Vampire-proof your writing

Garlic. Lots and lots of garlic.You probably check your copy for typos and errors. But do you check it for… (dramatic chord) vampires?

Not literal vampires. Those are easy to deal with: a little sunlight and garlic, and Vlad’s your uncle.

The kind of vampires I’m talking about are a lot more insidious. They’re the words and phrases that can take a piece of vibrant writing, and suck the lifeforce out of it. Oh, the meaning’s still there… if anyone bothers reading it. But the emotional energy and power are gone, and with them, most of the impact it could have had.

But take heart, Van Helsing: these vampires may be impervious to daylight, but they don’t stand a chance against your Delete key. Here are five of the worst vampires we’ve encountered; the moment you see them in your own work, seek out and destroy.

  • The verbiage vampire: Look for useless words and long-winded phrases, the ones that either say nothing or take forever to get to the point. “Do you really need “in the final analysis…” “at the end of the day…” “going forward” or “as previously stated”? Swap your stake for some scissors, and get cutting.
  • The pompous vampire: Larding up your writing with ornate, flowery language just weighs it down, and hides your message. And if your audience starts to think you’re looking down your nose at them, they’ll flee in droves. (Or come at you waving pitchforks and torches.) A little humble simplicity will keep this vampire from your window.
  • The jargon vampire: When it comes to the issues you deal with every day, you probably have whole range of terms and acronyms that are perfectly clear to your organization’s leadership… and mean nothing to the general public. (Or most of your members.) Use the language your audience uses, and the jargon vampire will wither away.
  • The couch-potato vampire: When messages are phrased passively, they—… Wait, let me start again. When we phrase messages passively, we strip them of their power. That’s partly because the passive voice (“messages are phrased”, instead of “we phrase messages”) obscures whoever is taking the action. No action, no drama, and no interest to your audience. Restore that action to your message, and the couch-potato vampire slips between the cushions, never to return.
  • The wishy-washy vampire: Vague generalizations are sneaky, making you think you’ve said something when you actually haven’t. Instead of “This is bad,” or even “This will hurt families,” get specific: “This will cost the average family hundreds of dollars a year.” Or “It’s the difference between affording college, or settling for a dead-end job.” Some vampires hate garlic; this one hates concrete.

So, fellow fearless vampire hunters: what exotic creatures of the night have you found in your travels? And what tips do you have to send them screaming to the netherworld?

Photo by Flickr user carbonnyc, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license. And inspirational props to “Die Vampire Die” (obligatory strong-language warning) from the musical [title of show]!

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