I’m teaching a class in public relations writing this semester. As I’ve found with most college students, the one thing usually common to their writing is that it’s cluttered.
I’ve tried several methods to get them to pare their verbiage. I’ve pointed out examples in their writing as to how they can use fewer words and actually strengthen their sentences.
I’ve quoted from such noted writing teachers as Williams Zinnser and Roy Peter Clark, showing them how to keep the word count down. As Zinnser notes, don’t say “At the present time, we are experiencing precipitation” when you mean “it’s raining.”
Ieven recalled a college journalism professor of mine (a sportswriter, no less), who advised us one day that one of the most expressive sentences ever written was also one of the shortest: “Jesus wept.” (John 13:31).
The other day, I tried another tack. “You all text message your friends,” I said. “You don’t waste words there, do you?” They all agreed that needless words had no place in that medium. So I asked them to write with a text-message perspective – make every word count. If a word’s not pulling its weight, cut it out. You’ll be surprised how much excess you can trim, I said.
I think they may be getting the message. One thing I did not ask them to do was to fill their papers with text or instant messaging acronyms and emoticons. Those are already everywhere in abundance – with billions of BTWs, LOLs and ROTFLs traversing the spectrum daily. In fact, I suppose, those acronyms may someday become standard language. It could be coming, but if it does, I hope I’m LB&P – long boxed and planted.