Advice from the pros: Telling it like it is

Katie Dohman

The simplest sentences and websites take the most thought. Ruthlessly revising and deleting is the hallmark of great writing -- and how you keep readers on your site. Jakob Nielsen reports that readers read at most only 20 to 28 percent of the contents on a web page. Many stay for less than FOUR SECONDS.

To reiterate: You have FOUR SECONDS OR LESS to show a user that you have the information that he or she is looking for. Anything that’s not entirely relevant or usable has got to go. Or your user’s gonna leave your site.

Knowing that, here’s some advice from the pros that I rely upon when I’m getting too wordy:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”Ernest Hemingway

“Words, like glass, obscure when they do not aid vision.” Joseph Joubert

My favorite book on writing is On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. The lessons are incredibly relevant, even if the bulk of the book was written before the dawn of the internet. There are a million golden rules on every page, but it’s not overwhelming. I’ve highlighted nearly everything in the book.

Here’s what’s most relevant in terms of the work we do every day:

“Clutter is the official language used by corporations . . .

Beware, then, of the long word that’s no better than the short word: •    assistance (help) •    numerous (many)•    facilitate (ease)•    individual (man or woman)•    remainder (rest) •    initial (first)•    implement (do)•    sufficient (enough)•    attempt (try)•    referred to as (called)•    and hundreds more

Beware of slippery new fad words: paradigm and parameter, prioritize and potentialize. They are all weeds that smother what you write. Don’t dialogue with someone you can talk to. Don’t interface with anybody.”