You may have heard the tale of how, in the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He wrote: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” He won the bet and often referred to the story as his best work ever.
There are now dozens of websites devoted to six-word stories (just try Googling it). One of the best is from US online magazine Smith, which tweaked the rules by asking its readers to sum up their own lives in just six words.
The results are surprisingly poignant; often funny (“No more kisses, whisker burn lingers.”), sometimes sad (“Two sons. One died; now none.”), sometimes regretful (“Wishing I’d jumped sooner, missed mark.”), even a little scary (“He seemed ok at the time”). You should try it; we did.
As business copywriters, we’re always banging on about conciseness and short sentences. And while we don’t expect you to turn your firm’s client newsletters, your website or your marketing material into heart-wrenching six-word stories (wouldn’t that be fun, though!), it’s a reminder of just how emotional and powerful words can be, even just six of the little blighters.
So think of that, next time you’re trying to explain to your boss why your ten-word sentence is better than his 30-word jargon fest.
When he wasn’t busy painting masterpieces or inventing helicopters, all-round-Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci found was one of the leading thinkers of his day.
He was a simple man though, da Vinci. The illegitimate son of a country girl and a rural notary, he regarded simplicity as the foundation of his genius. His motto was: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Although writing wasn’t one his greatest strengths, we can learn a lot from the bearded Florentine.
Simplicity is at the core of great copywriting. The sentences that work best are the ones that use simple, clear, straightforward language and structure. A sentence doesn’t get better the more words you stuff into it. On the contrary, it almost invariably gets worse.
Many people fall in to the trap of over-writing, trying to sound more impressive or to demonstrate their knowledge by using unnecessary words or flowery phrases.
But the most effective corporate writers make their point quickly and clearly. They use precise words and simple phrasing.
“The company does not intend to remove the automatic bollards, but it is necessary to carry out repairs to the bollards for the purpose of keeping them operating effectively.”
Keep it clear and simple:
“The company does not intend to remove the automatic bollards, but it must repair them to keep them working properly.”
Or how about:
“Overestimating on one type of the relevant material could have a detrimental impact on cost-effectiveness for the client.”
“Overestimating one type of material could cost the clients more.”
So next time you’re tempted to throw in a few ‘corporate’ sounding phrases or flowery language to sound more sophisticated, just remember the words of our old friend Leonardo da Vinci. If simplicity was good enough for him, it’s darn tootin’ good enough for me.
Tuborg and bacon sandwiches all round this month – we’ve just been commissioned by Vestas Wind Systems, the largest wind energy company in the world (and a Danish one, in case you didn’t get the subtle link), to provide the copy for a series of country websites and product brochures.
Ties in quite nicely actually, because we’ve just finished writing a wind energy brochure for the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
We are fast becoming the windiest copywriting agency in the country.