K.I.S.S. your content
When in doubt, simply ask yourself whether a specific sentence, quote or snippet of information drives the reader forward, making them want to find out more.
If not, cut it out. Always remember the golden rule: “Keep It Short and Simple“!