WORDS GOOD: Greased-Rail Action
So glad that folks were enjoying last week’s screeding about activating your wording by getting it singing with the -ing ending. (Is that sentence ridiculousing enough?)
If you missed that tale, your relentless scribe was in Mexico, consulting with a craft brewer. We’ve been talking with them about branding and marketing, which includes reviewing their business plan.
Last week, we talked about giving business writing more zip by giving the words more action. (Actionizing them?)
Today, we’re going to be decomplexing things. It sounds a little like decomposing, doesn’t it? Maybe it is. If one is composing sentences, and we’re talking about making them shorter, maybe we can talk about decomposing them. But I’m not going to go there.
The bottom line here is that periods are your friend.
Are you making your reader climb a mountain? Or are you putting the reader on greased rails?
One of the most common challenges in business writing is complex sentences that need not be complex. They can slow things down.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Complex sentences have their place.
But here, we’re selling.
Simplicity is one key to keeping the reader engaged. We need to keep the pace brisk. We should be developing an appropriate level of excitement or energy with no speed bumps.
(By the way, before editing it, the preceding four sentences was one single sentence of 30 words. Doctor heal thyself. Word!)
When we require action, sentences that are unnecessarily complex get in the way.
Gosh, that is one of my favorite sentences.
On the face of it, it seems incomplete.
But it has a subject: you, implied.
And it has a predicate, the part of the sentence containing a verb and saying something about the subject.
Yes, predicates are something that we all forgot about the second we closed our grammar books in grade school.
And knowing what they’re called really doesn’t matter so much here.
The point here is efficiency.
And that simple, one-word sentence says so much and suggests so much more.
Rarely will we get such a simple sentence in business writing.
But allowing the reader to run with your words is a matter of following a simple rule.
The rule was best laid down by David Ogilvy: write no sentence longer than 13 words.
Once you get longer and more complex, the reader has to think too hard.
Here’s an example of a complex sentence in the business plan.
And again, I remind you that the man who wrote this is a good writer and smarter than I ever will be.
(His freshman year in college, he was reading The Odyssey in Greek. My freshman year, I was watching TV.)
The original sentence…
“Craft brewers among themselves are generally more collaborative than competitive, so the only real competitors for the craft brewer in Mexico are the brewery duopoly of Cuautémoc Moctezuma (now owned by Heineken) and Grupo Modelo (owned by AB InBev).”
It’s actually a good sentence. But it’s complex.
And I’m conditioned to bring a big box of periods to every encounter.
“Craft brewers among themselves are generally more collaborative than competitive. [PERIOD] The only real competitors for the craft brewer in Mexico are the brewery duopoly of Cuautémoc Moctezuma (now owned by Heineken) and Grupo Modelo (owned by AB InBev).”
That’s better. But it feels like we can give it more grease.
“Craft brewers among themselves are generally more collaborative than competitive. The real competitor for the craft brewer in Mexico is a giant duopoly: Cuautémoc Moctezuma (owned by Heineken) and Grupo Modelo (owned by AB inBev).”
We got rid of some qualifiers. “Real” modifying “competitors” has said goodbye.
The word “now” explaining Heineken’s ownership seems to be along for the ride. Either Heineken owns it or they don’t.
We’ve also put the word “giant” in place of “brewery” when describing the duopoly. Brewing is implicit in the concept of competition, and gaintism makes them feel more intimidating.
And we’ve added a mark that puts the punch in punctuation: the colon.
(See what I did there?)
The colon doesn’t create a new sentence, but it feels like one.
The colon says, “Note what follows!”
So you get the effect of a full stop, and you also get the bonus of pointing to the next clause without actually standing there with your finger out.
And instead of one long sentence with 39 words? We get 34 words that read like three quick sentences.
This works everywhere, even in writing radio copy. The quicker the sentences, the more punch you can put in your sell.
Greased rails for your reader--even when your reader is speaking the words aloud.
Words good. Grease ‘em up.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.