Task: Write 500 words about x subject
End Result: Oh god I have two pages of content here
If the above resonates with you, then you’re just like me. When you need to write something, you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and just spill your heart and soul into it.
It’s not that you mean to or even want to.It’s because that’s just what you do. Your message flows through you as ideas are bursting in the back of your mind trying to escape. It just happens because you’re a detailed person and you want to get all the facts out there.
You don’t want the reader coming back and asking about xyz and abc because you didn’t include it when you could have originally. This very reason is why I loathe being asked to give a quick summary or excerpt. It’s also the reason why some of my reports and emails probably don’t get read. The receiver looks at it and sees a wall of text then moves on.
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” -Mark Twain
Short letters and paragraphs about a subject, especially one that I know a lot about, are terribly difficult and take up a considerable amount of time. Why?
Well, I believe Mark Twain said it best. I don’t have the time to break down all you’re asking for in a few sentences. It’ll take me a while to decide what is best to include, then I’ll hate that I didn’t include something else. And then you’ll come back to me and ask me about something else. When all of this could be avoided if I sent you a novel like I wanted.
Here are a couple of recent examples of this happening and I want you to tell me in the comments if something similar has happened to you. (If you’ve made it this far in the article, I assume you have an identical example)
Just A Couple Paragraphs
One of our affiliate recruiters asked me for a quick two paragraph description of SEO. An hour later, I sent him a novel.
Was it the most detailed piece of SEO that covered every specific topic on how to get you to the top of Google? No.
But, it did include most of the basics from keyword research, on-page optimization, and general strategy. All information that I thought someone needed to know if they were interested in SEO.
Did he use all the information in his emails to affiliates? Probably not. However, it’s now there for him to cut and paste from when gets questions about SEO. I felt satisfied.
500 Word Limit
A small magazine publication about affiliate marketing selected me to write a piece about social media advertising. Great! It’s something I know because I do it all day.
Condense some of my best tips in less than 500 words.
Impossible. Not unless you just want a jumbled mess of tips shoved in there because I didn’t want to leave anything out. I ended up just writing 498 words of basic information that could help a new advertiser but it wasn’t the type of work I wanted to produce.
Even writing this I can think of several other ideas that I didn’t include and I am shaking my head.
How To Fix This?
So knowing that this is how I am, and probably how you are, how do we combat this? I’ve included some ideas that have helped me and you can leave your suggestions below to help myself and others.
Ask Who What Why Where When How
You’ve probably seen these somewhere before. You know, that English class in high school that you slept through.
I’ve never really thought of this before until my boss said he did this with reports. He hated being asked to give an analytics report for the same reason I dislike being asked to write a short paragraph. You don’t know exactly what they want so you include it all.
Asking these questions will allow you to break them up and answer them each with a sentence or two. Then you can put them together into a paragraph to wrap it up.
If they can’t provide the answers to these questions, attempt to say no to the project until they can. It’s a “help me help you” type of deal.
tl;dr – Too Long Didn’t Read
tl;dr is common for “this is a quick summary” of the content.
Just like you don’t have the time to condense what you wrote, most people don’t have a lot of time to read it.
After you’ve drafted your masterpiece, get in the habit of adding a tl;dr either to the top or bottom (preferably at the top).
Don’t just think of it as a summary but treat it as a teaser. Get the reader interested in what you’re writing about. Even if it’s a report they requested.
tl; dr – Product A saw a sharp increase in conversions while Product B held steady. This report explains the winners and losers of last quarter.
This example gives what they’re looking for as well as says “you’re going to want to read this.”
Outline Your Thoughts
Yes, more from our high school English class that we slept through. If you know you’re going to write a little more than a couple of paragraphs, save yourself from a 20 page novel by drafting up some of what you want to include.
Just do a word or two for each section. Make these the headers and write one or two paragraphs on them, then move to the next section. Just get the headers down for the outline. You can tweak them when you edit your semi-novel later.
Did I write an outline for this post? Sure didn’t. Do I wish I had? Hundreds of words later, you bet I do.
Why didn’t I? Simply because I didn’t have a clear goal for this article, I meant to let the information flow.
However, you can bet that I have an outline in Evernote that I’m drafting for a campaign brief due later and another one for a speech I’m giving in a couple of months.
Remove The Fluff
There’s a time and place to build up your information or in other words, dress it up some. You want to escape the plain “here’s just what you wanted / needed” and add a little more to make it look more than just facts.
But sometimes, all you need is the hard information. Especially if you’re dealing with someone in upper management. Yet if you’re someone who just has to add the fluff, check out the next tip.
Separation is Key
Okay fine, you’re going to write your novel because that’s just what you want to do. You can’t help yourself. Understandable. So this tip is for you. It can also go hand in hand with the steps above.
You need a comparison report about Widget A and B?
Write your original report and label it “Widget Comparison – Detailed” but then take the key pieces of information (remove the fluff) and put it into another report labeled “Widget Comparison – Summary”.
This way the people reading it from a high level perspective can get the facts they need quickly and those that need more information can get what they want as well. It’s particularly nice when someone reads the summary and they ask you a question. You can reply “In Detailed I answered this with…” so it sets them up to know they should read the Detailed on the next report to find their answers.
Save yourself the hour long emails by doing a little prep work beforehand.
However, if you find yourself unable to resist the urge to write until your heart is content, then do the reader a favor and include a summary of some sort.