Thursday, April 10, 2014

Remembering the mini-skirt

We laugh or moan when we see people barely wearing their clothing. Jeans at or below one's derrière. Ultra short shorts. Or, in my region, teens wearing shorts and Chuck Taylors in 15-degree weather.

By Ed Uthman from Houston, TX, USA (Rhodes
1970s D05.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Mini-skirts, however, would send a very different message. In the 1970s, women wore them daily. But if I talked about mini-skirts today, you might think of me as a sexist pig.

You'd be mistaken.

When I think of the mini-skirt (which isn't often), it reminds me of some great writing advice. A former managing editor of the Olean (NY) Times-Herald taught a writing course at St. Bonaventure University. And his best writing adage used the mini-skirt as a metaphor. 

"How long should a news story be?" a student asked.

Prof. Stinger's response: "It should be as long as a woman's dress. Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting."

That's great advice today, without the sexist undertone. Writing a blog post? Shorter is better. A news release? One page should be your goal. Web content? Readers don't like to scroll. A script for a CEO's presentation? Think bullet points, not Washington's farewell address.

Another PR Rule (No. 11): Audiences always have a shorter attention span than you think. You can't hear web visitors jingling their keys or scrolling on their smartphones. We've become multi-taskers and parallel processors, and lengthy content doesn't win in a TLDR* world.

So, remember the mini-skirt -- as a metaphor for concise writing, rather than a fashion choice.

*Too Long, Didn't Read