In this episode, host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, Liz Robau, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire. We talk about how the Editing Code CRISP can benefit writers, editors, and of course, readers, especially when it comes to product communication.
We are excited to introduce our brand-new Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At Open Strategy Partners, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.
You can listen to our conversation right here in this handy, embedded player. You can also watch the conversation video below or on YouTube.
The CRISP Editing Code falls in the Flow & Readability part of our editorial process, and under the OSP Clarity Pillar. It’s about using the fewest words to effectively convey meaning. Our documentation states:
"Write sentences that are spare and concise. Use occasional longer sentences to vary the rhythm of your writing. Aim for active voice, rhythm, and pace. Avoid flowery, long-winded words and sentences."
CRISP is one of the codes we use most often, and for good reason! This deceptively simple code embodies many principles of effective communication and holds benefits for writers, editors, and readers. Consider:
- ++ Rhythm and pacing help keep readers engaged.
- ++ Clear and informative headlines help readers (and search engines) parse your piece
- Superfluous words add bloat. Your readers’ time is precious.
- Longer sentences require a higher cognitive load to process.
Being concise is important, but word choice also matters. CRISP is about walking the fine line between being terse and including color and energy. When everything is crafted well, it feels like there are no extraneous words and every single word is fulfilling an important function. We all aim to create a beautiful piece that gets straight to the heart of the message, without being dry, boring, or uninspired.
- Before: “I would like to take this opportunity to extend my most hearty congratulations.”
- After: “Congratulations.” or “Well done.” or “Great job, thank you.”
- Before: “How to use the CRISP code as a writer.”
- After: “Using CRISP as a writer.”
As a writer
Using CRISP as a writer takes practice. You don’t need to censor your first thoughts early in the writing process—get it all out. When you come back later to review and edit, it’s time to get CRISPy! Here’s how:
- Remove words that don’t belong
- Articulate your point and get rid of everything else
- Use active voice
Being CRISP in your opening is especially important — you don’t want to lose your readers before they’ve even started! But CRISP does not mean boring. According to Felicity Brand, a Communication Consultant at OSP, “CRISP is about writing concisely and making every word in your sentence count. But we don't want it to be dry, so your words should still have life and color.”
As an editor
It’s often easier for editors and reviewers to make things CRISPy than it is for authors to recognize in their own work. When you hand off something for editing (or when you sleep on it and review it yourself with fresh eyes), is where we use CRISP the most. As an editor, focus on:
- Point out sentences that get to the subject clearly, and those that do not.
- Find places where you can use one word instead of five. Words like “of,” “of which,” and “for” are often a sign of where you can tighten things up.
- Make headlines clear and tightly constructed.
As a reader
Stumbling over awkward phrasing or lengthy, run-on sentences can distract you or even turn you off an article.
When writing is CRISP, on the other hand, just like an intuitive piece of user interface design, you don’t even notice it. CRISP writing is delightful to read, and you’re more open to receiving its message.
Liz Robau, another Communication Consultant at OSP, says, “I think that readers like CRISP sentences because they feel like you're not wasting their time, and you're not just trying to add to the word count. Everything you say to them, you really mean.”
Creating CRISP communication takes practice — join us!
When you use CRISP, you practice tight writing, avoid redundancy, exude life, and build clarity into your work. Jam’s final words on CRISP: “When we're crispy, we're helping people get what they need to know. And maybe on a good day ... make it a little bit more enjoyable to read it.”
We hope you'll come and join us as we keep nerding out about writing, editing, and all things communication!
This transcript brought to you by our fleet of transcription robots! May contain oopsies.
"To err is human, ooh err is even more human."
Carl Richards 0:07
Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is Communicate, Connect, Grow the OSP podcast.
Carl Richards 0:29
On today's episode, we're talking about the editing code CRISP or getting to the point.
Carl Richards 0:36
About our podcast: If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking, or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues, that's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, communicate, connect, and grow. This is a "communicate" episode, and we're talking about getting to the point in your writing with our editing code CRISP or C.R.I.S.P. with a crisp editing code falls into the flow and readability section of what Jeffrey A. McGuire, the creator of the original version of our system calls our Matryoshka "Russian Doll" editing process. It's about using the fewest words to effectively convey meaning in our documentation about this code. It says, "Write sentences that are spare and concise. Use occasional longer sentences to vary the rhythm of your writing. Aim for active voice, rhythm, and pace. Avoid flowery long winded words and sentences."
Liz Robau 1:38
My name is Liz, and I'm a Communications Consultant at OSP. Which means that I write a lot of content for clients like blog posts, case studies, landing pages, you name it, the CRISP code is one that we use a lot as a kind of positive editing note, we will often comment on a sentence that's particularly crisp, concise, to the point really gets its subject matter right away when we see it in a piece of writing. Or if we want to kind of improve a piece of writing that we think might be a little bit long-winded, we might use the CRISP code to suggest a shorter way of saying the same thing.
Felicity Brand 2:25
Gidday, I'm Felicity Brand, I am a Communications Consultant at open strategy partners. And I work asynchronously with the rest of my team. I'm based in Australia, and I am asleep while everyone else is awake. So when I get up, I help them with their day jobs by reviewing and editing their work. So I'm like a friendly elf. So CRISP is a code. It's a very important code. It's a very powerful code. And it's ... I most frequently use as an editor, because we all strive for crisp. So CRISP, is about writing concisely and making every word in your sentence count. We don't want it to be dry. So hopefully those words have a bit of life and color.
Christine Beuhler 3:16
I'm Christine Buehler. And I'm a communications consultant at OSP, which means I do a lot of writing and editing. In my day to day, the editing code crisp is really just about making sure your writing is tight and concise. I think it's pretty common and a lot of marketing writing for there to be redundancies or to be filler. And so at OSP we tried to avoid that. And we tried to make sure we're being clear and we're being to the point. And we're not boring the reader, right? So we don't want to go on and on. So CRISP is really helpful for that.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 4:03
Hi, I'm Jeffrey A. McGuire. Most people call me "jam." I am a co-founder of Open Strategy Partners. And I came into the company with a lot of the original ideas about writing and communication. So the entire editing code system is somehow ... it came out of my brain at some point, CRISP, it comes up a lot. And I think the original name I had for this code was "snappy," or "snap." Crisp writing is tight and efficient and fun. And in any case, when we do product communications, we need to say what we need to say get out what's important and then get out of people's way.
Liz Robau 4:48
I like to use the crisp code to point out really good sentences and really highlight where writers are communicating clearly and concisely. I also like to use it if I, if I see something that's maybe using too many prepositional phrases,
Felicity Brand 5:06
I think at its most basic level, it's about cutting words away, removing length. So if you're using five words where two will do that is one way to achieve crisp, but I think that is a bit reductionist to say, because I think CRISP also captures using active voice, looking at rhythm and pace in a sentence. And as part of an overall piece, we want color iandlife. So your word choice is important with crisp,
Christine Beuhler 5:35
when I'm using the crisp code. As an editor, I think it's helpful for other people, because just in general, as a writer, you can be a little too close to the subject matter or to the piece in general. You know, when you're editing something, it really helps to have someone else do it, someone else who's looking through it. As a writer, sometimes you just don't see when you're going on for too long, or, you know, it might even go slightly against your regular writing style. And so having an editor use CRISP, they're going to point things out that you probably sort of just accidentally passed over.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 6:22
I noticed it most often in headers. There's a there's a real trick to titles and headers in articles. And in both cases, there's a temptation to be clever, which is nice, but especially in a title, we really need to tell the entire story of what we're writing about. And remember that in this digital age, where we're playing to the search engines, we're playing to those results. And we need to be extremely clear about what it is. And we've only got a few characters to do that. Within the headers of an article, I think a little bit more cleverness, some humor is is acceptable, but they still need to be tight. And I look for words, or words pop out at me quite often, "of," "of which," "for," and so on can often be turned around and put into much tighter constructions
Liz Robau 7:16
... is usually never in my first drafts. But when I'm doing kind of a read through of any writing, I'm going to turn in, I'll just notice certain phrases that maybe don't add much to a sentence, and then I'll take it out. So as part of the writing process, it's more part of the self-editing process.
Felicity Brand 7:37
So the way to help people with CRIPS is I tell them when they are crisp. So if if they have been creased by give them a plus, plus on that code, for positivity, I look for opportunities to tighten, to elevate.
Christine Beuhler 7:53
So I would say crisp is more useful in the, I don't know, second draft stage or the editing stage.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 8:01
To be honest, it's not so important when you're getting your first ideas out. And when you're stitching together a story, it really becomes important as you go along and, and start to self improve and self edit before you hand it off to someone else. So I think it's, I think it's important to be aware of what you're doing. And it's it's always great to develop better habits, and try and get, you know, better stuff out the first time. But it's maybe secondary when you're doing the writing in the early stages of creating something.
Liz Robau 8:39
I think that readers like crisp sentences, because they feel like you're not wasting their time, you're not just trying to add to the word count, they feel like everything that you say to them, you really mean something. So in general is just more pleasurable to read.
Felicity Brand 8:58
My method is to get my thoughts out, but certainly when I'm self editing, coming back to tighten, absolutely, because CRISP is what we strive for. It's what we aim for, in this world of really minimal attention span, you need to be compelling. That means everything has to be crispy.
Christine Beuhler 9:17
CRISP is important to readers, because you want to acknowledge that you're not wasting the reader's time. And I think crisp is really helpful there because you're getting to the point. And I think getting to the point is just a way of acknowledging that the readers time is also important. Also acknowledging that you want the reader to stay engaged and if you're going on and on about something, you're going to lose the reader's interest and you know, as a writer, that's pretty much the worst thing that can happen.
Jeffrey A. McGuire 9:53
As professional communicators. We at OSP focus on product communication We're in a role to convince and inform. And we need to get that done efficiently. And, clearly. So we have, we have a lot of focus on helping people absorb the information. And honestly, making something crisp means choosing really the essential words and putting them in an order that is clear and easy to consume. Maybe enjoyable, maybe bright, maybe snappy, may be fun. But in the end, I am trying to help the reader inform herself about whatever it is that I'm writing, and choose to then follow my suggestion to buy or test or demo or, or what have you this this product or service or open source software package that I'm writing about. So when we're crispy, we're helping people get what they need to know. And maybe on a good day, make it a little bit more enjoyable to read it.
Felicity Brand 10:56
CRISP is really important, because it's about clarity, possibly also a little bit about trust. But probably the biggest one there is clarity. If we're looking at some of the pillars of Open Strategy Partners: empathy, clarity, trust, I would say CRISP links to clarity. And that is important because readers will drop away. They're not going to keep reading, if they are not compelled to read if they're not interested in what you're saying. So if you have too many words to get to your point, if you're not crisp, your readers are going to bounce, they're going to bounce they're out of there.
Christine Beuhler 11:35
I think crisp is also just a good reminder to keep the pace of your writing interesting. Vary your sentences. Sometimes it helps to read things out loud. It can be a good indicator of crisp and if you're reading it out loud and it doesn't sound good, then take another look at it and see what you can change.
Carl Richards 12:12
I hope you leave this episode being able to write a little more crisply, shall we say?
Carl Richards 12:17
How do you address making your writing tighter or snappier? Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter @open_strategy, or email email@example.com.
Carl Richards 12:30
This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. We'll be sharing more of them as we go.
Carl Richards 12:35
If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come over to openstrategypartners.com. Have a look at our writer enablement workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs.
Carl Richards 12:48
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the Peas that OSP. Thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Gaumont for our high energy maple syrup flavored theme music and to Mike Snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing!
Carl Richards 13:08
About our three themes on the podcast. You'll hear from different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time. Communicate: all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect: In-depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders. Grow: We cover strategic approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful positive human-first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time, too.
Carl Richards 13:54
This podcast is us figuring out communication, connection, and growing together.
Carl Richards 14:02
Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics ask us questions on social media. We are @open_strategy on Twitter. Until next time, thanks for listening to communicate, connect grow the OSP podcast