How to write shorter
Short is good.
We’re busy. No one has time to read lots of words when a few will do.
But, to paraphrase Blaise Pascal, you don’t have time to make it shorter.
Writing tight is a skill like any other. And as with most writing skills, the true craftsmanship comes before you type your first word. Good thinking leads to taut writing.
Bring out your inner Hemingway with these tips:
- Put your audience first.
You should do this before writing anything, but in this case, you’re thinking about what’s most essential for your reader to know. If that’s the harried journalist who will receive your press release, that’s probably the 5 Ws and the H. If it’s your boss on a strategy document, that’s likely going to be more about what resources are needed, the timeframe and the potential outcomes and pitfalls. If it’s an article aimed at busy PR professionals, focus on actionable takeaways.
You can always put additional information in an appendix.
- Consider the format.
Not everything should be a dense narrative text, but that’s often the easiest thing to write. However, making something a listicle (like this story!), an outline or even breaking one longer piece up into several smaller items and doling them out over time can help keep people’s attention rather than asking them to commit to thousands of words all at once.
- Make an outline.
Starting with a blank document and a few jumbled thoughts is going to show on the page. Take an extra five minutes to jot down a brief outline of what’s most important to hit in your piece. This doesn’t have to be some elaborate thing with Roman numerals; for this story, my outline was merely a list of bullet points that represented each of my headings. But it helps you keep your eyes on what matters most.
- Edit with surgical precision.
Once you’ve finished your draft, read it and make sure each word counts. Cut any that don’t. The Purdue Writing Lab offers a fantastic resource on common bloat, including:
- Eliminate words that explain the obvious or provide excessive detail
- Eliminate unnecessary determiners and modifiers (“kind of,” “really,” “specific,” etc.)
- Omit redundant pairs (“future plans,” or “unexpected surprise” – pick one of each word pair instead of both)
- Omit redundant categories (“large in size” can just be large, while “of a strange type” can just be strange)
Writing concisely helps sharpen your own thinking and makes reading easier for your audience. It’s a win-win.
Or is win-win redundant?
Don’t overthink it.