Waffle is for eating, not for writing

When you’re writing for business, social, personal or other reasons, do you sometimes wonder if you’re “waffling?” Or if you’re listening to a long speech, could the speaker be “waffling?”

Waffle is for eating, not for writing

Now THIS is the kind of waffle that’s to die for. The verbal form isn’t.

Or do you think that “waffling” is making and eating delicious treats like in this picture, above? Sadly not.

What does “waffling” really mean for writers and speakers?

Here’s what Dictionary.com says about the verb to waffle and according to them, the word’s origins are in Scotland.

Origin: 1890-95; orig. dial. (Scots, N England): to wave about, flutter, waver, behesitant; probably waff + -le
verb (used without object), waffled, waffling.
to speak or write equivocally: to waffle on an important issue.
verb (used with object), waffled, waffling.
to speak or write equivocally about: to waffle a campaign promise.
waffling language: his speech was just a load of waffle.

However, Vocabulary.com take waffling back 200 years earlier

“The verb waffle seems to have its origins in the 1690s as the word waff, ‘to yelp,’ possibly in imitation of the yelping of dogs. The word soon came to mean ‘to talk foolishly’ and then eventually ‘to vacillate, to change.'”
“The food term waffle, as part of ‘waffle iron,’ appeared in 1794, a descendant of the Dutch word wafel, which comes from the same Germanic source as weave: it’s easy to see the waffle pattern as similar to a woven fabric.”

So how to do we avoid waffle in writing?

I suggested above that waffling can occur when you don’t really know what it is you want to express, and you haven’t got a structure planned out before you start.

As my friend and co-author of an ancient book of ours called “Writing Words That Sell,John Butman, once said … “If you don’t know what you think, you can’t write it down.”

Obviously it’s impossible to boil a solution down to something will work for everyone, for every purpose, for every type of writing.

However, there is one common denominator that does apply, and may help you avoid the waffling crime…

Write out a plan…

Sounds too easy, doesn’t it? But speaking as the author of umpty-dump nonfiction books as well as thousands of articles and blog posts, I love a good plan.

It’s the only way you can structure what you have to share in a way that delivers it effectively.

And most important of all, it’s the only way you can guide what you then write so it makes its contribution without the waffle that can arise when you’re wandering around without a clear pathway to follow.

Some examples of writing plans that avoid waffle

Here are a couple of examples, but once you get the idea of how to plan out your writing you can adapt the following ideas to help you with your individual projects…

To begin, a quick business letter plan borrowed from an earlier article of mine:

Business letter or email plan

1. Background
Don’t waffle on with preliminaries – “I see from our records that you were first invoiced for this amount four months ago and statements have been sent out to you each month since then”

2. The sticky issue
Don’t waffle on  about company policy or how you value their business but …they almost certainly don’t care. Go “This can’t go on, especially as you haven’t contacted us to discuss extending your credit”

3. What I want to happen now 
You can be a little less brutal here if you want to, but keep it almost this short – “Pay up in the next seven days”

4. Or else
Once again, no waffle about company policy or rules or according to our terms and conditions. Go for the bull’s eye – “We will be obliged to start legal proceedings against you”

5. Sweetener
Don’t be tempted to be too nice about this. If they’re really that bad at paying, you need them like you need a chocolate teapot. “If you do pay up by return, we won’t take any further action and will restart your 30 days’ credit as before”

6. Next move
In content marketing, this is called the “call to action.” Don’t waffle with mealy-mouthed phrases: you want your money now. “Please contact me urgently and let me know what you intend to do”

Blog post plan

1. Grab readers’ attention
Bear in mind that when you share your post/article (posticle?) depending on the platform, potential readers will see the first line or two of the body text. If this waffles, they won’t click through. Say something that grabs them, as well as dropping them straight into the subject matter.

2. Give a little background to the issue
This way readers can identify it in time and place, but don’t waste too much time with details. In this article I probably spent too much time above defining “waffle,” but I know some of you are logophiles like me so I didn’t cut it down!

3. Get into the meat
Be strict with yourself: keep to the key points and don’t wander off into other territory, even if it’s vaguely related. If there is allied further reading on offer, I think it’s better to include a link to related content so readers can choose whether to go there or not.

4. Summarise your key points
I don’t think you need to write a formal summary as you would in an essay at school or college. People aren’t idiots and if your blog post makes its points they shouldn’t need to hear it all again. But a general, one-line wrap up is fine.

5. Write your call to action
What you say here depends whether your blog post is commercial or not. Much as it’s crude to say “buy my stuff,” it’s rude to insult readers by waffling on in flowery language when everyone knows it’s a commercial call to action. Just say it – in plain English (or whatever other language you use.)

6. Write sub-headings every couple of paragraphs
There are two good reasons for doing this. One is that many readers skim blog posts and a series of good sub-heads tells them the bones of the story. If they’re interested they’ll go back and read it all; if they’re not, they’ve still got your drift. Reason two, is that provided you include a sensible sprinkling of keywords in your sub-heads it will be very helpful for SEO.

Further reading to help you avoid waffling

How the SO WHAT? test can boost a lot of your business writing

Speeches for business, weddings and other occasions – that don’t bore the audience with waffle

How to write a good short story – in simple terms for beginners

Job seeking and job applications (where waffling can be a killer)

Writing online: naked words work hardest

So remember – enjoy the culinary variety of waffle, but avoid the verbal kind

What type of waffle do you prefer? Please share!