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.”
“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.