When I was a schoolgirl back in Russia, we had Creative writing classes. The kids who used to write long essays stuffed with complex hard-to-read sentences (like this one) were nicknamed by the teachers. They called them ‘Leo Tolstoy’. I guess you know this name. Leo Tolstoy is a Russian writer famous for his huge epic novels such as ‘War and Peace’ or ‘Anna Karenina’. He loved writing a lot, and he loved extremely long sentences.
Many content marketers are Tolstoys. Long texts. Massive sentences. Hard-to-absorb articles. In this post, I’m going to share some tips that help me get rid of ‘Tolstoy syndrome’.
Why should you write less?
The research shows that people are getting less patient. They want to get and digest information as quickly as possible. They are getting tired with the texts longer than 800 words. Unless something attracts their opinion, they read texts through.
So, as the content marketers, we should learn to express our ideas using fewer words.
Can you write less?
Yes, you can. Almost each text can be compressed without the quality loss. Learn to leave out tons of word trash we put into the posts. You’ll be surprised at how brief and factual your articles can be.
How much is enough?
There is no precise number of words or abstracts. The main rule is: cover up your topic well in a few words. In most cases, 500 to 1000 words are more than enough. If you can break a long text into two posts, better do it.
Are there any exceptions?
Sure, there are exceptions everywhere. For example, long how-to-do guides, resource articles, or some complicated texts written for experts. But most often, the text can be reduced without any aftermath.
How to make your texts crystal clear in 6 steps :
1) Draft a plan
This recommendation may sound obvious. But I was surprised at how many content marketers skip this step. Detailed plans are half of the success. They help structure your thoughts and give an idea of the future text. You’ll spend less time writing your article and will have to make less after-work polishing your text.
2) Leave out meaningless sentences
Creative writing and content marketing are different things. Remove irrelevant sentences even if they are eye-candy. All text parts that don’t add anything to the core idea of the text should be cut down.
To illustrate this, let me remind you something. Do you remember that abstract about Leo Tolstoy in the beginning of the text? Did it contribute to the main idea of the text? What should I do with that? Yes, you’re right.
3) Remove adverbs and linking words and phrases.
Adverbs and linking phrases look good in novels and essays. But they make texts much longer and sentences harder-to-read. In most cases, you can get rid of them without the quality loss.
Ask yourself if this word or phrase is crucial for the idea expressed in the sentence. If it doesn’t add something to the meaning, remove it.
I also recommend you a Hemingway app. It scans your text and displays a maximum number of adverbs you may leave without making your text to complex.
4) Break down a text into abstracts and complex sentences into shorter sentences
Segment your text into smaller parts. It doesn’t just make your article more readable. It also helps realize which parts you may skip.
The same rule works for complex sentences. You should break them into smaller parts. You may think that segmenting sentences only makes your post longer. But you’ll be surprised to find out the opposite. You’ll see that you can omit some sentences or say some phrases in fewer words.
Try to avoid complex constructions, such as conditional clauses or passive voice. They make sentences heavier. Use them only when it’s absolutely necessary.
To detect hard-to-read sentences, you may use the same Hemingway app. It will point you at the sentences you should compress.
5) Read the text backward
This is a super-powerful tip a fellow marketer shared with me in the Inbound.org discussion. He recommended reading texts backward to proofread them: find typos or spelling mistakes.
I suddenly found it extremely helpful for polishing my texts. This method may sound a bit absurd, but it helps figure out which phrases you can remove or say in simpler words. I usually do it in the end after I’ve completed all previous steps.
And yes, it really helps find mistakes.
7) Show your post to a non-native speaker
This is my favorite tip. Content marketing is international. When you write a post you should consider your international readers. I usually show my texts to a smart boy or a girl who is good at English but not a native speaker. I ask them two questions:
- Is the text readable? Is everything clear?
- Did you read it through without losing your interest and attention?
If they answer ‘yes’ both times, I publish my post.
These were my favorite tips that help compressing posts. If you use other tricks, please share them!