Famous Last Words: Always Think of Your Reader
What could Lasswell have brought to the party instead of a rehash? I probably would have called this a revolutionary new merchandising concept and a fascinating narrative. I would have given the reader a quick background in marketing: the Greek agora, barter, door-to-door, off-the-page-advertising, retail, direct mail, M-L-M, midway pitchmen, TV etc. Something—anything—to enhance the reading experience.
In terms of “WRITE IT RIGHT,” Lasswell is a writer who breaks the basic rules and doesn’t give a damn about the reader. For example, from a post by colleague Scott Huch:
As an aspiring, young direct mail copywriter in the early 1990s, I clipped an item from my local newspaper. It has been taped to my desk—right next to my computer—ever since. It is now tattered and yellow. But I keep it there as a reminder anytime I’m writing. It says: “Tests have shown that a sentence of eight words is very easy to read; of 11 words, easy; of 14 words, fairly easy; of 17 words, standard; of 21 words, fairly difficult; of 25 words, difficult; of 29 or more words, very difficult; so this sentence with 54 words, counting numbers, is ranked impossible.
From Mark Lasswell’s review is this mind-numbing 58-word sentence:
As journalist Bob Kealing recounts in “Tupperware Unsealed”—his vivid portrait of Tupperware’s origins and of the little-remembered woman behind its remarkable selling strategy—Earl Tupper spent months working with polyethylene, heating it, pressurizing it and mixing in additives, hoping to convert it into a plastic that was more flexible than the brittle styrene products then in use.
Here are a few more bits of wisdom—from me and others—on how to keep your reader front of mind:
- Whatever you write—a review, memo, special report, letter or article—always keep the reader in mind.
- A rehash won’t cut it. If you want to make an impression, come up with some enriching original content.
- “Use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.” —Andrew Byrne, copywriter
- “[Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” —William Faulkner
- “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.” —Ernest Hemingway
Denny Hatch is a direct marketing copywriter, designer, consultant and the author of six books on marketing, “CAREER-CHANGING TAKEAWAYS” being the most recent. Visit him at dennyhatch.com, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.