The Scripted Podcast is a show created for content marketers and content writers featuring real Scripted writers. We'll talk about best practices in content and SEO, our favorite marketing tools, how to find and hire writers, and all the fun and misadventure that comes with being a professional freelance writer.
Our guest on The Scripted Podcast today is Josh Bernoff. Josh has co-authored three books on business strategy, including the best seller Groundswell. He studied mathematics in the Ph.D program at MIT, was the the Senior Vice President in Idea Development at Forrester Research and He’s here today to talk about his book Writing Without Bullshit, which is a guide to clarity and concision in writing.
The Scripted Podcast: Writing Without Bullshit
John: [00:00:00] "What would you say to writers who are capable of writing concisely but are scared they won't be taken seriously?"
Josh:[00:00:06] "Get a new job."
John Parr: [00:00:24] Hello and welcome to the Scripted Podcast. My name is John Parr and I'm the Writer Community Manager here at Scripted and I am joined by Kevin O'Connor.
Kevin O'Connor: [00:00:31] I'm the Marketing Director for Scripted.
John: [00:00:34] That's right and Kevin we've got an awesome show today. We've got our guest, Josh Bernoff. Josh has coauthored three books on business strategy including the bestseller, Groundswell. He studied mathematics at the Ph.D. program at MIT; was the senior vice president in idea development at Forrester Research; and he's here today to talk about his book, Writing Without Bullshit, which is a guide to clarity and concision in writing. I suppose here is where we should mention that if you are particularly sensitive to the non-acronym form of the word BS. This episode may be a non-starter, we won't be censoring from here.
Kevin: [00:01:16] Yeah. All right, if you are tired of reading BS, then this episode is perfect for you.
John: [00:01:23] Absolutely, and I suppose, in the spirit of the subject matter of this podcast, we'll cut this intro short, and let's kick it over to Josh. Let's do it. Josh, welcome to the show.
Josh Bernoff: [00:01:35] Thanks. It's great to be here.
John: [00:01:37] Yeah, we're thrilled to have you. So tell us a little bit about your professional journey that led up to the creation of writing, Writing Without Bullshit.
Josh: [00:01:47] Well, really, the most notable part of that was the 20 years that I spent as an analyst at Forrester Research. Because of the fact that business people subscribe to Forrester's research reports, there's a huge emphasis there on quality and concision on getting people exactly the information they need in a very direct way. And so that's really where I learned a lot of the principles that are in the book. The other thing that happened in that position is that because you are a person of influence, you get many, many pitches and press releases from companies that want to tell you about their products. And there was such an enormous quantity of bullshit in the information that got shared with me, I thought- all right, let's take what I've learned about what works and what doesn't work in this communication and actually share it with people who are out in the business world.
John: [00:02:41] Yeah, I can only imagine how much you encountered in that time. So can you tell us a little bit about these WOB surveys that you've done on your site.
Josh: [00:02:50] Well, yeah, so one of the principles that we had at Forrester was that you were much better off if you had data. In fact, I was the person who pioneered their consumer data surveys, which went under the name of Technographics. So, once I got out I said, “Alright, if I'm going to be telling people about clear writing, then why don't I get in contact with some people who do writing and people who read written content and see what's on their minds?” So I designed a survey. We reached over 500 Business writers, which we defined as people who spend at least two hours a week on writing outside of email, and we found out what was really bothering them. What was on their minds about the stuff that they were reading and about the challenges they had when writing.
John: [00:03:42] Interesting. I noticed in your book, you mentioned that that kind of bullshit starts in the education system, and that the uniformity of the five paragraph essay only has an intro, three paragraphs of argument and so on, and that that sort of continues on to adulthood. Can you expand on that and on what brings us to this point where we begin kind of creating filler in all of our writing.
Josh: [00:04:08] Well, there's sort of two parts of that educational challenge. I noticed this when my daughter was actually going to school and writing classes- that they were enforcing this five paragraph theme. And the challenge with that is that it's designed to make it easy to grade. So that poor teacher has to grade 160 essays across multiple classes, so of course, it's a lot easier for them if everything is put into the same format, right? There's absolutely no evidence that it actually helps people to write well and, in fact, that is not what goes on in the real world or in the business world. Nobody says, well, we need you to make a strategic case for this proposal you have so why don't you write a five paragraph theme about it. And of course when you get to college, it's a different problem. The problem in college is that the people who teach the writing classes are English majors. They cut their teeth on literary criticism. In academic writing passive voice is pretty much required. And so they're teaching people to write in a way that just is not appropriate for the business world. And we saw this at Forrester. You got very smart people coming out of college; we hired them on at entry-level. And then we had to teach them how to write in a way that would be effective in the business world- which is completely different from what they learned in school.
John: [00:05:41] Right, and so did you find that- we're going to be diving a little bit more into the book- but did you find that these approaches were kind of met with any resistance? What kind of turnaround time did it take to start seeing these results when applying them?
Josh: [00:05:57] Well, everyone can get better immediately, right? When I actually started in the working world, I started as a technical writer in a startup company. And my editor said, "Do you realize you're writing everything in the passive voice?'' and I said, "What's that?" And they showed me and I'm like, "Oh, you're right, it's much better if I actually say who's doing the things." And my writing immediately became better. I'm not going to say I was brilliant immediately, but I went up a notch by just identifying this problem. And that's very much been the case with me helping people, both while I was in that research job, and in the five years since then. I see where people's problems are: is it a problem with ideas; is it a problem with structure; is it a problem with language; is it a problem with jargon? And I help them to see how they can go to the next level and improve what they're working on, as far as writing goes.
Kevin: [00:06:56] You mentioned newsletters and press releases are still a big part of business writing, and almost inherently bombastic and exaggerated. How does a professional newsletter or aspiring professional newsletter writer, kind of fix that habit, and change the way they write?
Josh: [00:07:18] Well, there are a few things. First of all, is to say things that actually matter. So, if I tell you that you need to have goals in order to be successful. It's, like, actually I've already heard that 762 times, right? So I have placed a high bar for originality. I really want to see something that I haven't seen before. So we did a study and we were able to determine that blog posts that are twice as long, actually get more traffic. I'm like, “Okay, well, data- I'm interested in that.” And when I'm editing business books or looking at press releases or whatever, I want to actually hear something that's new. This is the first time we've been able to do this, or this is 40% faster, or we put together two things in a way that's a lot easier to use. The problem is that that's always surrounded with all of these weasel words- these, you know, 'greatest best most deeply integrated'- and none of that stuff has any meaning. When you cross all of that stuff out what you're left with is what they should have said in the first place. Some of these releases really should be three sentences, right? We released a new version, the old version will stop working, and in the next three weeks, and it's going to be an increased price, right? I mean that's what it is right? But you can't do that because you're selling something. You know, it's amazing how when people have something useful to sell, it's actually better if they don't sell. So, for example, Tesla had a release a while back about the fact that they've gotten the highest score that that had ever been given by the National Transportation Safety Administration, excuse me National Highway Transportation Safety Administration for crashworthiness. That's a real thing. Crashing a Tesla you're safer than in any other car. That's actually a very useful thing to know. You know, Zoom, was actually faster and easier to use and faster growing than any other networking or video conferencing software. The problem is, if you're some me too product that's the same as the other 27 products that have come out, then it's difficult to differentiate.
John: [00:09:57] In the book you also mentioned that clarity can be dangerous because people might disagree with it, and there's a fear about that. And so, outside of workplace communications, I think that writers sometimes fear that their readers will devalue the piece due to lack of length or, you know, kind of flowery prose. What would you say to writers who are capable of writing concisely but are scared they won't be taken seriously, if they deviate from this societal norm?
Josh: [00:10:25] Get a new job. I mean, you'd be amazed. It's funny, so I would get these briefings at Forrester, right, some company would come in and they'd say, we have this thing, blah blah blah, you know, jargon jargon jargon and I'd say, so basically you're saying that you'll be able to support three screens instead of one with the same hardware. They're like, "Yes, that's right." Like, you could have saved me a lot of time by just saying that. Yeah, and it's amazing that once you clear all this crap out of the way. Yeah, so if you have something to say, people will respect it. And I'm also going to tell you that people have much more respect for those who can communicate clearly than they do for people who just stuff a whole bunch of extra words. And I know there's a feeling of refreshment. It's like, how finally someone is actually saying what they mean- that's pretty amazing.
John: [00:11:27] Yeah, I would like to formally apologize for my emails leading up to this. I looked back on them and I was like, “I sent these to Josh.” So I am still a student here in that case. Another thing that you mentioned in the book, you spoke to the chief data scientists over at Chartbeat and they found that the average reader spends no longer than 3636 seconds on the average news story. And in the past decade, we've also seen this shift to shorter and shorter articles with even major news outlets creating bullet points for their stories at the top. Do you think that long-form writing even has a place in today's on-the-go society? And do you think that we're headed more and more towards a change to more concision in writing?
Josh: [00:12:13] That's an interesting question. So, I mean and if it's in blocks, right, we're talking 40 or 50 or 60,000 words. I have to say that's long-form writing. So there are a few things. First of all there's one kind of writing, in which it's okay to write long, and that is writing that's designed for entertainment. So if I'm going to have a short story or even if it's a narrative that's nonfiction. Let me tell you what happened in the first two years that I worked for Google. Like, oh, yeah, please tell me a story about that. Yeah, so people can go on a little bit more length there because the reader is actually enjoying the experience. But if you're talking about writing that's designed to communicate information, then brevity and clarity are really what's most important. I mean, one on one in that survey that we talked about the number one problem people complained about was the things they read were too long. Right? And they were even more willing to admit when I asked them, "What's the biggest problem with what you write?" "Too long," was their description of the biggest problem as well. So, yes, to the extent that those things can be replaced by bullet points. They probably want to be right. If a graphic or a chart can communicate that just as well then there's a lot of value in that.
Kevin: [00:13:39] Right, but no one thinks of their own writing that way, right?
Josh: [00:13:43] No. 5% say the biggest problem with my own writing is that it's too long. Just too long. There are a couple of things along the lines of what you said. The second largest complaint for people about what they read was that it was poorly organized, but only 16% of the people said that what they wrote was poorly organized. Also, when I asked people to rate the level of clarity of what they read, like, as a group- everything that they read- they rated it at, I think it was a 5.5 on a 10 point scale. Although when I asked them the same question about what they wrote, it was a 6.9. So now we know the answer to who writes all the bad stuff. It's other people.
Kevin: [00:14:42] You talk about cutting out the bullshit in management. I've been in situations where a manager was known for being too curt in their communications. Is there a danger of being too no bullshit in a corporate setting? Are we as employees conditioned for a certain amount of both?
Josh: [00:14:58] Well, there are a few things. One thing is if you concentrate on the work product, writing, or whatever it is, and not the person, then you're better off because, you know, you're stupid. I'm sorry, that's doesn't belong in any workplace, right? That's probably not right. On the other hand, this thing that you wrote is too long and it's unclear and it needs to be better. People don't have a problem with that. They're like okay, well, tell me how to fix that. And you can't take the criticism on board. Everyone needs to get better at whatever they're doing, and that criticism has to be based on the work product. The other thing is that it takes a little while, but people generally warm up to this. My mentor at Forrester was a guy named Bill Blues. Sadly, he died and is no longer with us. But he would look at what you wrote, and he would, like, draw a big red X across the last two pages of the three pages you wrote. That was a disaster. And he writes stuff like MP and you're like, "what's MP stand for?" He said, 'meaningless platitude'. He used it so often he had an abbreviation for it. On the other hand, if you've got that back and it had like red ink all over it, with a lot of detail you're like, "Oh, this is good enough to criticize now." Right now, we'd be talking about how this sentence can be better- he's telling me these three bullets would be better if they were in a different order. And at that point I realized, okay, he thinks this is good enough to improve. So I'm going to improve it.
John: [00:16:33] What do you think about trends like white papers, which are starting to take over and have been increasingly becoming more popular to the point that even, like, miscellaneous golf courses will have white papers about things on their webpage which are inherently long, and I'm not really sure who reads them. What are your thoughts there?
Josh: [00:16:55] Well, I was ready to tell you I thought there were some good things about them until you brought up the golf course. So, there is a thing called Content Marketing. A basic equation of content marketing is, if you give me something valuable and useful, I will pay attention, and then perhaps I will believe that you're worth working with me. Which is, I mean that's entirely reasonable. So there's pressure on you when you write a white paper to deliver something valuable, useful, and in my mind also unique. Not the same as what everybody else read elsewhere. There are a lot of ways you can do that. You can, for example, pull together 12 examples of something- that's a good way to do things. You can have step-by-step instructions. You can do a survey and say here's the results of our survey. I mean these things are not shockingly different from what we created for us, except that we were trying to be as unbiased as possible and of course the white papers are always biased toward whatever the company believes. But there's value there. And I think that's fine as long as it's not just, you know, blather going on and on. If it has a unique value that's useful for whatever their target audience is, great. Go for it.
Kevin: [00:18:20] Josh, you were an analyst at Forrester for 20 years and Forrester is renowned for their objective ability to really interpret data. Do you think the obsession with objectivity in media, particularly the news media can lead to both sides is on the approach that can actually have a reverse effect on the audience- make it harder to understand what's true and what's not?
Josh: [00:18:45] The problem is that, at least as far as politics goes, we're in an era of symmetric warfare, right? You got so much disinformation coming from one side, that it's difficult to just be even handed. I think, basically. Well I mean I'm not a journalist, let's be clear about that. I went to journalism school. I was trained as a journalist. So the question is are you sharing truth. That's what matters to me. And the journalist has an obligation, I think, to not include bias. But for other writers, the question is, can you verify what you're saying and can you prove it. Are there examples? Do you have other counter examples of quoted people who are authorities? Do you have actual data? These things can all get assembled into something useful. And you don't necessarily need to show both sides. And if you're a journalist, well it's a tough time now, but we count on these people to be as informative as possible and so I'm just hoping that they'll try and keep biases under control and hold people to account.
Kevin: [00:20:03] Yeah, they're definitely facing a larger challenge in recent years, as far as combatting misinformation. More so than ever. So, it feels like they're a little bit behind the eight ball and how to adjust in real time to these falsehoods, and to be able to report, like you said, with numbers and backed up statistics and get to the truth of it.
Josh: [00:20:26] Well, you see now some stuff that's fascinating. Like the rise of Daniel Dale at CNN, who does all this real time fact checking. And it's, you look at it, it's just a prodigious effort of verifying statements and showing whether they're true or not true, I mean sources. And somebody once asked him, like, how can you do that all the time? How can you keep up with all of these statements from Trump? And he said, “Well, he tends to tell the same things over and over again.” So he just sort of pulls in. See here's the one about China. I already did that one, two weeks ago, so I'll just pull that link in and put that in here.
Kevin: [00:21:10] Yeah, it's not as impressive as we thought, Daniel.
Josh: [00:21:15] It's still an essential service, and I'm not interesting. You see there, the reason journalism has problems, is because there's this huge flood of information. There are all sorts of people, many of whom are biased and a lot of them don't even pay any attention to the truth and they all run websites. And you can look at the website of The New York Times, or CNN or, you know, The Wall Street Journal, and you can look at the website of The Daily Wire, be like, yeah it looks the same except that it isn't the same, right? The Drudge Report is not a dependable source. But what's interesting is that finally things are turning around and you have people who react in real time. You have people who run flash polls, and you have data journalism, and you have all of these other forms coming to pass people like you with Y podcast, for example. And as a result, the flood of misinformation is being met with a flood of actual creative information. And now it's just a question of can we find the things that are actual truth.
John: [00:22:30] Well, so keeping things kind of seasonally appropriate here, I noticed that you have a pretty interesting WOB survey on the 2020 election, breaking down the linguistic pronouns each candidate used in the town hall on October 15. So, you know, regardless of political affiliation, the ability to communicate effectively right now is probably being discussed more than ever before. Given the candidates, do you have any thoughts about the current situation and how that lack of concision might impact voters?
Josh: [00:23:04] Well, I think it's a question of connecting as it always is in politics, right? So, there's sort of two things going on. One is at a rational level. People are looking at Trump's performance, and Biden's performance when he was with Barack Obama, and saying, which of these is more like the direction I would like the country to go? Which is more in line with me ideologically? Can I trust this person? But the other thing that happens is that emotional communication. And that's what I found in my analysis of those town halls was that it was notable to me that Trump used the words- I, me and my- much more frequently than Biden did, right? And when I looked at the use of the word ,"you," there was a difference in the way that they used it. Trump tended to use it because he was arguing with a moderator, whereas Biden was talking about, you're having these issues. This is what we're going to do for you. And that I think a politician has to connect with voters by saying this is what I'm going to do for you, because I don't think he gets very far by just talking about how great you are.
John: [00:23:18] Do you think that subconsciously, whether vocally or in print, do you think that readers sort of subconsciously pick that up, that the pronouns being used are communicating sort of a different message?
Josh: [00:23:34] Well, I'm not sure. I mean, most readers are not going to be able to tell you about the pronouns that got used, but they might say, “Sounds like Biden actually cares what happens.” Right? And the pronouns are really just a reflection of a desire to express empathy. Whereas, I think that Trump has very much a desire to express dominance, right? Making America great, and how strongly where we're going to be doing things. And that's a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are like well we're going to help you out; Republicans are like we're going to make everything strong, right? That's a choice that people have to make.
Kevin: [00:25:15] But it's also a difference between, I guess, political, like journeymen and businessmen to write. You talk about using "I, we and you" in professional communications as a plus, right?
Josh: [00:25:29] Well, when I talk about using "I," we know there are a few things. When I talk about using “you,” it's a way to take your writing and direct it so that it's useful to the reader. You know, this is what we're going to do for you, you should do these three things. When you have this situation this is what you're going to need to do. And the problem with writing that doesn't do that as a general way about things are going to happen, people lose interest. As far as “I and we,” what I'm recommending is responsibility. So, for example, the passive voice way of saying things might be, “An update to this system is needed.” Whereas, the more direct way to say would be, “We need to update this system and we need a budget to be able to do that.” And to take responsibility for what you're going to do is much easier for the reader to understand than this- you know, okay, they're like yeah, I guess the system needs to be updated and then a month goes by. Why didn't anything happen? Because we didn't figure out who was supposed to do it.
John: [00:26:37] Right. Actually, on another seasonal note, I'd like to thank you because I learned about this zombies trick question in your book, which is a great way to identify whether a passage is passive or not. But to kind of wrap it back to the pronouns, I also noticed you have some strong opinions about the third-person bio. Can you tell me a little bit about why?
Josh: [00:27:00] I think of this as just a sort of silliness on my part, because I work with authors so much. I'm often reading these bios that are written here or- put it in the passive voice- that are written about them. Joe Smith graduated with a 4.7 average at MIT, and has written seven books, and was the CEO of seven companies, three of which were actually profitable. And you know that Joe Smith wrote it, right? So, I have a version of my bio that I share and it's like, you know, “this is what I did, this is my experience, this is who I am”, which was just a sort of a reaction. Now the weird thing is that when I say I'm giving a speech at some conference, I need to give them a third-person bio because they can't use one that says, “I.” But I just think, you know, when you're reading that on that little page in the back of the book like this whole book was written by you and in the first person. And yet we're supposed to imagine that the bio was actually written about you by somebody else.
Kevin: [00:28:13] Right, yeah, invisible secretaries of the world. You talk about weasel words right. Who are the biggest offenders in using weasel words company-wide like business-wise? And who is the opposite? Who's your favorite as far as clarity and direct communication?
Josh: [00:28:39] Okay, so I want to be clear about what I mean by weasel words. A weasel word is a word, typically an adjective or an adverb, that indicates intensity or quality but doesn't actually mean anything. So an example would be, “huge.” If I say, you know, “There's a huge advantage in using this product,” well, that doesn't actually tell you anything about it. One of my favorites is, “deeply.” Right? When people say, “it's deeply integrated,” or, you know, they're “deeply committed to something,” that's just bullshit. It doesn't actually mean anything. And the solution or sort of the, I guess I should say the reason weasel words are a problem is because when you use enough of them. what's left is just total bullshit. So there was, for example, a Marissa Meyer statement when she sold the audio to Verizon which I analyzed and every other word was one of these, these weasel words. And you just got to the end and you're like, you're totally full of crap, you don't believe any of this. The solution is to actually quantify things. And so I would say that people who do statistical reporting, who are reporting on numbers, if you're reporting on how the labor situation has changed in the United States or the results of a survey or, you know, benchmarking product performance- those are actually based on numbers. And at that point, you can actually say, “Oh, this is actually 15% better than that,” as opposed to “These people said deeply and these other people said robots,” I suppose to compare those two things.
Kevin: [00:30:20] So what would be your main three ways to cut out the bullshit for our writing audience?
Josh: [00:30:28] The first, most important one is to put the bottom line up front. Give me in the title and the first few sentences of what you write, or the subject line and the first few sentences, exactly what you mean. Stop beating around the bush and just tell me what that is. Second thing is to write shorter. Just remove as much redundancy as you possibly can and get things as short as they can be. Because the people are going to read, you know 150 words or 300 words, a lot sooner than they're going to read 2000 words. And I guess the third thing is to be really clear before you write about who you're aiming at. I talked about identifying the reader’s objective, the action you want them to perform and the impression you want to create. It's an acronym for that which is ROM. And if you do that analysis first you're much more likely to get their, “Yes.” Impression doesn't start with M, but I add a little bit because nobody I know can remember ROI. So those things are all things that people can concentrate on that'll make a great deal of difference in their being perceived as clear and direct communicators.
John: [00:31:48] All right, the ROM method. Yes. Well is there anything else that you're working on these days? Anything you'd like to plug before we wrap up here?
Josh: [00:31:56] Well, I'm especially focused on helping people who write business books. So if people are writing, or they need an editor, or a ghostwriter, or just some help with positioning, that's what I've focused mostly on. And I also work with companies, if companies want to put these methods in place. I'm doing these video conferencing-based workshops. It’s two sessions of an hour and a half, makes a great deal of difference very quickly. And I don't know why, but after three or four years of this, it's suddenly taking off right now. I think because people are stuck at their desk, and we help people with training while they're stuck at their desk with how they can get into better writing. So that's been very popular recently.
Kevin: [00:32:50] I think we should keep it as concise as possible here, and I think you broke the record for cursing on the Scripted podcast and I appreciate that.
Josh: [00:33:01] I am not a profane person. I know there's a lot, but when the time came to write about this, there was only one way to call it, which is to call it bullshit. It's funny, when I pitched the book to publishers, I had as a condition that they wouldn't change the title, and in general they went along with it. And when I asked the publisher I ended up working with, “ Are you okay with the title?” They were like, “Well, we read the proposal and you have to call it that. What else could you call it?” Okay, you understand, we can work together.
John: [00:33:38] Well, we are huge fans, and thank you so much for coming on to the show today, Josh.
Josh: [00:33:41] Okay, thanks very much.
John: [00:33:43] Yeah. Take care now. Alright- so there we go. There we have it. Lots to unpack there. Any takeaways that you have from this, Kevin?
Kevin: [00:33:56] Well, I think I'm going to be doing a thorough review of my own writing. Yeah, sure make sure I'm not using any weasel words, for sure, right? I would hate to be considered a weasel word writer.
John: [00:43:13] There are better animals, I think, at least, to be compared to.
Kevin: [00:34:16] But also, in additional to weasel words, passive voice and use of jargon. It's all great advice. And I think especially in marketing copy, you can find yourself being overly bombastic, or using jargon. And when you cut it, he's right, it's clear and it's more convincing.
John: [00:34:35] I actually feel like, and I have absolutely zero data to prove this, but I feel as if jargon has increased considerably in the last decade or more, and then there are occasionally times where I'm reading things and think about like, does an 80-year-old even know what's being discussed in this article that was bought out for the general public.
Kevin: [00:35:01] I feel that on social media, especially, there's this short form, where you have to translate it the first time you see it and then it becomes regular nonsense in short.
John: [00:35:13] Yeah. And now on the internet as a whole, it's just become so meta. Where it's like, there are things that are being referenced that aren't even being discussed but understood by all parties.
Kevin: [00:35:23] Right, like, you know, this means something about a meme, in 2013, and then it evolved to this term that everyone seems to understand and means this other thing.
John: [00:35:34] That's right. Yeah, no, and I totally know what you mean. So, as I mentioned, in the weeks leading up to the interview here with Josh, I had emailed him a few times. And then I went back to look at my replies, and Josh lives his words. His email replies are brief. They are exceptionally brief. And when I looked at the email that he was replying to, I was deeply ashamed of myself and there we go, “deeply.” You're just ashamed, but just ashamed. Yeah, this is a citizen. I mean, I think once you start applying these rules, you know, you start to realize how much more of it is true. And I think with our writers, there's a really good opportunity here to kind of take a look at what you're writing. Obviously, I think, all writers don't want to fall into the hole of being like the college essay. You know, I'm going to fill this out- I'm going to pad it out. Sometimes that happens when you have word counts, but I think if you do this and you do it every day with your writing, it will challenge you to push more content out of something. It's not always going to be a case of drawing blood from the stone. I think it will push creativity on your end. It will make you a better writer. And it's a tough balance, and as Josh said, it's not for every piece of writing.
Kevin: [00:36:57] But marketing and business writing especially.
John: [00:37:01] Yeah, absolutely.
Kevin: [00:37:03] For writers, it might be difficult at first to judge your writing and make these cuts, but then eventually it'll become second hand and your writing will actually move faster.
John: [00:37:13] Yeah, exactly. And then not only that one interesting thing that happens when you, when you apply this to your own writing, is that any words that you use that are sort of supportive or attempting to reinforce a point- adjectives pop a lot more when there are thousands of percent extra. Absolutely. You know, obviously, this podcast had its share of swear words, but that's kind of the same thing with swear words right? It's like, if you use it 15 times in a sentence, it's nowhere near as powerful, and it's the same thing with your writing in general. So that's one thing. I also had mentioned in discussion about the zombie test, which I learned from Josh's book. And the way that that breaks out, is essentially that if you can finish the sentence with “by zombies,” that means that the sentence is passive. Yes, so the prescription is filled by zombies. The book was written by zombies. If it makes sense with by zombies and the zombies, or by zombies is occurring after the verb, then that sentence is passive. It has a few exceptions, but it was actually developed by one of the educational sources for the US armed forces for when those guys are in school, and it works pretty well.
Kevin: [00:38:47] It's a neat little trick. I wish we had gotten this episode out before Halloween, but hey.
John: [00:38:52] I know. Well we're actually launching this episode as with any podcast we record some of this stuff in advance and then other parts we do at other times. And right now we're right on the cusp of the the election. So, the next episode that you will be joining us will be in the after times, but this was recorded in the before times.
Kevin: [00:39:14] We’re in the limbo.
John: [00:39:16] That’s right.
Kevin: [00:39:18] Alright, well, thanks Josh for being on the show and I hope you guys have learned a lot from Josh and his Writing Without Bullshit.
John: [00:39:27] Yeah and we will be including some links. Be sure to check out his blog. It is an excellent read. If you loved what you heard from Josh there’s a lot more of it. We hope that you liked the podcast. Be sure to like us on Apple. Subscribe. Hit the bell. Hit that notification. Do it all and we’ll catch you on the next podcast.
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- What are "weasel words" and how do you eliminate them from your writing?
- What did 20 years at Forrester Research teach Josh about what not to do with his writing?
- How can a more direct, less B.S. way of writing help your management style?
- The "Zombie" trick for removing passive voice
- The R.O.A.M. method for writing efficiency
- Josh's advice to writers who are afraid to cut the B.S.