Ernest Hemingway, a writer known for his economical use of words, always advised writers to use a vigorous and positive style. One of the giants of 20th century literature, he began his career as a journalist for the newspaper the Kansas City Star and maintained the reporter’s straightforward writing mode throughout his career.
Hemingway used the journal’s style guide as a reference for the kind of terse prose he featured in such classics as “For Whom the Bell Tolls and “A Farewell to Arms”. That advice was to: "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative."
Fast forward to today and the advice holds truer than ever, particularly with the need for clarity and brevity when writing for the web. Studies have shown reader’s attention spans have shortened with the immense choice of content now available on the Internet. Therefore the use of brief and positive sentences, paragraphs and text is critical to get your message across.
Less is usually best in web writing and the the trick is to capture your readers’ attention early with an engaging headline, followed by a punchy opening paragraph. In news-style reporting, this should answer the 5Ws (and one H) — Who, What, Where, When, Why, How.
George Orwell, another champion of brevity, summed up this style of writing in his essay “Politics and the English Language”.
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never us a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
It follows that business writing for the Internet can also benefit by following Orwell and Hemingway’s time-honoured rules. Readers seeking information about your company or product will prefer a brief, positive and to the point article containing relevant facts rather than one that is long and unwieldy. Therefore keeping sentences and paragraphs short and informative will help to hold the reader’s attention. Key information should be given early and a clear “call to action” should be displayed prominently towards the end of the article if this is appropriate.
Our team of professional writers can help you with your web or business writing on a variety of topics. Please don’t hesitate to contact Leonie for further information.