Advertising
Advertising

How to Write in 140 Characters or Less

How to Write in 140 Characters or Less

How to Write in 140 Characters or Less

    On Wednesday, I wrote a set of tips on writing (http://is.gd/wlJ). I had in mind business and similar situations where solid writing counts.

    Joel, also of Lifehack, linked to the post on his blog (http://is.gd/wlU), saying I should do a guide to writing in 140 characters or less.

    With Twitter fast becoming an important marketing tool – maybe THE important marketing tool (http://is.gd/wlZ) – there’s something to that.

    Advertising

    Being able to express yourself, clearly and forcefully, in less than the 140 characters allowed by Twitter (and SMS) is no small thing!

    Being able to do it with style and panache, to present yourself in all your greatness, to make people want to know more, is harder still.

    But worth it. If markets are conversations, you need to be where the conversations are happening. And Twitter is that place right now.

    Sure, maybe Twitter’s a fad. Maybe, like Friendster, it will collapse under its own coolness and people will move on. We’re not there yet.

    Advertising

    And even if (when?) it does pass, as fads eventually do, the 140-character message probably won’t – it’s too well-suited to mobile screens.

    Writing Really, Really Short

    If concision is the key to good writing, learning to write for Twitter should place you among the greats. Already great writing is emerging.

    Hemingway, whose 6-word short story – "For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn" – is hailed as a clear ancestor to the form, would have loved it.

    But how do you get there? How do you strip your expression down to its very roots in a way that’s still meaningful, still worth reading?

    Advertising

    Here are a few tips, from my participation on Twitter and what I know about writing overall. Short writing still needs to be good writing.

    • Every character counts, so use strong verbs and a minimum of adverbs – you just can’t afford to say in two words what you can say in one.
    • Once again, avoid "university words". Almost every long word in English has a short, blunt word that means the same thing. Use it instead.
    • Forget about breaking your thoughts into two posts. You have no control over how your post will get read or whether they will stay together.
    • Write first, then rewrite. It’s hard when you can feel that 140-character limit breathing down your neck. Spill it all out and then trim.
    • You can usually cut "that" and "which". "The toy train that my sister got for Christmas" can be "The toy train my sister got for Christmas."
    • Take your cue from Spanish (and Obama) and eliminate personal pronouns. "I am going to the Apple store" can be "Going to the Apple Store".
    • Write short sentences. They stand out more. You share a page with dozens of posts. Many short sentences looks like something worth reading.
    • Use punctuation! Many will tell you to rely on forceful words, not exclamation marks, but when words are limited, punctuation adds impact.
    • Be personal. Short posts are very conversational and almost intimate. That’s something business doesn’t do well, but on Twitter, it counts.
    • Get to the point. Say what you want me to do and why I should do it. You have no room to build anticipation – cut straight to the chase.

    Lots of companies are paying attention to Twitter and the services emerging in its wake. Nobody knows quite what to do with it yet, though.

    Which is fine. That just means there’s plenty of room for creative people to do what they do best – come up with innovative ways to connect.

    Get in there, follow some of the top Twitterers, and pay close attention to how they craft their posts. And remember a last couple things:

    Advertising

    • Humor works. 140 characters is well suited to the snarky jab, the aphorism, the epigram. Brevity is, after all, the soul of wit. And Tweets.
    • The best you can do in 140 characters is entice – leave the sale for longer copy. Get their attention and give them someplace good to go.

    Do you have any other advice for tweeters and messaging mavens? Let us know in the comments – this is all new, I know I’ve missed something.

    I’ll admit, this post was hard to write! If you appreciate the effort, please digg it, Stumble it!, or bookmark it on del.icio.us. Or all 3!

    More by this author

    Back to Basics: Your Calendar Learn Something New Every Day 10 Tips for More Effective PowerPoint Presentations How to Improve Your Spelling Skills 11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

    Trending in Communication

    1The Gentle Art of Saying No 217 Ted Talks for Kids to Inspire Little Minds to Do Big Things 310 Toxic Persons You Should Just Get Rid Of 4Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts 5Being Self Aware Is the Key to Success: How to Boost Self Awareness

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

    Advertising

    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

    Advertising

    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

    Advertising

    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Advertising

    Read Next