How to Cut Your Article Down to Size

ScissorsOne of my favorite copyediting assignments is the e-mail that begins, “This is way too long, but….”

I get the same kind of satisfaction from paring down articles that others get from cleaning a cluttered closet or deleting half the e-mails in their inbox. The difference is, I also get to watch a concise message rise out of wordiness. I get to help the writer say precisely what he or she wants to say.

If you’d like to feel that same satisfaction – while retaining control of your article – here are some ways to cut your article down to size.

Cut Out Meaningless Words

Meaningless words add nothing to the content: “I always believe” becomes “I believe.” “I just never realized” becomes “I never realized.” “She commented about how she feels…” becomes “She feels….”

Other words to watch out for: very, really, absolutely, truly, actually, personally, exactly, even.

Delete Irrelevant Passages

If a sentence – or a paragraph – is not on topic, cut it out. If it hurts to let it go, cut and paste the passage onto a blank page. After you read your final, edited version, you’ll find you don’t miss it. If it’s that good, incorporate it into a new article.

Tighten the Sentences

If possible, turn “there are” passive sentences into active sentences. “There are many people who like purple” becomes “Many people like purple.” Most passive sentences are longer than their active versions.

Combine repetitive sentences. Quote from an interview:

“When it comes to desserts, Karen says the best things to serve are bite sized because everyone likes individual bite sized pieces. Guests are embarrassed to take large pieces and they want to taste everything you have to offer, so the best way to accomplish that is to serve small bite sized pieces.”

becomes

“Karen advises serving bite-sized pieces for dessert, because guests want to taste everything you have to offer without embarrassing themselves.”

Savings? 33 words.

If Necessary, Do It Again

Still too long? Read the article out loud. Listen for repetitive words and ideas, unnecessary words you might have missed the first time. Determine what you can cut out while still keeping your message. Be ruthless.

A couple days after I wrote this article, I re-read it and – following my own advice – cut 80 words. I suspect you didn’t notice.

Cheryl Bryan

About Cheryl Bryan

Cheryl has years of experience in the business world, in a variety of fields: staffing, insurance, construction, and advertising, to name a few. She has freelanced since 1990. Friends and colleagues describe her as genuine, thoughtful, gracious, organized, easy-going, compassionate, a "thinker as well as a doer," and one who not only gets the job done but does it well. Born in rural Nebraska, she is back now after living in California, Texas, South Africa, Illinois, Tennessee, and Mississippi and traveling in Europe, South Africa, and Thailand.
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3 Responses to How to Cut Your Article Down to Size

  1. Thanks for your gracious response. I obviously didn’t look over my early morning response as closely as I thought.
    *without losing meaning
    *existence
    I should have given that a second (or third) look…irony strikes again. 😉

  2. Cheryl Cheryl says:

    Thanks, Peter. Sounds like a great motto to have in front of you while you’re editing your own work.

  3. Great advide. I find myself mentally editing other people’s emails, posts, and comments. Others shouldn’t have to wade through words to find our meaning. It’s satifying to see how many words you can lose with losing meaning. I have a sign on my desk, Make Every Word Justify Its Existance.

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