Word counts look progressively skinny. Blogs must cap around 400 words, articles at 500-800 and the same goes for news stories. Meanwhile, tweets of your beautiful business writing stop at 140 characters—and executives I know ignore emails exceeding five sentences. (What?!) Boil your writing down to the bones following these steps.
Budget Time For a Cruel Edit
On deadline, I try budgeting one hour (or more) to compress and fact check before submitting the work to the client/editor. I also break between writing and compressing. If I’m refreshed, I’m more efficient and better remember the most poignant quotes/points. Look hard (and objectively) to see where you remain redundant/repetitive and ignore email and other distractions for this vital task. (Compressing takes extreme focus.)
Stay on Topic
For the skinniest edit, ensure you remain completely aligned with what the reader wants. Skim your work carefully to ensure every subhead, data point and interview aligns with those points and remove anything extraneous and irrelevant. Sometimes, saving anything you remove in a separate document provides additional courage.
Keep your Bottom Line Up Top
Bringing your bottom line to the top (and adding elements of your bottom line to the email subject line) helps further compress our ideas. To determine your bottom line, ask yourself: What am I trying to say? Whatever comes next should become your opening sentences—remove all other fluff. Once you’ve added all vital elements within that opening paragraph, expand on these elements in the body. (In email, offer to follow up via phone or meeting.) Don’t forget: Many of us stop reading after the first paragraph.
Look for Repetition and Redundancies
Notice redundancies, repetition and opportunities to remove (or paraphrase) long-winded quotes. Avoid becoming attached to what people say—select and retain the quote which says the idea best. Strive for no more than three data points in one paragraph and cap any list at three, also. Cherry pick the best examples.
Employ Design Techniques
Subheads and bullets provide excellent ways to compress. Large, dense, inaccessible paragraphs can become half the original length simply with inserting bullets using consistent grammar. Also, hyperlink to any referenced news story or report for additional depth.
These steps become especially important for digital audiences. The Pew Research Center found 72 percent of Americans get their news via a mobile device vs. 54 percent in 2013. Check whether your paragraphs look dense and inaccessible by reading the message via your phone. Insert bullets, then, see if the message becomes shorter (and clearer).
Remove Wordy Style Issues
Still too wordy? Try removing style issues including:
- Camouflaged (fake) verbs. Tip: Replace the fake verb such as “cooperation” with “cooperate” and “distribution” vs. “distribute.” Look at this example: I’d like your consideration and cooperation with this assignment vs. Please consider cooperating with this assignment (9 words vs. 6 words.) A crueler edit: Please do this assignment. (4 words.)
- Passive voice. Tip: State the doer of the action up top. The committee meeting was cancelled by the director (8 words) vs. The director cancelled the committee meeting. (6 words). Read more on passive voice here.
- Weak verbs. Tip: Replace weak verbs including as, are, is, be, been, was, etc. with more active ones. For instance, The biggest problem I am finding with the proposal is the long, verbose passages vs. I find long, verbose passages challenge this proposal. (14 words vs. 8 words.) Or, The proposal remains too wordy. (5 words.)