I recently asked What is the right reading level for a blog?
The guru of new media writing, Seth Godin, understands that, like it or not, we’re involved in selling. Money may never change hands, but we’re writing to be read and have to get onto the reader’s wavelength.
Godin refers to an interesting piece Literary style by the numbers by Steven Berlin Johnson.
Johson used amazon’s ‘text stats’ to compare the ratio of “Average Words Per Sentence” and “% Complex Words” for a few authors. Malcolm Gladwell – a true master to transmitting ideas popularly – averages 17 words per sentence in ‘Blink’. Compare this with, say, Foucault’s 38 and Fredric Jameson’s 53!
Their use of complex words is: Gladwell 12%, Foucault 19%, and Jameson 22%.
OK, so we can extrapolate from this that new media writing should probably have shorter sentences and fewer complex words. Great. But here’s something else to factor in:
What I thought was so striking was that…each author’s books are closer to his other books than they are to the other two author’s books. In other words, each of us has a certain sweet spot of complexity that we come back to book after book.
At copyblogger.com Brian Lash (who pointed me to the Godin and Johnson pieces) tells us Why writing like a college student will kll you online. He emphasises the informality of new media writing compared to what counted for good writing in college.
He has five strategies to help us keep it simple, stupid.
Read for 5 minutes before you write. Not just anything – read something “simple, unasuming and effective” (like Seth Godin)
Start with a single line
And then swop it for one that’s less formal, “then let its style cascade through the rest of your work.”
“New media writing should sound like your everyday speech, albeit a more precise, polished version.”
Apply the “impress test”
“When you find yourself impressed…simplify your message without compromising its meaning.”
Find someone who will keep you honest
Reader, how’m I doing?