First, let’s ditch a common complaint by some ‘writers’: Tightening copy is not about ‘dumbing down’ your content. You don’t write for yourself. You write for readers. So it’s your readers that matter. Bury your ego and those fancy shmancy words you like to use to impress. It’s time to make your writing simple. And, of course, more readable.
A slew of long sentences will make your copy difficult to read. Period. Tight copy and short sentences are techniques used by the best copywriters. Want to keep the attention of your readers? Think snappy. Think short. Think tight. Here are 10 tips to tighten your writing.
1. Beware the back-ins. Backing into sentences creates long awkward sentences. We’ve all seen the back-in in copy: A student who first discovered woodworking when he lived in Johnsonville, Ted Smith hopes to attend university next fall. Firstly, there are two thoughts in one sentence. Secondly, the back-in portion accounts for 11 words in a run-on 19-word sentence. The back-in overwhelms the intended focus of this sentence: that Ted hopes to attend university in the fall. Simplify your sentences. Two thoughts = two sentences.
2. Count your sentence lengths. A warning light should go on when you start reaching 20 words, 48 words, 57 words on a consistent basis. There’s nothing wrong with 10-word sentences. Or even one word. Vary your sentence lengths, but try to avoid those long-winded sentences. They’ll lose your readers. Look at your keyboard and start using the period more often.
3. Simplify. Don’t try to tell a zillion stories within one story. Find your one story. If you don’t find a focus, your readers will be lost . . . and so will you. The warning sign that you’re lost? “I have so much information, I don’t know where to start!”
4. Read your story out loud. Want to discover when you’ve rambled or become too wordy? Read your copy out loud. When you’re grasping for air, or tripping over words, that’s a good indication that your sentences need reworking.
5. Axe the add-ons. “The museum has been doing this sort of thing for years,” said Bob Smith, adding that next month the museum will be hosting a bake sale. Get rid of add-ons. If it’s really important to your story, it probably deserves its own sentence.
6. Avoid quote-itis. Don’t quote people saying the same thing. And remember, it’s not the quantity of quotes that’s important. It’s the value they add to your story or media release.
7. Condense, condense, condense. Don’t write ‘a lot of’ when ‘many’ is tighter. Look for ways to use fewer words to say the same thing.
8. Get rid of attribution-itis. Do you really need all of those he saids and she saids? Probably not. For example, there’s no need to write: He said the association is holding its Annual General Meeting April 15 and everyone is invited to attend. If it’s a fact, you don’t need to attribute it.
9. Beware ‘and’. Frequently, the word ‘and’ can be replaced with a period.
10. Ask yourself key questions. “Do my readers really need to know this?” “Is this important?” Questions like these can help you decide what’s necessary and what isn’t in your writing, media releases and pitches.