Take a tip from Dr Seuss

Aug 13, 2021
Ted Geisel on a Dr Seuss creation

If you’re looking for a writing coach, you can’t go wrong with Dr Seuss. In fact you can start right now, by reading this fragment of one of his poems:

The writer who breeds
More words than he needs
Is making a chore
For the reader who reads.

When Dr Seuss - Ted Geisel - wasn’t writing some of the most popular kids’ books of all time, he was a copywriter and creator of catchy slogans for advertising campaigns. In both fields, the key is to say as much as possible with as few words as possible - and make sure the words you do use are memorable.

That economy is vital in our world of increasingly-short attention spans. Myth-busters may have disposed of the theory that the average human attention span is less than that of the goldfish - but just think how quick you are to flick through the TV channels, or how often you read the first paragraph of an article and then find something more interesting to do.

If you make presentations, or give speeches, or write promotional copy, you really can’t afford to breed more words than you need to make your point.

Here are two more quick tips from Dr Seuss:

  • You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital.
  • Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger—you’ve got to force them to turn it.

And if you can handle humour confidently - and not everyone can - it can help make your message response. On that topic, Dr Seuss had this to say: “Humour has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”

Keep you writing simple. Look again at that fragment of verse I quoted early.

  • 18 words
  • 15 one-syllable words
  • 3 two-syllable words

Now look at this small part of a corporate message:

Despite the devastating effect of the adverse climatic conditions that brought hardship and change to the travel plans of many of our guests particularly from near feeder markets the Hotel continues to enjoy an above market performance in occupancy.

See how many syllables the author sends out in the hope of… what? Appearing smart? Looking managerial? Impressing the audience?

That grandness of style gets in the way of the message and comes over as pompous.

So put your writing on a diet. Strip out clutter.

Don’t use two words when one will do.

Use the simplest, shortest words you can think of. That way they’re better able to sneak into the audience’s brain.

Don’t try to say too much. Focus your thoughts. Because, as Dr Seuss said in his poem:

That's why my belief is
The briefer the brief is,
The greater the sigh
Of the reader's relief is.

(Photo credit: Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress, public domain).