In some ways the word superfluous defines itself. It’s a long word, coming in at four syllables - but slightly shorter than its five-syllable synonym: unnecessary. When you say it aloud it seems to go on forever. So much so that I wondered when researching this article if it inspired the infamous neogolism Supercalifragilisticexpialidocous (it didn’t but it’s worth reading all about that here).
It’s easy to create superfluous content when you’re splurging out the main body of copy or a script. It’s at this stage that you need to perfect the powers of editing.
Back when I was a local paper journalist, newsrooms had more staff than they do now and we had “subs” or sub-editors who would take their razor to your prose in preparation for the next edition. If you were really unlucky you might receive a slightly irritated phone call querying your story because it wasn’t clear enough. Mostly though, their job was to fit stories into the page in order to create a good read.
We were trained to leave the least interesting elements of a story to the last few paragraphs, to make it easier for the sub to cut from the bottom up. People need to know the who, what, where and when as quickly as possible and then move on from there.
So how do you avoid being superfluous in your communications?
If you’re writing some information about a product for example, remember to laser in on its unique features and benefits first. Don’t bother people with all the stuff they’re expecting as a given. If you’re selling services, for example, how you make you customer think and feel is as important as the service you’re selling.
If you’re writing a script for a training film for example, put the main points in the script and use links to signpost to more detailed information if someone wants to dive deeper. And absolutely wherever possible observe this maxim: Show, Don’t Tell. Video is a visual medium - use its strengths, don’t treat it like prose.
These days be superfluous at your peril. Online, according to Buffer, people read a blog post on average for 15 seconds or less. (Tweet me if you’re still reading?) Does that mean you need extreme brevity to get your point across? Not necessarily. What you need to be is interesting, and to write without being superfluous to your readers’ interests.
What ways do you avoid being superfluous to requirements? Please share your comments below.