I’m in the middle of packing for a motorcycle trip. Space is at a premium, and I’m having to make hard choices about what stays at home. Take too much and the bike won’t handle; but leaving my waterproofs behind, for instance, will no doubt end in one soggy, grumpy biker. So it’s the hardback books that I’m sacrificing instead.

Every time we set about writing copy we’ve got the same problem. In a Google text ad you might only have a few characters; a 50-word slot in a newsletter; half an hour in a presentation or 5,000 words in a white paper. The scale of the problem varies, but the methods for dealing with it are the same.

Stick to your limits

Unless you’ve got a very good reason, don’t bloat that planned 8-pager up to a 12-pager, or rush a few more examples into your presentation. Keep it light and focused. I can always strap on another rucksack but I know that I’ll regret it when I hit the road.

Optimise your use of space

Use structure and language to fit the most content into the space availableand I don’t mean filling up white space in the layout with extra text! Call on a professional to help you eliminate repetition and inefficient sentences. Likewise, before your next trip Google for packing tips from cabin crewthey know how to make best use of a suitcase.

Focus on your primary objective

I’m going on my trip to enjoy the roadsso that’s what I’m packing for, at the expense of everything else. Think about what your document is for: is it to raise awareness of a new solution among HR professionals? Convince IT directors of your technological leadership? Or reassure the CFO of your ability to deliver? The length, content and tone of those conversations vary. Be ruthless about leaving out content that doesn’t fit, even if it’s good stuff.

Keep it current

When it comes to content, think about what you need, not what you already have. Strip back your writing to get rid of those well-used examples from 2008, your familiar corporate stats, and the long sections explaining a concept that’s by now widely understood. It may take more time and money to get something new and better developed, but often that’s what you need for it to be fit for purpose.

Posted by John on 17 April 2011