If you want to consistently improve your everyday writing, there’s one really straightforward thing you can do…
Get to the point.
When you get to the point quickly, your writing becomes instantly clearer. Clarity makes your writing easier to understand, easier to retain, and more enjoyable to read. All of that makes your readers happy.
Here are a few pointers in how do do that.
Avoid the long windup
The long windup is the most common (and most painful) mistake I see when reading.
Common offenders are things like a grand introduction about yourself, a discussion of why your post is important, a massive outline, or a long setup story that buries a one-line reveal.
You don’t need any of that, and your readers don’t want it either.
When readers run into a long windup they either 1) skim to find the main point or 2) just leave. Either way they’re irritated and are probably going to miss the valuable parts of your writing.
So let’s avoid that by keeping the following in mind:
- You shouldn’t have more than a couple short paragraphs before you’ve stated your main point. If you do, start editing.
- If you have any of those offenders I mentioned above, cut them and re-read your draft. I’ll bet it’s far clearer and more effective.
- Assume your readers are there for a reason. If they’ve clicked in, they’ve already expressed interest. Give them what they want, not a bunch of setup.
While writing and editing, you should repeatedly ask yourself two questions…
Who, specifically, am I writing this for?
- What do I want them to know when they’re done reading?
- If there’s anything in your writing that doesn’t support your answers, it’s time to get editing. You’ll find yourself getting to the point a lot faster and more effectively.
For example, let’s say your answers are…
- I’m writing this for Ruby programmers
- I want them to learn a few tricks I’ve learned over the years
Bam. Your writing is instantly narrowed in focus. You can tailor your writing specifically to programmers familiar with Ruby. And you can jump right into the tips and tricks, not a bunch of basics about the language.
Be direct, not incomplete or cold
I want to be clear — getting to the point/being direct is not the same as being cold, unfriendly, or incomplete.
Getting to the point shouldn’t come at the cost of watering down your supporting case. Be direct and get to your point, then support your case and tell a compelling story. Be mindful though — don’t add fluff. Be precise.
Along the same lines, being direct doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly (especially in messages or emails). Being warm never hurts — how you say something still helps in getting your point across.
Practice (at the right times)
Don’t worry, everyone struggles with getting to the point sometimes. Every early draft I write has extraneous fluff that ends up getting cut.
The good news is that I (and you!) have plenty of opportunities to practice every day. Every time I write — a message in Basecamp, an email, a pull request, or a blog post — is a chance to keep working at it.
But let’s be honest, I’m not constantly working on it. There are times where I need my writing to be sharp, and other times I just need to get it done. That’s OK!
It’s hard, time-consuming work to do your best writing. So don’t worry about doing it all the time. You don’t have to polish every piece of writing. Instead, pick your moments and really try to nail those.
Remember, getting to the point means greater clarity, and clarity is king when it comes to writing. It saves time, avoids confusion, and enhances comprehension. Combine that with a strong supporting case and a friendly tone and you’ve got writing gold! ✍️💰