What if I told you there was one really easy tactic you could deploy to improve the quality and impact of your writing?
Well, there is: Chop your prose by 15-20%.
I got this great little piece of writing advice from editor Chip Scanlon decades ago and it's still my go-to tactic. It's especially handy when you're in a hurry.
How to improve writing
We all over-write. We bog down our writing with qualifying remarks, unnecessary tee-ups and other verbiage that we don't really need. So here's the simple trick (which regular readers of this blog will recognize):
- Write whatever you want
- Read it over to address obvious issues
- Grab a word count and figure out how many words equal 20%
- Revise your piece to cut out that many words
I challenge you to aim high for 20% because it's easier than you think to prune out 10-15%. The incremental effort to cut out another 5-10% makes your writing even crisper and clearer.
If you're not sure you can do it, try these specific cuts:
What to do: Remove unnecessary introductory and parenthetical phrases.
Why it works: Improves impact and clarity.
What to do: Rework deeply nested constructions.
Why it works: Knocks out long, complicated sentences that cause confusion and/or give people a reason to stop reading.
What to do: Delete qualifying statements.
Why it works: Omits the tone of uncertainty qualifiers and conditional tense create, which weakens your case.
Try this technique on the next piece you have to write, whether it's a memo, report, article, white paper, whatever. You'll be surprised how much this simple strategy improves your writing.
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