I recently looked at an article I wrote twenty years ago. I was shocked.
Old School: First was the vocabulary I used. I was verbose, selecting big words when simpler ones would have sufficed. That was my style then, using word selection to sound intellectual; my thesaurus was my best friend, providing me with sophisticated language I could sometimes barely pronounce. Then, to accommodate my scholarly terminology choices, my sentence structure was correspondingly complex.
The other surprising trait was lengthy paragraphs, which seemed to go on and on, line after glorious line. This was in part due to my selection of long words, which took up more space. But it mostly harkened back to high school English that taught me to have six to eight sentences per paragraph: start with a thesis sentence, expand upon it in the next sentence, followed by three to five more sentences to explain it, and concluded with a summary sentence to recap everything. Really, some teacher taught me to do that.
The New Way: Thankfully, I’ve matured as a writer since then. My word choice is clearer, my sentence structure is simpler, and my paragraph lengths are shorter. My writing is cleaner, more concise, and easier to read—as it should be. I could scarcely stand to read those verbose sentences and lengthy paragraphs from my past.
Most readers today would agree. We have short attention spans. Many people multitask when they read, and for those who don’t, their environments and their minds offer a near constant source of distraction. They also skim—a lot. I struggle with all three.
Today’s Tips: That’s why we need to write for today’s readers:
- Use simpler words
- Write shorter paragraphs
- Make text scannable
- Insert subheads
- Have bulleted lists
Give readers every reason to keep reading our work. Provide them with no cause to switch to another task; they may never come back.
Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!