"Clutter is the disease of American writing," says William Zinsser in his classic book, “On Writing Well.”
Unfortunately, clutter is also one of the biggest and costliest problems in modern business writing. And it comes in many forms, with wordy sentences and paragraphs, outdated business language, and vagueness being just a few of the worst offenders.
This kind of clutter saps the power of your writing and dilutes your message.
To turn sluggish, underperforming writing into clear, persuasive communications, use everyday words and relatively simple sentence structure. In other words, clear the clutter. Here are seven potent strategies to help you de-clutter and add power and clarity to your business communications.
Strategy #1: Focus on the reader. The number one reason business documents fail is they’re written from the writer’s perspective instead of from an angle that appeals to the reader. Business writers are too often worried about how they should begin, what they should say, what tone they should take, what information they should include, etc. Instead put the focus on giving your readers the information and answers they need and letting them know what the communication is about, why they should care, and what they’re being asked to do.
Strategy #2: Eliminate outdated business lingo. Antiquated business phrases such as “Enclosed please find,” “As per your request,” and “Pursuant to our conversation” make you look outdated. Replace these relics with clear, conversational, plain English. Write to express, not to impress.
Strategy #3: Eliminate wordiness, redundancies, and hedging. Opening phrases such as “It is true that” or “It was the butler who” only delay what you’re trying to say. Start with your point. There’s nothing wrong with just saying “The butler did it.” Expressions such as “in the majority of instances” and “after the conclusion of” muddy your writing, obscure your point, and waste your reader’s time. Eliminate redundancies such as “free gift,” “plan ahead,” or “consensus of opinion.” And avoid hedge phrases such as “it is our understanding that” or “to the best of our recollection.”
Strategy #4: Use active vs. passive language. Instead of saying, “Your application will be reviewed by our underwriters,” use the active voice and say, “Our underwriters will review your application.” Put the subject in charge of the action instead of making the subject acted upon.
Strategy #5: Trim long-winded sentences and paragraphs. Be precise and get to the point. If you want to know if one of your sentences or paragraphs is too long, read it out loud and see if you run out of breath. Or read it to someone else. If you lose them, it’s probably too long. Break long sentences and paragraphs up into smaller chunks.
Strategy #6: Implement a style guide. A common style guide for your company can be as simple as a one-page list of commonly agreed conventions and practices for writing. It gets everyone on the same page with spelling, grammar, formatting, style, tone, etc., and creates consistency.
Strategy #7: Know when not to write. There are times it’s best to reconsider the communication altogether:
- When you don’t have enough information
- When you’re angry or upset
- When you’re worried about offending the reader
- When you’re dealing with a controversial or sensitive topic
If you want your message to cut through the glut of information competing for your readers’ attention every day, make sure your message isn’t merely adding to the noise. Clear out the clutter in your own writing, and give your readers the kind of clear, concise, convincing, and conversational business communications that will command their attention and achieve the desired result.
Tell us your biggest insurance copywriting pet peeve by posting a comment below. And for more on persuasive writing techniques, download one of our oldest and most popular reports, “10 Insurance Marketing Mistakes That Are Costing You Sales Right Now.” Need more insurance marketing ideas? Subscribe to our blog in the top right corner of this screen.