One of the greatest threats to good writing is ‘waffle’.
The word ‘waffle’ may conjure up cosy images of hot waffles for breakfast with whipped cream and maple syrup, but in the writing world, waffle is much more dangerous.
Waffle is unnecessary text that suffocates your message.
Here’s an example:
While we recognise that all children develop at their own pace, it is generally recommended that babies, toddlers and small children are not left unsupervised with items that contain small parts, as this may cause choking. With this in mind, we advise that you avoid giving this product to any children under the age of three, to prevent this unlikely but serious outcome.
The writer has a very serious message to give, but he has cloaked it in so much unnecessary padding that it has completely lost its impact.
Let’s strip all that waffle away:
Do not give this product to children under the age of three. It contains small parts that may cause choking.
The result is a direct instruction that’s easy to follow and a clear concise explanation for it.
If you’re a serial waffler, don’t despair. It’s a common problem and it’s easily fixed. When you’ve identified the reason for the waffle, you can start cutting it out of your writing.
Here are three reasons for waffling and how to tackle them:
- You’re not exactly sure what you’re trying to say
If you’re not sure what you’re trying to say, take some time to work out what the key points of your message are. That’s the hard part. Once you know what you’re trying to say, you can just go ahead and say it.
- You’re worried about making your point directly
If you’re worried about making your point directly, ask yourself why that is. Perhaps you don’t want to sound ‘bossy’. Remember that your reader will expect you to give them instructions (take a look at our previous post on this topic: Like a boss).
Perhaps you will need to draw attention to something that’s awkward or unpleasant. It can be difficult to find the right words for a sensitive topic, but try to avoid lots of unnecessary skirting around the issue. Choose your words carefully, by all means, but make sure the essential information is easy to find and understand.
- You’re trying to make your writing sound impressive
If you’re trying to make your writing sound more impressive, you might need to consider whether this is a good strategy. Text that’s full of waffle just isn’t effective. Readers will give up on it, no matter how impressed they may be by the writer’s vocabulary.
This is a particularly bad tactic if you’re writing public information. Long, wordy paragraphs can intimidate the very people you’re trying to engage and educate. Shorter sentences and simpler words are usually the way to go.
Ready to start tackling the waffle? We’ll be back on Thursday for some waffle-busting fun in the Write for Real People Workshop.