How to write without waffle

How to write without waffle

Jackie Barrie

Jackie Barrie

Years ago, I was watching a film on TV. It might have been Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. For a while, my boyfriend of the time was trying unsuccessfully to attract my attention. Eventually, he said: “When you focus on something, you really do focus on it, don’t you?” I remember hearing the question, and think my answer was probably: ‘Yes.” Perhaps followed by: “Now go away and leave me alone, I’m watching the film.”

The first step towards writing without waffle is the ability to focus. To be able to write without waffle, you need to think without waffle.

If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t even notice interruptions when you’re concentrating, it’s likely you already have the right kind of laser focus. However, if not, you’ll have to work at it! Luckily, there are some simple steps that anyone can follow in order to hone their writing technique…

1.       Before you start:

In order to clear your mind from distractions, you need to be relaxed. Do weekly yoga, treat yourself to a monthly massage, take regular holidays. You also need to create the right working space. For some people it’s a quiet room, while others prefer background noise such as the radio.

Once you’re in a relaxed state and happy with the environment, it’s worth spending some quality time thinking before you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

2.       Know your objective:

Unless you’re writing purely for self-expression (such as a journal), first decide what your writing is supposed to achieve. (If you can’t think of a main point to achieve, then perhaps there’s no point doing it at all!)

For most marketing and PR purposes, you are writing to increase brand awareness, drive traffic to a website, grow network reach, and ultimately, to increase sales.

It’s worth remembering, though, that no piece of writing can hope to achieve more than one objective. In fact, sometimes, your objective can’t be achieved in writing at all; you might be better off producing a video, running a webinar, or hosting a face-to-face event instead. So keep your goal in mind, and tailor your format accordingly.

3.       Planning:

If you’ve decided that writing is the optimal communication channel, there’s still some preparation to do before you start. Depending on how your brain works, you might make a list of the points you intend to cover, or you might prefer to mind-map your ideas in a more visual format. Either way, keep all your proposed content focused on your objective. If in doubt, leave it out!

4.      Get  started:

Now – at last – you can start writing.

One technique is to start at the end. Write your call-to-action or conclusion, then fill in all the points leading up to it, and finally, write your introduction and heading. Perhaps top and tail it with a story, to hook the reader in. But that’s only the beginning. Next, you might go over your text two or three (or more) times.

5.       Editing

Here are just a few of the things to check:

Include evidence to back up any claims, and sub-headings to help skim-readers and aid navigation. Replace any clichés with a more original turn of phrase. Change long words and sentences to shorter ones, to aid comprehension. Keep paragraphs short, with one idea in each. Read sections aloud, to ensure they flow smoothly. Proofread. Sleep on it. Tweak it some more the next day. Cut, cut and cut again, so it’s as succinct as possible.

Finally, do one last check that it meets your single, clear objective while still making sense.

Despite all your hard work, you’ll be lucky if people remember your main point – that’s another reason for you to be clear about what it is, and to express it to the best of your ability.

6.       Exceptions:

This advice is not just for brands. It will save us all time if everyone learns to write without waffle.

Only authors have the luxury of using language with abandon. Here’s what HG Wells wrote in War of the Worlds (1898):

“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

The ‘without waffle’ version loses all its poetry:

“Aliens are planning how to take over our planet.”

However, when it comes to getting the point across , I know which version I’d remember!


Jackie Barrie writes without waffle for websites, blogs, newsletters, brochures, leaflets and speeches – any marketing communications to help your company make more money. She is the author of ‘The Little Fish Guide to DIY Marketing’ and ‘The Little Fish Guide to Networking’.

Find out more at

Follow Jackie on Twitter @jackiebarrie

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  1. Great advice, Jackie. Evidencing claims is particularly relevant. People often talk about blogging taking over from journalism but until people start listing their sources I’m afraid that won’t happen. The internet is full of opinion presented as fact. Mind you, journalistic standards aren’t what they were.

    1. So true. I was writing a website for a client who’d referenced some data he’d seen in the Daily Mail. When I double-checked, I found the Mail had misquoted it from a piece in the Guardian, and the original research didn’t support my client’s claim! Glad my journalism training kicked in on that occasion.

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