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Use just a few words to say a whole lot Print E-mail
By Ken Satterfield, Word&Way   
Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Is letter writing a lost art? Maybe, but there are still wide-open spaces waiting for lots of words: journal entries, long blog entries and Stephen King novels.

And despite all the space available on thumb drives, hard drives and multitudes of websites, there are times that, literally, only a few words are needed to say a lot.

Classified ads are a perfect example. They've been around about as long as newspapers and magazines. Radio and TV commercials have time limits.

More recently, text messages, email subject lines, Facebook posts and Twitter encourage technology users to keep it simple. Whether you are trying to sell, seek or communicate, these short messages are meant to be read (or heard) and to generate a response. How can you make that happen?

For classifieds, the object is to communicate clearly while keeping the words -- and cost -- at a minimum. You want to be catchy and descriptive with those few words. Abbreviate when necessary. Several years ago a political ad endorsement stated the politician was the "most qualified candidate in the history of the universe." Now that's memorable!

Think like the reader. If your church seeks a pastor, how can you describe either the church or the position in such a way that leads to a candidate? If it is difficult to squeeze that into a few words, consider putting a more complete message online or available by phone.

At the same time, the message should be honest. If the pastor-seeking church is described as "friendly and growing" but has actually struggled to keep members after firing the last three pastors, look for other positives, rather than using an ad that may start a potential relationship deceptively.

Contact information (address, email, phone and Web) is also important. If the respondent does not have email, can they reach you?

Next are email subject lines. Just a few words can make the difference between having a message opened, ignored or filtered into your junk mail. Don't take subject lines for granted. A study by Baydin found the average person receives 147 emails each day, so even those who know you best may set aside and forget your message.

Just as the word "Viagra" screams "spam," other words such as "discover," "connect" and "opportunity" can make a message more likely to be opened. Different studies of these "trigger" words form different lists, while others suggest you avoid using these triggers. Plus, in some email programs, the subject line will be cut off at 55 characters.

Twitter limits your tweets (messages) to 140 characters. The goal is to have your tweet read and retweeted (forwarded) either because it is powerful, clever, funny or insightful.

To stay within the 140 characters, website URLs are abbreviated (bit.ly is the most reliable shortener according to social media expert Dan Zarrella) and words are shortened. Two services -- Tweetshrink.com and Abbreviate (andrewt.net/abbreviate) -- will compress a message to Twitter-length, while Thsrs (ironicsans.com/thsrs) serves as a thesaurus to suggest shorter synonyms.

Twitter resource AllTwitter.com suggests that messages be even shorter -- only 100 characters -- to allow others to retweet and add their own comments.

Texting gives you a little more room -- 160 characters. It's not a place for long narratives, either, but both texting and tweeting can help churches send alerts, communicate sermons and deepen relationships. Find more ideas at bit.ly/Khlg9e.

Facebook posts are another case of "keep it short." The service hides the end of longer messages, so unless the beginning is interesting the ending will probably stay invisible to others.

The reasons and purposes may vary, but as people read less and scan more. These examples are reminders that finding the core message and keeping it short and sweet will cause you to be read, shared and acted upon.

Ken Satterfield is advertising coordinator for Word&Way.

 
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