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I’m on a Thameslink train into London, watching their little carriage info screen. It’s sharing some pretty useful information. But it’s not as impactful as it could be because their writing’s a little clunky.
There are four basic better writing principles that will make it much more effective. They’ll also help your own business writing work harder for you. I’m going to rewrite Thameslink’s on-screen messages to show you how they work.
1 - Keep it snappy
As a rule, the fewer words the better. For example, check out:
It’s a short sentence, but it still feels wordy. So let’s turn it into:
That’s two words and eleven characters shorter. And it sounds much more natural.
After all, you’re much more likely to say:
2 - Talk about ‘you’ and ‘us’
It’s a subtle but effective way of reaching your audience more directly. So, you could turn:
The second version is much more direct and personal. It’s the difference between:
Which would you rather hear when you sit down for your sausages?
3 - Lose the pointless detail
Now here’s some very useful information. There’s a diagram of which train loos are open, a little ‘you are here’ dot and:
I’ve never noticed that tiny, unreadable bit of writing before. So let’s lose it. That gives us more space to make the important words bigger. And they can be snappier, too:
Using our supper example, it means moving from:
4 - Avoid off-putting corporate language
Some words have a very cold, corporate feel to them. Here’s a great example:
Now I’m thinking about Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most robotic. So let’s get rid of ‘terminate’ and say:
That’s much less distant. And we can change its companion message, ‘The next station is / Balcombe’, to match it:
Or, in food terms, instead of:
Which just sounds wrong, we’d say:
What’s all that actually achieved?
None of these are big changes. But they create a very practical pay-off – people are much more likely to read and act on shorter, sharper, friendlier writing.
So, if you’ve got a second, why not take our four principles:
And try them out on your own business writing? They’re sure to change it for the better.