I don’t care if you’re writing emails, memos to staff, your next best-seller, or a blog – you need to write with a punch.
In our nervous-twitch, short attention span world, if you don’t grab your reader by the eyeballs and give a twist…you’ve lost them.
For the last 2 years I’ve tried hard to get YOUR attention as I changed lanes from writing primarily about productivity to writing about the speaking business.
My blog is central to everything I do and I want it to serve you with valuable insights and tips. I also want you to come back each week for more.
To get there, I’ve consciously been changing my writing style. I started with shorter sentences. Next, I experimented by replacing unnecessary words with dashes. Later, I learned I could often drop redundant words, like “that” and “then.”
In this post I’m sharing 7 of the strategies I’ve been using – I think these are the easiest, fastest ways to add more punch to your writing.
Get to the point
Don’t make your reader decipher your rambling dissertation only to discover they have no interest. Get to the point.Don’t make your reader decipher your rambling dissertation only to discover they have no interest. Click To Tweet
Same applies to memos, emails and bathroom walls.
Here are some examples:
John, I really appreciate you calling me about the delay in delivery for our client. I know you’re always doing your best to make our clients happy and what’s best for the company. That’s the kind of reporting that helps me to do my job. John, your call made my day! Thanks for doing such a great job and keeping me in the loop.
It used to be that work-life balance was the holly grail of work-life. Work hard, but also have equal, or more, time for family, friends and personal time. In our new world of 24/7 communications and flat organizations it’s harder to turn work off and even harder to stop thinking about work after hours. Work-life balance is dead. In our new world of 24/7 connections and flat organizations it’s hard to end work at 5PM – even harder to turn work off.
A contraction keeps your reader moving forward. A contraction is a simple device that puts fewer letters in front of the reader and tricks them into reading more.
Common contractions are:
Here’re two examples from my last post about the opening to your speech.
Shit happens – don’t make excuses. When you make excuses you put more attention on what’s wrong. Assume something will go wrong and know how to roll with it.Shit happens – don’t make excuses. Click To Tweet
Unless you juggle for a living, we need to know what’s the problem you’ve come to solve. Preferably in the first 5 minutes.
A dash of dashes
One of my favourite writing devices is the dash. There are two types of dashes: a dash (or en dash) is about as wide as the letter N, and an em dash is about as wide as the letter M.
A dash often replaces the word ‘to’, as in “Breaking sentences with a dash moves readers forward – get the results you want with fewer words.”
An em dash marks an abrupt change of thought in a sentence—often replacing a colon or semicolon. It’s popular use has made it, as Kimberly Joki writes in Grammarly, “the Swiss army knife of punctuation.”
The simplest way to add punch to your writing is short sentences. Like this.
It may not be what Ms. Johnstone taught in grade 3, but it works. I employ short sentences when making, or emphasizing, the point I just made. In short; short sentences work.
Here’s an example from my recent post about summer book reads:
“Just for fun I picked up a slightly-ragged copy of The 100-Year Old Man at my friend Pat’s Pandosy Books (conveniently located around the corner from my office.) It’s a page turner – in a good way.”“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci Click To Tweet
If I want to make a point – especially a slightly controversial one I insert an orphan sentence.
I’m not sure anyone’s coined the phrase, but I’m calling an “orphan sentence” a sentence that sits on it’s own between paragraphs.
So it stands out.
“One sentence, set apart,” says Ann Handley in Everybody Writes, “is a great way to make an important point crystal clear.” Jon Morrow, of SmartBlogger adds, “The shorter your paragraphs are, the less dense and threatening the post looks.”“The shorter your paragraphs are, the less dense and threatening the post looks.” @jonmorrow Click To Tweet
If you’re a word-nerd: In typesetting widow and orphan refer to lines of text that end up alone at the beginning or end of a page or column of text. For example, if the last sentence of your paragraph runs over to the page, that’s called an Widow.
I covered the need to remove redundancies in this popular (if I say so myself) post. Because I wanted to have 7 points in this post (hey, I’m just saying), I’ll include a quick reminder.
Redundant words makes your writing limp and unappealing like over cooked broccoli.Redundant words makes your writing limp and unappealing like over cooked broccoli. Click To Tweet
It’s like topping an entrée with a fistful of parsley, or adding pin stripes to your Hyundai Accent. More is not always better.
Here are some redundancies you should cut, cull, delete, or simply remove.
“At this point in time” (Jan Enns)
“Moving forward” (Sarah Esch)
“In my opinion…” (Janet Matthews)
“Let me be perfectly clear….” (Patricia Katz)
“Honestly…” / “In all honesty…”
“Basically…” (Terri Knox)
“That being said…” (Sharon Evans)
“With all due respect…” (Lesley-Anne Evans)
Drop dead words
In the final stages of polishing your prose, look for words to cull. In his classic On Writing-A memoir of the craft, Stephen King puts it a bit more bluntly: “Kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Doing this helps move the reader along, cuts word count and make your work appear more professional.
The trick is to spot useless words—just reading the sentence often won’t make them jump out.
To help with your hunting, here’s a short list to get you started:
Then. Often your story infers when something is happening sequentially, as in “I stepped on stage [then]…” So you don’t need to have ‘then’ to tell us something is coming next. Book marketing expert and author, Diana Urban, goes one further: “Using “then” frequently sounds repetitive and even juvenile.”
All, every, totally, completely, absolutely, literally. If I’m writing “I packed my clothes and left the room.” It doesn’t help to say I packed all my clothes (it’s assumed I have them all). A quick test is to remove the suspect word and see if your meaning is intact.
That. I’m still surprised by the number of times I find a useless ‘that’ lurking in my writing – shoot on sight! Diana Urban suggests, “If a sentence still makes sense after removing ‘that’, delete it.”
For example, “This is the most amazing blog post that I’ve ever read.” can be, “This is the most amazing blog post I’ve ever read.”
In a related post I supplied a list of 11 words commonly misused.
The objective of your writing, whether for entertainment, education or a combination of both is ultimately what’s most important. Adding punch to your writing is what keeps your reader invested and moving forward.
Sometimes it’s a change in words that’s needed and sometimes it’s, as Ann Handley would say, a case of “edit by chainsaw.”