It’s time to trim your initial draft to make it more concise and effective in conveying your point.
Shun verbosity, especially in business communications where you write to busy people. The same goes for technical writing, particularly when composing instructional materials.
And, even if you’re composing novels, poems, and other literary pieces where you paint pictures with words, there’s always a need for short sentences and phrases.
Let’s check how to shorten your writing without diluting the ideas or narratives you care about.
10 Tips on How to Make Your Writing Shorter:
1. Get To The Point Quickly
One of the most common mistakes in writing is what I call TMI-NR. It stands for “Too Much Information with No Relevance”
This is true when writing business or grant proposals. The writer aims to provide as much information as possible, thinking it will dazzle the reader.
Even if you have sterling credentials, over-sharing will never win with getting to the point.
Have you ever heard about an elevator pitch? It refers to pitching a proposition to a prospective client during an elevator ride. You only got a minute or two to talk about whatever it is you are selling.
In that 30-60 second window, would you share everything you know or only the main benefits of your offer?
The same principle applies to writing sales letters or instructional manuals. Make it brief but loaded with a value proposition.
Friendly Tip: Try to limit cover letters to 4 to 5 paragraphs only. If you need to provide a portfolio or comprehensive company info, do it in a separate document.
2. Eschew Redundancies
Another common pitfall that makes a writer’s composition longer than necessary is redundancy.
The saying “write as you speak” is not entirely true. You can’t always taper what comes out of your mouth when speaking in public or telling a story, but you can always edit what you wrote.
Stating the same gist in one sentence or paragraph may be forgivable when we say it, but it’s a different story when you set it in ink.
Let me give you an example:
“While I was mountain-climbing, I was startled by a deer that crossed my path during my ascent to the summit of Mount Rainier.” (23 words)
If I’m voicing the story, you wouldn’t mind (or even notice) the redundancy. But, when I write it, you may see that “mountain-climbing” means the same as “ascent to the summit of Mount Rainier”.
So, this can be written as:
“I was startled by a deer that crossed my path while climbing Mount Rainier.” (14 words)
It’s the same statement, but nine words shorter.
3. Break Your Piece Down Into Smaller, Manageable Parts
This principle applies when there is a minimum number of words you must meet in your literary piece (remember school essays?).
Why am I including this in the mix? Because as a blogger, I learned that articles that are at least 1,000 words long fare much better than shorter ones in Google ranking.
It is a paradox for me as a writer who knows that shorter articles are better for readers but not for search engines. That is why we in the blogging business must always be mindful of SEO when producing content.
So, instead of writing lengthy explanations or descriptions for, let’s say three main points, spread out your word ammunition to around seven points.
This way, you please the search engine gods without giving the impression that your article is a long read.
4. Write in Active Instead of Passive Voice
Your writing will be shorter if you use an active voice.
Let me rephrase that:
Using an active voice makes your writing shorter.
See the difference? The original sentence in a passive voice has 11 words, while the second one in active voice only uses 8.
According to Merriam-Webster, the subject does the action in active voice, as expressed by the verb. In contrast, the subject is acted on or affected by the verb’s action in passive voice.
You need to use linking verbs such as will be, was, were, is, are, etc. to make your sentences grammatically correct in passive voice. Thus, more words.
5. Do Away with Unnecessary Transitions
You can skip transition words without disrupting the flow of your paragraphs.
While sometimes you needed to use indeed, moreover, furthermore, then, and other transition words in your prose, you can also delete them with no adverse effects on your composition.
“Moreover, the orchestra gave a rousing encore to the delight of the crowd.” You can readily delete the word moreover from this sentence without changing its full meaning.
6. Omit Needless Words
There are words you can chip away from sentences without changing their meanings.
From the top of my head, words such as very, pretty, that, though, even, or the can be systematically removed to reduce your word count.
For instance, “it’s pretty much the same” does not differ from “it’s the same”, except it has two more words.
“That” is another word that you can easily delete in many sentences without compromising their integrity.
For instance: “Girls that sport long hairs are more attractive to boys,” (10 words) means the same as “Girls sporting long hair are more attractive to boys,” (9 words).
7. Condense Multi-word Sentences
Carve out the fat from sentences to make them leaner.
During the editing phase, or even when you’re still writing, look out for wordy sentences you can destroy.
Example: “During the course of his campaign, the hopeful candidate makes it a point to knock on every door in each village he visits.” (23 words)
Can be condensed to “During his campaign, the candidate knocks on every door in each village he visits.” (14 words)
8. Cut Unnecessary Conjunctions
Conjunctions are words that connect two autonomous statements in one sentence.
Based on that description, you’d think they’re as essential as the couplings used to connect two pipes. In short, they are not.
You would even think that omitting and, or, but, and other conjunctions don’t mean a lot. Anyway, it’s just one measly 2 or 3-letter word you eliminated.
What you don’t see is that you are also breaking down one long sentence into two shorter ones. In most cases, this makes your statement easier to read and digest.
Example: The platoon obliviously entered the enemy’s territory that night, and the men were immediately ambushed by snipers and heavy artillery.
You could rewrite it as: The platoon obliviously entered the enemy’s territory that night. They were immediately ambushed by snipers and heavy artillery.
Shorter sentences improve readability. Use them.
9. Use Contractions
With contractions, you’re effectively merging two words into one.
This wouldn’t be hard, as we use these contractions in every casual English conversation we have. In fact, I’ve already used three of them in this section alone (you’re, wouldn’t, and I’ve).
Even in English-language movies, you’ll notice that the characters always use contractions in their dialogues.
The scriptwriters and directors know the actors wouldn’t sound right to the viewers if they speak in an old-fashioned manner (without contractions).
Other examples are:
- Cannot = Can’t
- Do not = Don’t
- Does not = Doesn’t
- Could not = Couldn’t
- Was not = Wasn’t
- It was = ‘Twas
- Where is = Where’s
- Let us = Let’s
- It will = It’ll
- Could have = Could’ve
- Who is = Who’s
10. Slay Unnecessary Adverbs and Adjectives
These “Ad” parts of the language have a common role in life: they are modifiers. Adverbs do it to Verbs, while Adjectives do it to Nouns.
Sure, they are essential to narratives such as novels, short stories, and biographies. But sometimes, you needed to cut them to make a more concise yet bolder statement.
The trick is to use stronger verbs and nouns to get your message across. This allows you to drop adverbs and adjectives that are weighing down your composition.
Example: The rigid learning program will last for six months and it strongly guarantees that your coding skills will tremendously improve within the said period. (24 words)
This can be rewritten as “The six months’ course guarantees to improve your coding skills in that period.” (13 words).
You’ll notice that the statement remains strong without the adverbs and adjectives.
To put it into perspective, the average reading speed for adults is a little over 250 words per minute. While their average attention span when reading an article is about 5 to 7 minutes.
So, unless you can write something really exciting that’ll keep them engaged beyond the said window, it’s advisable to conform to the norm.
Accept the fact that often, you need to chisel your piece to make it more palatable to your readers.