Do you sometimes waffle when you write?
Where did you learn to do that?
I’ll tell you: school.
Most of us were actively encouraged by our teachers to waffle. You were given a word limit and by golly you knew you had to meet it.
At school you were allowed the time to explore every thought that popped into your head. To look at every issue from both sides. To tease out your argument and fluff it up to meet that word count.
Unfortunately, most people have continued this style of writing at work. And busy people hate it. Wordy, unfocused writers waste their reader’s valuable time.
Apart from wasting time, waffling also damages your reputation. It gives the impression that you are a muddled thinker; that you don’t know what you’re talking about and you ramble to try and look like you do.
My advice to you today is to cut the waffle. Give your writing less waffle and more cream.
Here’s how to cut the waffle.
1. When you think it, you don’t necessarily have to write it. Your writing at work should not be a philosophical reflection on life and the universe. You should think twice before presenting your entire thought process to your reader. Perhaps your concluding thoughts are where you should begin your writing.
2. Stay on task. If necessary, write your objective down on a separate note and stick it on your computer while you write. That will help you stay focused on what you want to achieve, rather than wander down the path of waffle.
3. Write as if you are speaking to your reader. That means writing in the ‘first person’, with an active voice and using plain English. Keep your writing conversational and it will be more engaging.
And now for some cream…
4. Cut to the chase. Put the really important points up front. You don’t have to tell a story that drags on to a long awaited conclusion.
5. Make it all about them – not you. If you’re writing a proposal, lead in with the reader’s need and how you will satisfy it. For emails, make it immediately clear how your message is relevant, why the reader should care and what he or she needs to do next.
6. Use subheadings. This will help those in a real hurry to skim-read and still capture the intent of your writing. Make the subheads work: don’t write ‘Recommendation’ only when you can write ‘Recommendation: casual clothes every Friday’.
And finally, remember to re-read what you have written. If you detect waffle, then cut it. You’re not writing at work to achieve a word-limit. You are writing to communicate and to get a job done.