To Write or Not to Write: More is not Always Better

by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp — all-in-one help authoring tool

Time is perhaps one of your most limited and valuable resources. There are many things in life we can make more of, buy more of, or repeat if we don’t get it right the first time. Time is not one of those commodities. Everybody understands that, but there is a vast list of time-wasters that impede our ability to spend time profitably. Among the obvious are, for example, social networks, video games, and uncontrolled series watching.

However, there is a time-waster that is not obvious — overly long content that takes too much time to read and even longer to understand. “Overwriting” is one of the most common problems in any writing project, and technical writing is no exception. When you include too much information in your writing, you lose accuracy, puzzle, and annoy readers. Eventually, you make it harder for the content to have the effect you intend.

The pitfalls of writing too much are the following:

  1. Structure diminution. People retain structured information up to 40% more reliably than “freeform” information. However, there is a risk of including irrelevant or only indirectly related information. It interrupts flow and structure and misleads both author and reader.
  2. Too much time spent on parsing rather than remembering content. When readers must devote time and energy to understanding what they’re reading, they will be less likely to recognize, understand, and remember the main point.
  3. It damages segmenting information. There is a mental process of assembling information into easily understood and memorized groupings. In other words, building individual units of information into larger groups or breaking large groups into smaller pieces. When you add unnecessary information to your document, it undermines this process, making it harder for readers to accurately and effectively fragment the significant aspects.
  4. Information filtration fails. Our brain tends to memorize more basic and precise information rather than a minor and complex one. “Overwriting” obviously does not favor it.
  5. Cognitive overload. With a large amount of new information, the reader may get a perceptual surplus when the writing contains unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, and information to add the load without adding the value. So, the text is less understandable, and readers may walk away, missing the main point altogether.

You see the dangers of too much writing in your content. There are the reasons for that:

  1. Education. Our system is not always effective at preparing students for professional writing, including scientific, technical, and engineering writing. You must remember all those papers you wrote when studying and your teachers demanded to write more. Length is rewarded over clarity. Subsequently, you learned to overwrite, hoping that at least some of the sentences will toss out a zinger. This continues into our working lives, where we write everything hoping that something will stick and consequently sacrifice brevity for the sake of comprehensiveness.
  2. Inability to set priorities. It is ok in prewriting to capture all our thoughts, ideas, and points. But once we commit the words to the page, we’re sometimes reluctant to cut them or are too quick to call the piece done. Good writing requires us to sort the wheat from the chaff.
  3. Wrong templates. Sometimes using a template can be an excellent strategy for kickstarting complicated writing projects. However, you should pick templates based on the goal of writing rather than the type of writing. If you use a template, make sure it aligns with your purpose.

As a technical writer, you must always ask yourself: “What do I want the readers to do after they’ve read the material?” Lack of clarity on this point increases the risk that your writing will be unclear. The writing may leave the reader unsure, unprepared, or even unable to do anything with what they just read. Here are four points that should help you use any particular piece of content to accomplish your desired outcome.

  1. The goal of writing.
  2. Steps to make to achieve the goal.
  3. Completeness of information.

You must know the purpose of your content, with the call-to-action approach you eliminate confusion and uncertainty and increase the likelihood that your communication will have the desired impact, and you should ensure your communication addresses any limitations that could affect their ability to act.

Another important step for excluding too much unnecessary information in your content is editing and revision.

Roald Dahl said, “Good writing is essentially rewriting.”

Rewriting represents significant changes to the first draft. Take a break before making amendments to your work and blow the cobwebs away. With a fresh angle on the document, you wrote you’ll be able to see the unnecessary details.

However, the best solution to overwriting is to learn to write better: practice writing, listen to feedback, read guides to writing, and take classes. Stronger writing skills can yield technical writing that is straightforward, easily understood, and highly effective in its impact.

Have a nice day!

Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors

Content Manager at https://medium.com/level-up-web 👈. I write about web design, web development and technical writing. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook