Flabby writing? Try these 7 tips for toning and trimming text

Editing makes the difference between fluid, easily digestible content and an arduous slog for your readers. Consider these tactics next time you edit other’s copy—or your own.

Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.

Some days you flex your writing muscles. Other days, red pen in hand, you’re trimming and toning flabby writing.

That entails reviewing a document for typos, jargon, wayward punctuation, grammatical errors, passive voice and other flaws and encumbrances that stop readers in their tracks.

To trim and tone flabby writing, try these seven tips:

1. Reduce wordiness.

  • In order to –> to
  • Provide enhancements to –> enhance or improve
  • Is a reflection of –> reflects
  • On a daily basis –> every day, daily

2. Trade long, multisyllable words for short ones.

  • Approximately –> about
  • Additional –> more
  • Utilization –> use
  • Currently –> now

3. Be active, not passive.

  • It was decided (who decided?)
  • An issue has been identified (who identified it?)

 4. Get rid of jargon.

  • Will be tasked with –> will have to, must
  • Leverage –> use, make use of
  • Skillsets –> skills

5. Use the right words.

  • Less vs. fewer (use fewer with things you can count, less with “mass nouns” like clutter that can’t be counted individually)
  • Comprised of (should be composed of or just comprised)
  • Myriad (the modifier stands as one word, not “a myriad of”)
  • Very unique (it’s unique, or it’s not)

6. Straighten up inconsistencies.

  • Is a word sometimes capitalized, sometimes lowercase?
  • Is a word spelled the same way throughout (favor versus favour)?
  • Does a set of bullet points follow the same construction and format (such as starting with a verb)?

7. Hunt down and fix spelling errors.

  • Liason –> liaison
  • Cummulative –> cumulative
  • Unnesessary –> unnecessary

Sue Horner is a writer based in Canada. A version of this post first ran on her blog, Get it Write.


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