What is Purple Prose?

plain englishI was contacted by a regular client last week to re-work a report written by one of his other writers.  As per the client the content was laden with ‘purple prose’.

What is purple prose? Purple prose is used to describe writing that is so flowery, that it distracts the reader from the real meaning.  While there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes purple prose, it indicates the use of too many fancy words and expressions, or the use of words and expressions that have similar meaning.

Here is a perfect example of purple prose borrowed from Urban Dictionary:

Normal writing: She lay on her bed dreaming.

Purple prose:  She lay upon her silken sheets in her ornately embellished robes of satin, her chest ascending and descending easily with every passing second, deep inside the caverns of her subconscious mind.

Purple prose – To be or not to be?

Writing in purple prose suits more creative forms of writing, such as novels, spiritual/ motivational content and plays.  In fact, many readers enjoy reading a more elaborate style of writing. A pro-purple prose reader may describe it as ‘ jam to my toast’.

One of the main drawbacks of purple prose is that it takes too long to read. The writer meander’s about the same point, which can be annoying . Excessive use of descriptive wordings can alienate the reader. When you are writing for the internet, drafting a business communication, or preparing an academic paper, grandiosity in expression serves as a death knell for capturing the reader’s interest.

Avoiding purple prose helps you convey the greatest possible information to your reader, in the fewest possible words.

plain english 2Tips on avoiding purple prose

  • Write as you would speak.
  • Avoid using repetitive adjectives and adverbs.
  • Don’t use several lines to communicate a thought that can be expressed as intelligently in a single sentence.
  • Follow a stringent editing process once you have completed the writing.

Do you enjoy reading purple prose?  Or do you think that flowery language should be avoided? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Happy Writing!

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Every Writer Must be a Meticulous Self-Editor

Every writer knows that editing is an essential part of the writing process, whether it’s a novel or a one page article. While some writers have professional editors to do the job, most of us need to rely on our self-editing skills.

photo:freedigitalphotos.net , Stuart Miles

photo: Stuart Miles

As a freelance writer, bulk of my work involves writing content for the internet (e.g. business blogs, ebooks, informative articles).  For me, self-editing is not just about correcting grammar and spotting missing words. As I move from the draft to the final copy, self-editing helps me adhere to the following key aspects –

  • The headline is clear and powerful
  • Article sub-headings are clear
  • Each section flows seamlessly into the next.
  • Each paragraph is coherent.
  • Every information is relevant to the reader.
  • Each thought is expressed with the greatest clarity, in the fewest possible words.
  • That I have fully weighed the possible interpretation / implication of each sentence (this is particularly significant as most of my clients are selling a product, service or, the information itself).

Of course, the cardinal rule of a good edit is to start editing once you have finished writing.  As I write, I do check each paragraph for correctness of grammar and cohesiveness of information presented. But majority of the editing happens at a later stage.

My typical editing process looks something like this: 

imagerymajestic

Are you ready to give your work a good snip?   photo: Imagerymajestic

Write > Minor Corrections > Write > Finish the Article> Step Away from my Desk for a While> Come Back and Read the Completed Article > Begin Editing > Re-read the Article Aloud > Re-edit sections> Read the Article Aloud > Satisfied with Outcome 🙂 > Submit to the client.

Reading the article aloud during the editing stage is a great way to catch missing words, or spot unnecessary words.  When in doubt, I ask someone else to read the final edited version, before sending it to the client.

A typical 1000 word article ( or 2 pages) takes me about 30 minutes for a good edit.  Am I overdoing or under-doing it, I can’t say. But it’s what works for me.

In fact, you don’t have to be a writer to realize the importance of self-editing.  We have all had this recurring experience at work – you send out an office email without reading it carefully, only to realize later on the glaring mistakes in the email.  At the very least a poorly drafted email makes you feel like a fool and you say to yourself, “Hey maybe the other person will also not notice”. But if you are unlucky, a badly worded  email could put you in a spot of bother.

Clearly, all of us need to self-edit to achieve results. Unfortunately, when we do something day in and day out, complacency sets in. I realized I was guilty of slacking up in my editing effort over the last few assignments when I read a post by fellow blogger Amanda Fox- Rouch, titled ‘The editing process: Be unforgiving’. And as was to be the case, I spotted some errors in the last document sent to a client. 😦

Whatever your line of work, ensure that you have re-read what you have typed before you press the ‘send’ button on your computer / smartphone screen. If you are a writer, I would love to hear your editing tips and how long does it take you to self-edit your work.

Related articles:

 

3 Rules for Writing Easy to Understand Online Content

It is a commonly accepted fact that the average internet reader scans an article/ blog for a few seconds before deciding to continue reading, or clicking the back-button. Therefore,  minimalist impactful writing is a must-have skill for an online content writer .

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.ne

When writing for the internet, less is more!

Unless otherwise asked by your client, the thumb rule of writing for the internet is to write content that is simple, concise, and has coherent paragraphing.

When writing a 400-500 word online article, you must pack in maximum information in the cleanest manner possible.

Here are three ground rules for ensuring that your content catches the reader’s attention.

Rule : I Get straight to the point: 

Credit: Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

photo : Michal Marcol, freedigitalphotos.net

  • Write a headline that clearly indicates information contained in the article.
  • Resist the temptation to write a quirky article headline.
  • Use the first few lines of the article to offer a quick glimpse into the focus of the article.
  • Do not waste time giving a lengthy introduction.
credit: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

photo: digitalart, freedigitalphotos.net

 

Rule : II Break it down into blocks of information

  • Use article sub-headings to divide your article into neat blocks of information. However, you must also ensure that the each section of the article seamlessly flows into the next.
  • Use bullet points, numbered lists where possible in sharing information with the reader.
  • Write small paragraphs of 2-3 sentences. No paragraph should be more than 4 lines on your MS Word document
  • Write short sentences. If any sentence goes beyond 2 typed lines, cut it down in the editing stage.
  • Write one thought per sentence. 

Rule : III Use everyday words

  • Write words used by your readers in everyday life. Avoid industry jargons and outdated words (e.g. herein, herewith, wherewithal).
  • Writing in active voice will help you express information in as few words, and as directly as possible.
  • Once you have written the article, spend considerable time editing the  ‘fluff’.

The art of writing and the mediums of expression have evolved considerably over the last few centuries.  However, the art of simplicity in writing has remained an essential hallmark of a successful writer. William Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Sir Winston Churchill remarked, “This report by its very length defends itself against the risk of being read”. 

Do you agree that simplicity in expression is the way to go? Or, do you feel that the internet is diluting the English vocabulary?

Share your comments in the box below.

Ditch the Passive and Write in an ‘Active Voice’ for Engaging Online Content

To be a successful writer it is important to have an understanding of the subject you are writing on, as well as the intended audience. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how you see it), as a digital content writer you are often not given a clear understanding of the target reader.

Unless specifically told to write in a particular manner or for a certain demographic, the important thumb rule to follow in writing digital content is this – KISS or keep it simple silly 🙂 .

This is not to say that you are writing for idiots, far from it. However, the writing must be clear, concise, with judicious use of headers, sub-headers to draw in the ‘cursory reader’ and convince them to spend time reading your material.

In the past I have shared my understanding of writing effective text for email campaigns , internet article headers , and general tips on writing for the web.

One internet-writing tip that runs common regardless of the content you are writing is to use active voice rather than passive voice.

Understanding Active Voice

Here is the simplest explanation of active versus passive voice.

In an active sentence, the ‘subject’ is performing the action, whereas in a passive sentence the ‘recipient of the action’ becomes the subject. Refer these  examples below (with the ‘subject action’ underlined)

passive activeExample 1:

John loves Rita. (Active)

Rita is loved by John. (Passive)

Example 2:

The cat ate the mouse. (Active).

The mouse was eaten by the cat. (Passive)

Example 3:

Her lack of discipline is the main reason for defaulting on the loan. (Active)

The reason she defaulted on the loan was because she was not disciplined. (Passive)

Why write in active voice

Passive sentences require more words to express the same thought, in a somewhat circumambulatory manner.  While that may serve the purpose when writing a novel, drafting a customer service communiqué or a political speech, when writing for the internet the language needs to be a more direct, easy to understand and quick to read.

Research also indicates that in general, people find it easier to read text that is in active rather than passive voice.

MS Word Grammar Check for Passive Sentences

At times, I have struggled with re-wording sentences for an ‘active tone’ than a passive tone. Thank God, for grammar check feature of MS Word; it highlights passive sentences as you write, making it so much easier to correct the copy.

To activate the option of ‘passive sentence check’, click on the Microsoft oval symbol on the top left-hand corner of the word document and select ‘word options’. Then select – proofing > writing style > settings> select all the relevant proofing options, including passive sentences.

For more information, read this extremely helpful article on QuickandDirtyTips.com  .

That is the internet-writing tip of the month folks.

As the winter chills sets in, stay active and write ‘active’!

Writing for the Web – Identifying Your Audience

Source: Chapter 2, The Yahoo! Style Guide

When you take on a new website content writing assignment, among the first few questions you ask the client is – who is the customer that needs to be written for? The typical questions to be asked are:

  • Who is the average visitor on the site ? Profiling your website customers
  • What is the USP of the business you are writing for; who are the competitors
  • What style of writing are you looking for in the content?

Whether you are writing for a company with a well defined niche audience or a company that is targeting several segments, your ability as the writer to develop the right content depends a lot on your understanding of the average visitor on the website.

Model User Profile: The book recommends taking it further and actually creating a ‘model user’.  Since its impossible to write in a style that pleases everyone, write in a manner keeping one person in mind. It’s akin to sketching a character for a novel.

Characteristics of the model user: Name, age, gender, marital status, profession, education levels, hobbies, how tech savvy is this person, what is his/ her’s level of  knowledge on the topic you are writing on, goals etc.

Depending on the appeal of a website, you may have to write 2-3 model user profiles.

Practical use: I actually used this approach with a new client and was pleasantly surprised at how keen the client was in helping me understand the model user. Discussing facets such as age, gender, seniority in the company, knowledge levels, really did help me have a clear understanding of ‘who’ I was writing for.

Here are some relevant articles on creating ‘personas’ and customer profiling.