“I’m all for clear, precise communication,” observes humorist Todd Hunt, “but I think this sign on a garbage receptacle at my local movie theater goes a bit too far: TRASH ONLY! (Was there a problem with people depositing ‘non-trash’ items?” Hunt wonders.)
Like Hunt, Caro Clarke advises her beginning writers not to explain too much. “Give the reader the fewest descriptive words necessary to convey the scene,” she says. “Better to have one piercing sentence than three paragraphs of room-by-room description.” The ability to develop a dispassionate eye and a sense of pace, Clarke admits, comes only with experience, but at least beginners can recognize the problem of over-wordiness.
The core of the over-explaining problem, thinks K.M. Weiland, is repetition. That’s usually symptomatic of authorial insecurity – We distrust our ability to explain things well enough the first time around, so we stick in more content just to make sure readers get the point. Don’t, is Weiland’s advice. As a corporate blogging trainer, I must say I agree. It’s not only that business blog posts be kept relatively short (350-500 words is a reasonable goal) and conversational. We have to assume our online readers are a) intelligent and b) by definition, interested in our subject.
University of North Carolina’s Writing Center is saying much the same thing, telling students to write their essays in a manner that treats their instructors as an intelligent but uninformed audience.
As I think about all this advice, I realize that we freelance blog writers have an additional challenge to overcome – the short attention span of online searchers, whose sense of pace can be summed up in a word – quick! I explain to newbie blog writers that it’s best to focus each blog post on one idea. Blogs, after all, are web logs, not web catalogs or web brochures.
In any kind of writing, of course, there’s a trade-off between brevity and detail, as Brandon Royal explains in The Little Red Writing Book. Developing that dispassionate eye and sense of pace Clarke mentions is a challenge for blog writers as well as for novelists. Even as we aim for clear, precise communication that avoids the “Trash only!” over-explanation effect, we’re conscious that engaging readers’ interest and emotional response requires a delicate hand.
Big signs saying “Trash Only!” just won’t do for blogs!