Tag: being concise

Boil it down

Posted on March 14th, by Thomas Heath in writing. Comments Off on Boil it down

Thanks Edward for putting us on to this old-school newspaper editors’ mantra for writers. All sing along now…

If you’ve got a thought that’s happy,

Boil it down.

Make it short and crisp and snappy,

Boil it down.

When your brain its coin has minted,

Down the page your pen has sprinted,

If you want your effort printed,

Boil it down.

Take out every surplus letter,

Boil it down.

Fewer syllables the better,

Boil it down.

Make your meaning plain.

Express it so we’ll know not merely guess it;

then my friend ere you address it,

Boil it down.

Cut out all the extra trimmings,

Boil it down.

Skim it well, then skim the skimmings,

Boil it down.

When … Read More »

Be positive, not negative!

Posted on February 23rd, by Thomas Heath in writing. Comments Off on Be positive, not negative!

Failure.  While writing a tender application, I read the instructing letter – it stated “Failure to submit in the correct format will mean rejection”.  Well I panicked!  Failure… what would happen… all my work would be instantly dismissed… I’d be up in front of the head mistress for some terrible punishment…

The word failure, or any negative language for that matter, is enough to scare the reader, put them on the defensive and certainly won’t get the best out of them.  Perhaps “Please use the attached format so we can process your reply quickly and efficiently” would have been more friendly and encouraging.

As a mother of two small boys, I have certainly learnt that an encouraging “oh look, there are your shoes… now let’s see if you can put them on yourself” rather than shouting “PUT YOUR SHOES ON NOW…” has … Read More »

How to write short, shortened

Posted on April 15th, by Thomas Heath in writing. Comments Off on How to write short, shortened

Older people write better digital content

Posted on February 2nd, by Thomas Heath in writing. 2 comments

I’ve just turned 41. I played football on my Birthday, ruptured my Achilles tendon and now I’m here with my leg in plaster. So I thought I’d mention one benefit of getting older.

How to explain first time

Posted on July 5th, by Thomas Heath in writing. 1 Comment

‘If you’re explaining you’re losing.’ That phrase recently came out to bite President Obama, after he gave a 17-minute answer to a short question about healthcare and taxes.

Healthcare and taxes, human rights, banking, the environment … too many of the most vital messages get beached like whales in our attention deficit disordered world. People have to understand first time. Get it? Got it. Good. If not, you lose.

To avoid losing, answer these questions before you try to explain:

1. Who cares and why?
2. How will I make a difference?
3. What’s the big idea?

We use this approach for scripting everything except Post-it notes. You can too.

Step One: Who cares and why?
Who’s your audience? What are they thinking? And why exactly would they be interested in you? Great if you know these people as individuals. If not then imagine them into life — … Read More »

How computer code can improve your writing

Posted on June 1st, by Thomas Heath in writing. 2 comments

As a writer, more and more of my words are published online. The more I work with web developers and designers, the more I see of the dark arts of coding. And do you know what? Writing code is just the same as writing words.

Developers and writers are doing the same things – the only difference is that while I want to communicate clearly to my reader, my developer is communicating with a web browser. Either way, we’re both using language to create specific outcomes.

Not convinced? Well, let me give you a few things that a good writer can learn from their web developer:

1. Know your outcomes

When a developer starts writing a piece of code, they’ll always have an outcome in mind.

They might be adding a sign-up box to capture email addresses. They might be adding more navigation links to a … Read More »

Don’t blame the messenger

Posted on September 18th, by Thomas Heath in writing. 3 comments

Professor Michael Shayer of King’s College London recently repeated a study first done in 1976 to test the problem-solving abilities of 800 secondary pupils. He found they’ve got better at quick-fire descriptive responses, but worse at more complex reasoning.

Text message culture is widely blamed for this ‘dumbing down’, but let’s not accuse the medium — telegrams never made us stupid. What matters is the writer’s intent. More than 350 years ago, Blaise Pascal felt compelled to apologise for a long letter because he hadn’t time to make it short. Being concise is hard; it takes effort to pack a tight snowball.

Texts, Twitter and other messaging services force the writer to be brief, so we inevitably use them for speed. But what happens, what has always happened, when you ration the words of a writer with creative intentions? You get poetry. … Read More »