Cut it in half: 3 ways to strengthen your writing

Eliminate redundancies, substitute potent words for tepid phrasing, and pinpoint your focus as you rewrite.

You’ve filled your Word.doc with brilliance, and it’s time to hit the publish button.

Not so fast. You’re skipping the crucial step: editing. Stringent editing will strengthen your writing.

Check your word count, and cut it in half. That’s right, in half.

You’ll probably find—if you look carefully—that you can make your key point(s) in half the words.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

Imagine you’re trimming the bone, gristle and fat, retaining the meat. There’s nothing wrong with “butchering copy” in this way.

Here are three methods:

1. Quick fixes

Delete needless or redundant words:

  • Is currently looking for
  • Is in the process of building
  • Over a period of three months
  • At least three paragraphs or longer
  • By Oct.15, if not sooner
  • There are many people who prefer
  • In the month of September
  • In the year 2009
  • Over a period of six weeks
  • The city of New Orleans
  • The state of Idaho

2. Substitutions

Let powerful words do the work of flabby phrasing:

  • She’s the sort of person who takes charge –> She takes charge
  • One of the most important aspects is –> One crucial aspect is
  • This is a great online tool because it snarfles–> This tool snarfles
  • To achieve success –> To succeed
  • Do some tidying up –> Tidy up
  • The attention of your readers –> Your readers’ attention
  • Take the time/Make an effort to do W –> Do W
  • If you want to make X a priority –> To prioritize X
  • If you have the opportunity, do Y –> Do Y
  • There are many ways to do Z. Here are a few you might think about trying. –> Here are several ways to do Z.

3. Distillation

Condense a bloated passage, retaining the key point:

  • Public relations professionals at all levels should care deeply about this issue. –> PR pros should prioritize this issue.
  • The first thing we can all do as PR professionals is be more precise in our language. We can also be more thorough in our research. –>PR pros should deliver precise language and thorough research.
  • There’s one clear fact that any successful business must accept: Change happens. –> Change happens.
  • You’re probably including too much information that isn’t relevant to the reader. –> You’re probably including irrelevant information.
  • Do some research into the wealth of knowledge that exists around you before calling in a costly expert or consultant. –> Explore the wealth of knowledge around you before hiring a costly consultant.
  • Build and cultivate internal skills to help save money and boost employee engagement. –> Cultivate employees’ skills to save money and boost engagement.

The essential technique is identifying the key point(s), as well as what to eliminate.

You might not cut away half the words, but setting that precise, stringent goal will help you make hard decisions about what merits your readers’ time and attention.

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