I had a feature writing professor at Western Washington University who started every class with a lesson on avoiding hoopdidoodle in our writing. He defines hoopdidoodle as useless, extra wording that doesn’t add any meaning to our writing. It’s surprising how much of that we do, thinking we’re including necessary details when in reality these words, phrases and clichés are slowing our readers down and weakening our writing. Other names I use interchangeably for this concept are clutter, fluff, and mumbo-jumbo.
Writing concisely is a life lesson we must continually learn. Even the best of writers deal with removing certain material that simply doesn’t do anything for the reader or the piece itself. Writing concisely doesn’t just apply to novels, press releases, fact sheets, media backgrounders or briefing books. As writers, being concise in every piece of content we put out means being efficient in the short email pitches we send, the appointment confirmations we make with potential clients, and the Twitter posts we produce for current ones.
How annoying is it to have a conversation with someone who beats around the bush, over explains, or doesn’t get their point across in a straightforward way? Writing is the same. We want whoever is reading our work to connect with our message and engage instead of spending extra time just trying to figure out what we’re saying and why there are so many words.
As writers, we have to assume that readers are lazy. If we can get our message across in as few words as possible and still make an impact, why shouldn’t we? If readers have to struggle to reach the ends of our sentences, read over unnecessary adjectives, dead words and/or redundant phrases, their chances of giving up increase.
I’ve found that my writing has improved with the implementation of shorter sentences. Shorter, more succinct sentences make just as much of an impact as longer ones, if not more, because of their precision. Having a healthy mix of both shows how much attention a writer is paying to the art of syntax. Other tips I’ve learned include avoiding adverbs (i.e., “very”, “quite” “really” etc.) when possible, using active voice instead of passive voice (“the client gave me information” versus “information was given to me by the client”), avoiding redundancy (“result” versus “end result” or “summarize” versus “summarize briefly”), and avoiding the use of unnecessarily fancy jargon for the sake of making yourself look like an expert (i.e., exacerbate, auspicious, acrimonious, grandiose).
Working on removing clutter from my writing has helped me remove it from other areas in my life as well. I believe writing concisely and being clear is a lesson we can learn every day because everything is connected. If there are things in your life that add no value, slow you down or cause a roadblock, remove them. Although it’s a practice that takes time, effort, and in many cases, input from those who have your best interest at heart, it’s worth it. This philosophy applies to writing as well.
So, professor John Harris, I write this blog post in your honor. Thank you for teaching me how imperative it is to write concisely. Believe it or not, your lessons on avoiding hoopdidoodle have come in handy in more ways than one.
Tags: Best Practices, Communique PR, pitching, Public relations, Sanyu Namome, Writing skills