The world is full of sensible advice that’s hard to put into practice.
Do more exercise.
Reduce your stress levels.
Accept that salt and vinegar flavor chips are not, in fact, a mainstay of a well-balanced diet. (Damn).
Oh, and keep your tweets and subject lines short.
Actually you can argue about that last bit of advice. But if you have something to say and have two equally impactful ways of saying it, then pick the shorter one.
Often it’s just a question of practicality.
Shortening your Tweets makes it easier to fit the message within the 140 character limit. If you can get the length down further, then you leave enough space for people to retweet your message in its entirety*.
Shorter subject lines avoid the pitfalls of email software arbitrarily cutting off your words.
But…how do you actually keep subject lines and Tweets short?
I’m hoping you’ll offer your own suggestions in the comments, as there’s not a lot of practical advice out there beyond, um, “keep it short”.
But here a few tips I’ve picked up over the years…
The famous quote commonly attributed to Blaise Pascal runs something like this:
“I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
My biggest challenge with copywriting emails, for example, is not finding the words, but finding fewer words to express the same meaning.
Your first line of text probably does communicate what you want to say, but it takes rewrites to communicate it succinctly.
2. Synonyms are your best friends
Rare is the word with no alternative. We often fall into patterns and habits, where we favor particular words simply because they’re the ones we’ve always used. Perhaps you can find shorter synonyms? For example:
Excellent article on
Great article on
Top post on (9 spaces saved)
Buy (5 spaces saved)
Hard (5 spaces saved)
Many (3 spaces saved)
In 2011 (2 spaces saved)
Some (1 space saved)
But take care…
Not all synonyms are truly identical and a different word can introduce a subtle change in meaning.
Even true synonyms can draw a slightly different emotional response in the reader. In subject lines, particularly, it pays to test variations to find the choice that elicits the best response.
These two concepts apply to many of the tips below, too, so keep them in mind.
3. Eliminate implied and unnecessary words
Do you have any words that are not contributing to the message? Words with no impact on the meaning, value, emotion, etc. of the tweet or subject?
These are common candidates for freeing up space.
If tweeting as an individual, for example, the “I” in “I love this article:” is implicit. “Love this article:” would be fine.
Where possible, scrap unnecessary modifiers like “that”, “which” and “who”:
who was after me
The presenter after me
that you’ll love
New products you’ll love
You can shorten phrases using contractions:
Tips for summer fashions
Summer fashion tips
People in New York love Apple
New Yorkers love Apple
This is an article that really engages:
A really engaging article:
4. Mathematical symbols and numerals
Styleguides typically say numbers up to ten should appear as words, not numerals. But you have more flexibility in tweets and subject lines:
Seven ways to win with words
7 ways to win with words
“&” or “+” or even “/” can substitute for “and”:
Email more popular than beer
Email more popular than beer & chocolate
The “>” and “<” symbols can be used for “less than”, “more than”, “under”, “over”…with certain audiences:
Fewer than 10% of marketers test their copy
<10% of marketers test their copy
Try “=” instead of “equals”, “means”, “leads to” etc.:
Donut consumption shown to lead to higher risk of stomach ache
More donuts = more stomach aches
5. The active voice
Switching from passive to active voice simply reads better, but also means shorter text:
Half of marketers
are using email design preview tools
Half of marketers use email design preview tools
50% of marketers use email design preview tools
Twitter’s hashtags, like many tools, are neither good nor bad. It’s all in how you use them.
A suitable hashtag might replace lengthier information explaining the context for a tweet:
Images lift clicks by 34%
when used in marketing emails
Images lift clicks by 34%
in marketing emails
Images lift clicks by 34% #emailmarketing
Nobody is going to write United Kingdom when they can write UK. Abbreviations are great space savers, provided you follow two rules.
1. They must be understandable (audience)
Except it’s easy to use abbreviations you’re familiar with, and forget that your audience isn’t. “Promo code” for “promotional code” seems unarguable. “w/ free shipping” for “with free shipping”? Maybe.
2. They must be appropriate (context)
My wife is familiar with the abbreviation OMG. I’m not sure, though, she wants to see it in an email from her gynecologist:
“OMG, u r pregnant!”
(She’d be quite surprised, too).
Your choice of abbreviations says something about you as a sender / tweeter.
Equally, subject lines are not tweets and tweets are not SMS text messages. The medium alone changes what abbreviations are acceptable and that’s before we get into the context of the message itself.
Too many abbreviations are also difficult to read and interpret if you’re not familiar with that kind of writing.
“UNESCO says tnx FB 4 gr8 AIDS donation”
FYI, Social Media Today has a list of common Twitter abbreviations.
8. URL shorteners
Needless to say, anyone putting a link in a tweet should use one of the common URL shortening services out there. The popular tools used to send tweets should make this easy. So the Hootsuite tool turns:
Links in tweets posted through Twitter itself are also automatically shortened.
9. Colons and trailing dots
OK, this is your bonus tip with a couple of related techniques.
If space isn’t an issue and you have trouble getting important keywords near the front of your subject line or tweet, consider the colon option. Example:
Great advice on how to write shorter subject lines
Subject lines: how to make them shorter <– great advice
If you’re running out of space and want to imply there’s more information than you can reasonably fit into the subject line or tweet, consider using trailing dots:
Free shipping on top brands: Calvin Klein, Burberry, Coach, Trussardi, Fila,…
In King Lear, Shakespeare wrote:
“Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood”
He could have said:
“You annoy me”
…and saved 63 spaces. But it’s not the same is it?
Short, concise writing can destroy style, humor, emotion and personality if handled badly. And these may be the very things that differentiate you from the competition or drive higher responses. Words matter and, sometimes, long beats short.
So…your tips please!
*You need two spaces for the RT, then a space, then your username plus a colon plus a space: so tweets by @MarkatEMR need to be 125 characters or less to be retweeted as RT @MarkatEMR: Blah Blah