Vampires are everywhere at the moment. At the movies (Twilight), on your TV (True Blood) … and in your copy.
It’s nothing new. E.B. White recognised the problem in his revision of Strunk’s Elements of Style:
“Rather, very, little, pretty – these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.”
White was writing back in the 1950s, though. With the internet making writers and publishers of us all, those little words aren’t just leeches: they’re full-grown vampires. And they need to be stopped.
How to Spot Vampire Words
As well as White’s “Rather, very, little, pretty”, there’s a few other words you might recognize in your own copy. Here’s a few examples:
These are all qualifiers: wishy-washy qualifiers at that. They suck the life-force from a red-blooded sentence. They make readers yawn, or switch off, or lose confidence.
So stop qualifying. Start being bold and direct. Sure, you might risk a few pedantic types taking issue in the comments – but you’ll be keeping the rest of your readers gripped.
When you edit your copy, hone in on those words that are sucking your sentences dry. What grabs you?
“You may see fairly impressive results”
“You’ll see impressive results”
Grab a piece of your copy. Go through it and highlight every qualifying word you can find: adjectives and adverbs. Here’s an example, from Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Tips:
Want to convince your readers to do something or agree with your point of view?
OK, that was a silly question. Of course you do.
Persuasion is generally an exercise in creating a win-win situation. You present a case that others find beneficial to agree with. You make them an offer they can’t refuse, but not in the manipulative Godfather sense.
If you take a word out, would the sentence still make sense?
“Silly” and “Beneficial” are obviously necessary. “Manipulative” isn’t grammatically essential, but it makes the meaning clearer.
When you’re not sure with a word like “generally”, ask yourself whether it makes the sentence stronger, or whether it’s draining its life blood.
“Generally” is the one word that could be cut, to make the sentence read “Persuasion is an exercise in creating a win-win situation”.
Clear Those Suckers Outta Your Headlines
The worst place for a vampire-word to lodge itself is in a headline. A quick reminder from How to Write Magnetic Headlines:
“On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.”
Want more people to make it past the headline? Then don’t put a vampire in their way.
Don’t write “Fairly Recent Research May Indicate…”
Write “New Study Shows…”
Don’t write “Some Reasons Why List Posts Usually Work”
Don’t write “Why Your Blog Might Not Be Making Much Money”
You get the idea.
What To Do With Your Vampire Words
We all know how to deal with vampires.
Cut those words right out of your copy, and don’t look back.
About the Author: In between watching episodes of True Blood, Ali Hale occasionally gets some writing done. She’s a freelancer, a post-grad creative writing student, and a blogger for several sites, including her own Aliventures on “getting more from life”. (Go ahead and yoink the RSS feed.)