While we don’t typically set word counts for ourselves in the business world, they were heavily imposed on us at school and university, during our most formative writing years. And their sticky little fingers continue to have a hold on us (even if we don’t realise it) with their effects on our writing plain to see.
From 20-page reports (that could have been a punchier five) and long-winded emails that fail to get to the point, to presentations and speeches that go on forever. We’ve all seen it. Sticky. Little. Fingers. Everywhere.
Let’s be honest. We’ve all danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight. In getting us to write more (to hit word counts) at school and university, we’ve been set up to be weaker writers because we needed to ‘pad’.
And the effects?
- Flabby sentences with redundant and repetitious words.
- Too many passive sentences instead of active.
- Too much context.
- Not enough purpose.
- Turning too many perfectly good verbs into nouns (like recommend to recommendation and decide to decision) which means we need to put more words around them just so they make sense in a sentence.
Oh, the wasted time. In the padding and in the reading and (lack of) comprehension. Think of the money businesses could save if people didn’t have to spend so long on their writing and their audiences didn’t have to spend so long de-coding it!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I love what I do. I mean, if everyone had defeated the Joker, I may not have a job.
But it hurts now that I can see, first-hand, how it all starts. Earlier this week, my son asked me to read his homework before he submitted it. As you can imagine, my kids ask me to do this with some trepidation (can’t say I blame them really, having a word warrior for a mum can be a double-edged sword). Anyway, imagine his horror when I suggested he could tighten his sentence more. His response? “But Mum, I can’t change it now, that will put me under the word count.” And so it begins. I wanted to scream: “Get your sticky little fingers off my son!”.
Why don’t we teach kids to use words judiciously? Prudently? Like each one can have power? Because they can. Used well, they can make people feel something. They can influence a decision. Change a mind. Inspire a change of heart. They can change the world.
We’ve all danced with the Joker. Old habits die hard, after all. But if you’re ready and willing to break them, that’s the first step to becoming a stronger business writer.
So, when you next sense the Joker sliding up to you, look him dead in the eye and tell him: “Sorry friend, my dance card is full.”