Team training icon on The Word Factory corporate training pageWhat 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):

  1. Write whatever you want
  2. Read it over to address obvious issues
  3. Grab a word count and figure out how many words equal 20%
  4. 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.

Related Content: