Monday, September 3, 2012

Don’t pad your copy (3)

(This will be the last post on padding for several months.)

Don’t pad* your copy, especially if you are writing educational or instructional copy. Padding makes your copy less readable, less clear, and less credible. It makes you less credible. And heavy padding irritates and even repels readers.

Example of padded copy

A blog post about passive voice begins with these 108 words of padding:
Have you ever submitted a manuscript to an editor and one of the feedback lines, if you receive any, is that you need to remove most if not all passive voice sentences?

“Uh-hem.” Yes, that is me raising my hand, waving it in the air for all to take notice.

After doing some research, I found out that passive voice is the number one mistake new writers make.

“Well, gee, somebody should have told me that before I finished writing those 350 pages.”

Now you are sitting there on your sofa or in your desk chair wondering, “What is passive voice?”

Good question and here is the answer. (Emphasis in original.)

When a reader sees the title, “Passive Voice - How to Bore Your Readers or Not,” and wants to learn about passive voice, he begins to read the text under the headline. He is soon slogging through poorly composed prose, lacking coherence. The reader has difficulty keeping track of who is saying what, to whom, under what circumstances.

In the first paragraph, the author of the blog post (hereinafter “the author”) rhetorically asks the reader if he ever submitted a manuscript and was told to remove passive-voice sentences.

In the second paragraph, the author changes the context: Presumably quoting herself (“Uh-hem”), she describes herself as raising her hand to answer the question asked in the first paragraph. The reader now thinks that in the first paragraph the author was trying to say that the question was asked by a teacher in a classroom or a leader in a seminar. Since there are no quotation marks in the first paragraph, the reader now suspects that the author is careless with her punctuation.

In the third paragraph, the author again changes the context; now she is describing some research that she did. It sounds like she is addressing the reader again, not anyone in the class or seminar.

In the fourth paragraph, the context changes again, back to the class or seminar. Who uttered that plaintive sentence (“Well, gee,...”)? What were the 350 pages – the pages of a manuscript? What manuscript?

In the fifth paragraph, the context changes again: the author tells the reader:

Now you are sitting there... wondering, "What is passive voice?”

Of course the reader is wondering what passive voice is; he started reading the post because the title promised he would learn about passive voice! Since then, he has been patiently slogging through the author’s padding – that is, if he hasn’t given up and sought the information elsewhere.

The Takeaway: Whenever you are writing straightforward copy, such as educational or instructional copy, avoid padding. It’s OK to use personal examples, so long as they are relevant and illustrative. A little humor (grown-up humor) is OK, too – but don’t let humor overwhelm the information that you are trying to deliver.

See disclaimer.

*“To lengthen or increase, especially with extraneous or false information: pad a lecture with jokes; pad an expense account.” (Source)

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