2 min Read
June 1, 2011

Write Less, But How? Two Tips.

Big Duck

People’s reading habits have changed. Attention spans are shorter. We’re all just too busy. So if you want to reach your audiences, you must know how to write less. Easier said than done, of course.

Here’s one of our favorite quotations, usually credited to the 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal (and often mistakenly credited to Mark Twain): “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Anyone who writes a lot can confirm the truth in this statement. But how do you write less and still say all you need to say?

There are lots of things you can do, but in the spirit of brevity, we’ll start with just two tips. They’re not always simple, but they’ll help you reach the people you need to reach with fewer words and more confidence.

1. “Be” not.

Use action verbs instead of being verbs. When you finish your first draft, change all or most of your being verbs (i.e., be, is, etc.) into action verbs. Your prose immediately becomes more concise and direct. An example:

Being verb: Our programs are helping young people discover new opportunities.
Action verb: Our programs propel young people into new opportunities.

(Obviously, the appropriateness of the action verb itself depends on your organization and the context, but you get the point, right?)

2. Passive voice should be avoided.

Better yet, avoid passive voice. If you find lots of being verbs in your writing, it probably indicates a fondness for passive voice. Note the be in the heading above.

The biggest reason that you, as a nonprofit communicator, should use active voice is that it helps you assert success, whereas passive voice defers responsibility. The classic example of passive voice that we hear, especially from politicians, is, “Mistakes were made.” Well, who the heck made them? A more positive example:

Passive voice: Clients are referred to stellar educational services.
Active voice: We refer clients to stellar educational services.

It’s only a tiny bit shorter, but it expresses your role in the work. Own your good work, nonprofiteers!

We can write about the subject of writing less for days, ironically enough (especially if we’re trying to be brief). But the tips above will help you avoid a couple of common pitfalls we often see in the nonprofit world. And by writing less, people will read you more.

If you’re interested in more on this subject, we have a third tip that’s a bit more complicated—and probably even more valuable—than the first two. You’ll find it on the Duck Call blog.