Posted by: thewritethingdotbiz | January 14, 2011

Getting the most out of words

Words work best when they show, rather than merely tell—and when they don’t get in the way.

Show versus tell:

Showing paints pictures in the mind. These mental images outlast flowery or even erudite language. An easy place to start with this is to avoid excessive use of adjectives and other filler language. Here’s what I mean:

Two sentences of the same length: Which of the following has more impact and tells you more?

  • The car was badly damaged in a terrible accident, and we could hardly recognize that it was a BMW.
  • Most of the BMW was laid out in front of us; some of it was probably on the side of the freeway.

When words get in the way:

It’s more than a hook from a sappy love song; it’s how most people sabotage documentation and even web content. Less is almost always more (effective). Really, it boils down to respect.

Just as in face-to-face communication, written communication calls for respect and courtesy. If you sold clothes at a fashionable retailer, you wouldn’t approach your customers by first asking them if they knew what a shirt does, would you? Nor would you approach them extolling the virtues of the particular mill in Vietnam where the shirt they’re checking out was made.The trick is to organize your information such that readers may quickly locate the information they need and within one click, read it in language they get.

Ask yourself or your clients the following questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What does my audience already know before they find my site?
  • What are their main questions?
  • Why are they visiting my site?

The way you lay your site out should address all these questions from a structural vantage point before you even start writing the content.

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