5 ways to trim the fat from your writing

If you have resolved to shed a few pounds in 2015, consider slimming down your writing, too.

Americans set their new year’s resolutions in a fairly predicable pattern. The same 10 resolutions are popular, year after year. Top of the list? Losing weight.

While many writers, editors and PR professionals will be hitting the gym and lunching on salads in 2015, there is more than one type of weight to lose. This year, why not resolve to tighten your writing and eliminate extra words and redundant phrases?

Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Use concise language and eliminate redundancies.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

Some words add very little to your content. Pruning phrases is an easy way to tighten your writing (use “mystery” instead of “unsolved mystery”; use “revert” instead of “revert back”). You can also cut out extraneous phrases, such as “all things considered” and “due to the fact that.”

2. Choose simple words over complex words.

The use of unfamiliar or complex terms interferes with comprehension and slows readers down. Readers may even skip terms they don’t understand, hoping to find the meaning in the rest of the sentence (use “carry out” instead of “implement”; use “improve” instead of “ameliorate”).

“Good writing consists of trying to use ordinary words to achieve extraordinary results,” James Mitchner said.

3. Choose your adjectives carefully.

The use of indirect and unclear descriptors can cause readers to ignore or misinterpret your message. The same goes for adjectives that have lost their meaning through overuse or misuse (“unique,” “amazing,” “revolutionary”). Descriptors should be precise.

According to Mark Twain, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

4. Mind your verbs.

In the words of poet Jerriann Wayahowl Law, “Respect the verbs in your life.”

A common problem with corporate writing is that it’s full of lazy, meaningless verbs. Words such as “Utilize,” “implement,” “leverage,” “disseminate” jumble writing and weaken messages. Choose clear, active verbs instead of throwaway ones (use “send” instead of “disseminate”; “start” instead of “implement”).

5. Strive for clarity

No matter who it is, your audience will appreciate language that is clear and concise. Avoid jargon. Cut clichés and buzzwords from your writing. Use the active voice and strong verbs. And remember the words of Clarice Lispector, “I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.”

Ragan.com readers, how do you trim the fat from your writing?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily . Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.


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