Stop writing like a child

Stop writing like a child

When I was six years old, I tended to ramble in my speech. Like other kids my age, I had no conception of which details were vital and which weren’t. So if you asked me to summarize my day, I’d spend 5 minutes reciting my pre-breakfast routine, but gloss over my eight hours at school in 30 seconds.

Most of us eventually learned how to focus on the details that matter. But child-like habits often return when we write. Witness the many adults — myself included when I’m not being careful — who cram as much detail as possible into their opeds or blog posts. This bogs down readers and obscures the overarching message.

Fortunately, writers can avoid this pitfall by asking themselves just one question: “Does the reader need to know this?”

Say we’re referencing an obscure job-creation law that’s tangential to our main point. Do readers need to know that the full name of the bill is the “Create Prosperous and Rewarding American Jobs Act of 2016”? Of course not. Just say, “a job-creation law.”

And what about the names of the four politicians who sponsored the bill on House and Senate side? Unless we deliberately want to put readers to sleep — or we’re specifically trying to thank the lawmakers — we ought to cut that information too.

This applies to adjectives and adverbs, too. We rarely need to say a fresh-cooked meal came out of the kitchen “hot and steaming.” Just one modifier is sufficient, especially since the word “steaming” implies “hot.”

We’re all smarter than a 5th grader. Let’s prove it in our writing.

Colin Valentine