- On February 5, 2019
Jerry Seinfeld was interviewed about what makes a good joke, and a lot of what he said makes sense for all writing. So, kidding aside, here are three elements of a successful joke that make for successful copy, too.
Brevity “You’re always trying to trim everything down to absolute rock, solid rock,” Seinfeld said. He’ll spend “15 minutes to make one syllable shorter.” In business writing, you want to be as succinct as possible and always opt for the simplest and most natural-sounding word. For example, choose use instead of leverage. (Most of the time that’s what people mean when they say leverage.)
Rhythm A good joke has rhythm, and good writing has pace. You want your readers to be able to move quickly through your copy, no matter how weighty the topic. Using subheads that help tell your story is one way to help them do this. Another way to speed things along is to drop empty phrases like as I mentioned before.
Surprise You might not think it but surprise can play a role in business writing (and all writing) because it makes your readers pay attention. Using an unexpected word or phrase in an unexpected context is a relatively easy way to give your readers a happy jolt. Recently, I was delighted to read the phrase topsy-turvy to describe the current news environment on the normally staid business pages of The New York Times. And a little while ago, as I pondered the lunch options at an eatery that prides itself on the quality of its ingredients, I was charmed by the unexpected copy that announced a new sandwich. “I made it past auditions!” the wrapper proclaimed.
It was the Sockeye salmon, and it was delicious.