Author: Joel K. Thomas, Copy Editor

Brevity

“You cannot bore people into buying your product.” Thus spake the eminent David Ogilvy during the era of print, radio, and three-network television – but it applies to the Internet too, and every other mode of human communication yet to come.

“You cannot bore people into enduring your next sentence, paragraph, page, or link.” Thus wrote me, just now – and I bet you agree.

Using the fewest possible words can help your message sneak through even the most vigilant boredom filter. For example:

Concision

If you can’t make something brief, at least make it concise. Omit pointless filler (“moving forward”); mercilessly delete Victorian/baroque fluff (say “Please call if you have questions,” not “If you should have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me”); eliminate pallid jargon (“best-in-class”). Even a longer document can forestall boredom if it lacks unneeded words.

Reality

For a college class in journalism, a textbook whose title and author I can’t possibly recall said that no news story (to which I would add “or website, advertisement, or product brochure”) will encounter an ideal reader. Instead, your real-world readers – your target audience, your consumers – have a desk stacked with burgeoning projects, three missed deadlines, two more deadlines looming, no idea what to do for dinner that night, and a kid who just remembered a science project due the next morning.

Brevity and concision will give your message a fighting chance to capture their attention anyway.