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Inbound Marketing Blog

    Great Writing in 140 Characters or Less

    Posted by Jen Barry

    What Writing for Twitter Teaches about Everyday Writing


    You only get 140 characters on Twitter, so you have to make them count. When faced with such a strict limit, you have two choices: Pack a serious punch in one tweet or ramble endlessly in a chain of tweets. Which do you think will get the most attention?

    Exactly.

    In the marketing world—or the world in general, really—you’ve only got one chance to get your point across before you lose your audience. Learning to craft elegant, powerful tweets will help you make the most of this marketing tool, sure. What you’ll also learn is how to leverage your Twitter-writing skills for the real world. Not sure what I mean by this? Let’s take a look.

    Choosing Words

    Obviously, with only a few characters at your disposal, you want to be careful with your word choice. If you’ve got the choice between two words with similar meanings, this is an occasion where you’ll want the short word. You may also need to pull out the thesaurus for a search in reverse; instead of looking up impressively long words, you’ll need to find small ones with big meaning.

    How does this translate to the real world? Believe it or not, unless you’re working on your master’s thesis, your readers want small, easy-to-digest words. Paint the clearest picture possible with these small words, and you’re well on your way to great business writing.

    Show, Don’t Tell

    If you start your tweets with the words “I think,” or “I feel,” you’ll use valuable characters on words your readers don’t need. I think it’s hot today tells the same story as It’s hot today. If you didn’t think it, you wouldn’t tweet it, right?

    Still, saying it’s hot outside doesn’t paint a picture. Make your readers feel what you feel. Instead of writing, “Hot today,” think about putting a bit of punch in your words with “Walked out the front door into an oven.” You may have even more colorful terms to use.

    This same tip works for writing outside of Twitter. Novelists all over the world struggle with showing versus telling. Master this trick, and you’ll exhibit one of the benchmarks of a great writer.

    Active Verbs

    When you’ve only got a few words to say a lot, you want your verbs to be as catchy as possible. Again, a thesaurus might help you choose between two with similar meanings so that your tweet impacts the largest possible number of people. For instance, “created” gives a more hands-on impression than “made.” “Awarded” might sound more prestigious than “won.”

    In your everyday writing, these verbs are also important. The more active your sentences, the more engaged your audience will be. If you’re likely to lose their interest in a 140-character tweet with boring verbs, imagine how long they’ll hang around for a white paper or eBook. Not very.

    Shun the Adverbs

    Adverbs do have a place in writing, but you should avoid overuse. Twitter, with its hard limit, prompts you to leave out the unimportant words, so consider dropping the adverbs first. In fact, if you search through your current writing, whether tweets or eBooks, you’ll find an overabundance of the words “simply,” “just,” and “only.”

    I’m simply too tired to make it through the day with only one cup of coffee.

    This example, while not wrong, does include two adverbs with similar meanings. Even worse, the phrase would hold the same weight without those words.

    I’m too tired to make it through the day with one cup of coffee. 

    After all, if you’re so tired, why expend extra energy on unnecessary words? How about: I’m exhausted. I need extra coffee to get through the day.

    Exhausted is a more powerful word than “tired,” and also allows you to eliminate the “too.” With small changes, you paint a clearer picture for your readers. Want an even greater impact? How about: Caffeine. Now.

    In your everyday writing, you’ll find it hard to eliminate all adverbs, and neither should you try. Be cognizant of the ones you do use, and when possible, use your word power knowledge to choose verbs with more impact so the adverb becomes unnecessary. For instance: “spoke quietly” can be “whispered” or even “murmured.” Instead of “said loudly,” use “yelled,” or “screamed,” or… Well, you get the picture.

    Edit, and Then Edit Again

    If short, succinct sentences aren’t your forte, don’t worry. Start with exactly what you want to say. From there, walk through the steps above to give your tweet greater impact. Did you choose a long one when a shorter one would work as well? Have you used unnecessary words when getting straight to the action is better?  Do your verbs pack a punch you get the biggest bang for your 140 characters? Have you used an abundance of adverbs?

    You may need a few tweaks to get it right, or you may just need to rewrite your tweet fifteen times. The time you take now to get it right will pay off in the end. The skill will stick with you for all writing, from novels to eBooks to white papers. Even better, your readers will devour your words. And nothing is more powerful than marketing copy people want to read.

     

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    photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc

    Topics: Social Media