Monday, December 11, 2006

Blue Ferret BlogTip 12-11-2006 - Minimize "That" While You're At It

"To be or not to be..."

Shakespeare hit on something powerful.

It's one of the most fundamental verbs in the English language - "be." It's probably used millions of times every day in speech alone.

But it can slow down marketing copy like tar on a hot road.

Copywriting experts talk about strengthening your writing by eliminating "to be" and its derivatives. I've seen this referenced in so many newsletters and blogs, it'd take me hours to hunt-and-grab a smattering of links.

And these are Tips. Written on Mondays. So let's just continue. (Check my blogroll to the right if you want; I know Joe Vitale has talked about this in the past.)

Let me give you an example of how eliminating "to be" boosts a sentence's impact:
To Be - It's not smart for a person like you to be breeding.
Or Not to Be - You! Out of the gene pool!

Okay, that's a silly example. Let's try something more serious:
To Be - Hydra Corp. is the best choice for widget maintenance.
Or Not to Be - Keep your widgets humming for years with Hydra Corp.

See? Much stronger language. The message carries more weight, and feels like it's more active. The kind of language people engage with - and read more of.

Interestingly, this substitution process also works for another word which, like "to be," slows down copy and can mangle meaning.


Why "that?" Because "that" is vague. It kind of hangs in a sentence, assuming you already understand why it's there. And it often requires explanation anyway - within its own sentence (e.g., "that second article, that third idea he mentioned")! It doesn't favor skimmers, and doesn't carry flow very well.

Here's one example of how to eliminate "that."
That - We've implemented a new tracking system that brings a new level of service quality.
Or This - Our brand-new tracking system helped our service quality so much, we've already achieved 15% more successes in the past 3 months.

See what I mean? Taking out one word leaves room to add more details and punches up the overall sentence strength.

Try it sometime. While you're editing, going back through to pick out the "to be"s, try rearranging around a "that" or two. You might be surprised at what that brings. (Agh! I did it again!)


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