Whether you’ve danced the tango or not, you’re probably aware of the basic rhythm that the entwined partners must follow: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.
Image of tango dancers courtesy of Schema Magazine
If you apply this multi-step sequence to your writing, it may give you the opportunity to improve the vocabulary you’re using – a view that’s partially supported by a study published in the British Journal of Psychology (available to buy via the Wiley Online Library).
The advantages of slow…
This post on PsyBlog neatly summarises the research findings: forcing yourself to type more slowly can improve your writing.
The post says that “participants in the study who typed with only one hand produced higher quality essays… People who type quickly may use the first word that comes to hand [whereas] slowing down allows the mind more time to find the right word.”
The PsyBlog post qualifies this last point by talking about an improvement to “the sophistication of vocabulary used.”
… may be limited
This link between higher quality and “sophisticated vocabulary” is a little troubling for me, as someone whose livelihood depends upon my ability to “find the right word” (from the tens of thousands available). That’s because the word choice is so dependent on context:
Who’s going to be reading the text?
What am I hoping they’ll feel and do as a consequence of reading it?
What’s the brand’s tone of voice?
and so on.
Copywriters have to consider all of these factors – and more – when figuring out which words to use. For example, you may decide it’s not appropriate (for your audience; for your brand) to use vocabulary that’s highly sophisticated. After all, writing clearly and with plain English in mind is likely to make your writing accessible to the widest possible audience, including any specific target group (or individual) that you want to address.
In addition, the PsyBlog post issues a warning – based on previous research – that “slowing down too much can be detrimental. When people slow to below the rate of normal handwriting, their quality gets worse.”
Write as you tango
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the “go slow” directive counters the advice that copywriters often receive. We’re encouraged to write down everything about a subject without editing along the way – as long as our brain-dump is within the context of a pre-determined content plan.
In other words, think about what you’re going to write (in outline) and then just write… editing later.
Certainly, this is advice I’ve followed in over 20-years of professional writing. And it’s worked, in terms of both my own efficiency and the effectiveness of the writing (as judged by my clients and/or the people they’re communicating with). Moreover, I pass on this wisdom to my own clients in the training sessions I devise and deliver, including my Copywriting Fundamentals course.
So what’s the answer then? Should you, after finessing your content plan, splurge everything onto the page (or screen) then go back and edit later? Or should you slow down and agonise over every word?
I believe the best way forward is somewhere between these two extremes: to do the tango!
A three-step sequence
Step 1 – Slow, Slow
Absorb all of the information you have about your writing project (all of those context factors) and then make a considered plan for your content outline.
Step 2 – Quick, Quick
Follow your planned structure but write quickly and without editing – get your thoughts onto the page/screen and be as creative as you can.
Step 3 – Slow
Print off and read your Step 2 output and consider the changes that would improve it. This may mean a re-structure (indicating your Step 1 wasn’t slow or considered enough) but is more likely to involve deletions (to match up to word counts or to tone of voice) and replacements (finding better words, or clearer ways of expressing something).
Try the sequence next time you write something – and let me know if your work has been tangoed!
These range from “Don’t Send” through to “Don’t Look” and there’s also some good advice (points 5 & 6) about receiving and sending emails that can apply to any written communications.
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