Writing short is part of the art of written communication. And while an editor may work with you to craft a book or an article, you won’t have an editor there to rework your blogs or emails. So, it would be useful for you to learn how to write short. Following are some how-to ideas.
Edit everything you write—Make it a regular discipline. After you’ve free-written your first draft, take the time and effort to self-edit. If you can distance yourself from your words, and read them as your readers will, each draft will become tighter. Delete anything that doesn’t support your theme, main points, or plot.
Aim for a word count—Unless a publisher has ordered a book or article of so many words, how do you do this? Here are some examples for readability. Make your emails less than 250 words. Work for blog posts of 750 words maximum. To learn how to do this, write something that’s 100 words, 500 words, 1,000 words to get the feel of writing short. When the time comes when you have to write something longer (e.g., a book), that practice will pay off. Setting a word-count goal for each chapter, or for the book itself, can be really useful.
Start strong—Many introductions are unnecessary and simply waste words. Can your work live without one? It’s important that your first 50-100 words hook your reader. Start with a bold sentence or paragraph.
Organize—Disorganized, repetitive content distracts and bores readers. As you self-edit, look for points you’ve mentioned more than once. Is there a valid reason why? If not, consolidate or eliminate the redundancies. Reorganize the relevant material around your main points and put it in one most-effective place. Have you provided too many examples to support a point? What about the number of sections or even chapters? Are there parts in your work designed to show how much you know? Or are they there to economically inform your readers? Removing weak or redundant material will not only make your work shorter, it will also make for more effective reading.
Use bullets or tables—When you write itemized lists using words (e.g., first, second; point A, point B) you take up space. So, whenever you can, you might convert this longhand to a bulleted list. The information might also be most efficiently and effectively presented in a table. The idea is to convey the most information in the least space. However, people tend to take sides on this idea. Some people hate bullets and prefer to read continuous prose. That may be one difference between fiction and non-fiction writing.
Use graphics—This follows the same line of reasoning as the last idea. It’s back to the old saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” A simple diagram is clearer than a long string of words. It’s an efficient means for presenting and supporting a point without having to use a lot of word space. However, be sure that the graphic is easy to understand. Otherwise, you’ve replaced a long jumble of words with a picture that may be hard to interpret.
Eliminate filler words—Sentence leaders and connective phrases take up word space (e.g., “therefore”; “continuing this thought”). And they don’t add anything to help the reader know the gist of your text. So, when you find long sentences, break them into shorter ones. If you need to make a lead-in or transition, make sure it’s short.
Eliminate adjectives and adverbs that don’t add value—A real example is “I live in a small little house.” In this case, either “small” or “little” is sufficient. The other word just takes up space. Other words that probably need examining include “very”, “substantial,” and “on the other hand”. These words make content longer, and they weaken it. For even stronger text, make specific accurate statements instead of broad generalizations containing qualifiers.
Writing short takes concentration and practice. Every time you write something, ask yourself how that piece could be made shorter. The more succinct and to-the-point your writing is, the more likely your readers will appreciate reading it.
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