I love delivering content training sessions because I get to talk about words. And I had great fun at a content training session last week, talking about one of my favourite things – how to choose the right words to describe what you’re doing. In last week’s blog post, I talked about setting a tone for your business with your language. This week, I practised what I preached with a pair of researchers who wanted to describe their project in user-friendly language.
The type of content training they wanted was quite different from the norm. Most people want to know what to say: these people wanted to know how to say it. So, the session focused on editing skills and on how to choose the right words. I began with a presentation where I talked about how to edit your text to fit your requirements.
How to Edit Your Writing
The main thing to remember when you’re editing is to figure out what central point you want to make with your content. Once you know that, you can decide what to leave in and what to take out. A lot of people feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they feel they have to put in, so deciding on a central point gives them clarity.
After you’ve decided what point you want to make, your next task is to trim down your sentences. Reading your text out loud weeds out a lot of errors, like overlong sentences, clunky phrasing and typos that spellcheck doesn’t pick up. I encouraged the two researchers to read their text out loud for clarity.
I then showed the participants how to refine their text even more by weeding out words that weaken their language. This includes repeated words, crutch words we rely on too much and passive voice, saying that a project was run by Derbhile rather than the more proactive choice of saying ‘Derbhile ran the project.’
Fleshing Out Your Writing
Many people when they’re editing need to cut down their text. These two researchers had the opposite challenge. They’re naturally concise writers and they needed to bulk up. This can be more of a challenge because you have to add fresh text to what you’ve already written. I suggested they add muscle rather than fat. In other words, they would bulk out each paragraph with information they might have been holding back for fear their text would be too long. I advised against creating new paragraphs, as they would only be adding text for the sake of it.
The participants put their editing skills to the test by writing a description of their project in 250 words. I told them just to write the description first and only count the words after they stopped. I then suggested ways of bulking up their content to bring it up to 250 words. You can do this exercise in reverse as well. First write a description of your business in 250 words, then cut to 100 words and then cut again to 50. You’ll be left with the most important info, expressed in clear language.
Choosing the Right Words
The second half of the session was devoted to helping the participants use language that would set the right tone for their project. First they needed to come up with pronouns to describe themselves and their end users. Would they choose the friendly-sounding ‘we’ and ‘you pronouns?
Or would they create a professional distance by choosing ‘the project’ and ‘the users.’ Whichever they choose, I recommended that they make sure not to over-rely on these pronouns, as it can be easy to over-use them without realising it.
Finally, I asked them to come up with fifteen words to describe their project. If you remember last week’s blog post, I talked about the values words, the doing words and the senses words. They came up with a list and I encouraged them to refine it further, and not to be afraid to add playful words, ones that created a sense of excitement.
We closed off the session by editing a piece of content they had already created. Their content was good quality, which creates its own challenge, but I was able to spot repeated words, and words that were a bit vague. Above all, I encouraged them to remember that most people engaging with their project would know absolutely nothing about the subject matter. Simple, clear language wins every time.
If you’d like to learn how to add sparkle to your own words, I’d be delighted to work with you. you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.