Keep it short. Maximising your readers’ attention.

A colleague once told me the internet has gone “Dexter” on our attention spans. Clearly a reference to the popular TV series and its main character’s ability to slice things up indiscreetly. 

This got me thinking. If we expect succinct communications online, surely we expect this from other media too? Writing for your business is tricky. You have a lot you want to communicate, but also don’t want to lose your audience. 

A good way of achieving brevity in business writing is using short words instead of longer more complicated alternatives. Most of the time, you can make your point quite well with short ones. In fact, big words may get in the way of what you want to say. And what’s more, when you use short words, no one will need to look them up to learn what they mean.

In the book The Write Way: The S.P.E.L.L. Guide to Real-Life Writing (SPELL is acronymous for ‘Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature’), co-author Richard Dowis shares the following example of the power of using short words:

Short words can make us feel good. They can run and jump and dance and soar high in the clouds. They can kill the chill of a cold night and help us keep our cool on a hot day. They fill our hearts with joy, but they can bring tears to our eyes as well. A short word can be soft or strong. It can sting like a bee or sing like a lark. Small words of love can move us, charm us, lull us to sleep. Short words give us light and hope and peace and love and health ? and a lot more good things. A small word can be as sweet as the taste of a ripe pear, or tart like plum jam.

Small words make us think. In fact, they are the heart and the soul of clear thought.

When you write, choose the short word if you can find one that will let you say what you want to say. If there is no short word, then go ahead and consider the utilisation of a sesquipedalian expression as a viable alternative, but be cognisant of the actuality that it could conceivably be incumbent upon many of your perusers to expand, by consulting a dictionary or perhaps an alternative lexicon of particularised patois, copious amounts of their invaluable time in attempting to determine the message you are endeavoring to impart to them through the instrumentality of your missive.


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