The war on waste

ABC Television has been waging a war this month. And it has been quite confronting to see how much of our consumerism ends up in landfill.

Tonnes and tonnes of perfectly good food is thrown out every week. Some by us, some by the supermarkets and a scary amount deemed ‘not pretty enough’ is pulped by the farmers.

Young girls addicted to ‘fast fashion’ buy cheap clothes they wear once or twice and then throw out. Boom! Straight to landfill.

And probably the most eye-opening statistic of all was the one billion take-away coffee cups that go to landfill every year. And that’s just Australia’s coffee cup dump.

That’s right – that paper cup that holds your morning heart-starter is not recyclable!

So much waste got me thinking about other areas of waste. And it didn’t take me long to start thinking about…you guessed it…words.

Wasted words. Words written, that will never be read. Big fancy words. Long, winding sentences. Swathes of paragraphs that will never see the light of eyeballs. It’s a crying shame.

Wherever there is a glut, there’s bound to be waste. And it’s the same with words. When there’s too many of them, reading becomes hard work. A reader will skip over whole chunks of writing. Or turn off altogether.

Messages get lost in a sea of typeface. A screen full of text is daunting – especially when you’re busy and have another 10 screens just like that one sitting in your inbox. 

What can we do to cut the waste? The answer: write fewer words.

Shorter sentences. Nice tight paragraphs. Use an active voice that gets to the point quickly. That’s the type of writing we like to read at work. Writing that respects our time and doesn’t waffle with unnecessary, bogged-down detail.

Like the ABC’s campaign to cut environmental waste, we can all do our bit to cut the wasteful writing of too many words.

Write it once – in plain English – and your reader will love you.

And just in case you are not sure what waste I am talking about, this 155 word sentence illustrates what not to do:

To determine the adequacy of the indemnity period attaching to your Business Interruption coverage, you need to determine how confident you are that in the event of a total or significant loss, the entire premises can be demolished, land cleared, new premises rebuilt, and full occupancy obtained within your chosen indemnity period, taking various factors into account such as delays in gaining entry due to safety concerns, the time it will take for both the arson squad and engineers to conduct a thorough review, the time it will take to complete a tendering process, the time it will take to apply for and be granted building/planning permits, delays caused by weather and strikes, and the time it may take for the same/new tenant(s) to commence paying you rental income following completion of the rebuilding process(similar to the level of rental income that was being earned immediately prior to the insured loss at the very least). 

All perfectly good words individually. But in this lengthy arrangement, they’re all ready for the scrap heap. What a waste.