Ruthless slashing makes for better writing

delete-keyOne of the most effective (and most painful) ways for me to improve my writing is to finish a piece, sit back and glow with a sense of accomplishment, and then force myself to eliminate every unnecessary word.

Four easy fixes are (1) don’t use the word ‘impact,’ (2) don’t use ‘located at’ with your address, (3) say what you will do, not what you ‘will be doing,’ and (4) don’t use the word ‘very.’

Some examples:

Original:
Your contributions make a significant impact on our ability to serve families.
(12 words, and what do they say, really? An impact can be a negative thing; to me, it evokes a car-crash dummies.)

Better:

Your contributions significantly improve our ability to serve families.
We can serve families so much better, thanks to your gift.
Your contributions help us significantly improve people’s lives.

Original:
Our office is located at 722 Northview Ave.

Better:
We’re at 722 Northview Ave.
Our office is at 722 Northview Ave.
Visit us at 722 Northview Ave.

Originals:
We will be implementing a four-day work week.
We will be serving ham and eggs.
We will be offering six classes this fall.

Better:
We will implement a four-day work week. A four-day work week begins on Jan. 1.
We will serve ham and eggs.
We’ll offer six classes this fall.

Original:
This material is very environmentally friendly and easy to maintain.

Better:
This material is environmentally friendly and easy to maintain.
(Overuse of superlatives such as ‘very’ damage your credibility.)

I’ll take a bet with anyone that if I’m given a page of copy, I can cut it by a third and retain its meaning. I can do this because writers don’t revise their first drafts, and they get too enamored with their own words.

They forget about their readers.

If you can reduce your word count by at least a fourth, I promise your writing will be tighter and more interesting. Be ruthless! It’s kind of fun.

(from January 2010)

 

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