Half the Words Will Do

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a freshman in college, sitting in one of my first writing classes. The professor had given us our assignment, and I was eager to leave class and get started. I had my topic, did the research, and submitted my paper at the next class – only to have the professor hand it right back to me and say “now write the same paper using only half the words.”

While I was very frustrated at the time, what I learned that day is a lesson I always carry with me. That professor taught us the importance of getting your point across in a way that is simple, eliminates the fluff, and gets straight to the point. This is a great skill for writing in general, but it’s especially important in marketing, PR, and social media.
How can you make do with half the words? Here are some things I look for when I put my editing hat on:

  • Unnecessary words – chances are, there are many words in your piece that, if removed, would not be missed. These tend to be extra descriptors (very, just, etc.), or words like “that” used in phrases such as “a lesson that I always carry with me”.
  • Repetition – in many cases, I find a piece contains the same thought expressed in multiple places. Say it once, and say it in a way that has impact.
  • Use of a long phrase when one word will do – is there one word to describe the thought? In most cases, the answer is yes.
  • Beating around the bush – if you have something to say, be direct. Just say it!

So next time you’re writing, try this exercise. See if you can tell the same story in half the words.