6 exercises to help you write concise copy

Putting specific limits on the type or number of words you use will help you keep your writing crisp and bright.

I place a lot of emphasis on the art of writing concise copy. In another post I explained how to edit an article for brevity. In other words, I made the practice part of the workflow.

Now, I want you to step off the playing field and onto the practice field. We know the secret to going from good to great involves feedback, but it also involves deliberate, purposeful practice.

That’s what these six exercises are all about. Deliberate, purposeful practice.

1. Describe a broad or complicated subject in 100 words or fewer.

Think quantum mechanics. History of Western civilization. Choose a subject you love. One you know well. Could be a current event with lots of twists and turns. If you are at a loss for topics, search the front page of Wikipedia.

Once you’ve described the subject in 100 words or fewer, shoot for 50 words. Then 10 words. Find a new topic, and repeat.

2. Write a 100-word article using only monosyllabic words.

You know monosyllabic—words with just one syllable, such as bone, two, fierce, lie, spade, blow, hill, brain, dark.

Think this will be easy? It won’t. I have to use 12 (including two polysyllable words) to describe table (two syllables): “Flat surface with four legs made out of wood, metal, or glass.” Can you describe it in fewer than 13? You’ll probably need a thesaurus for this one.

3. Write a 100-word article only using active verbs.

Subject does the action is always faster and more descriptive than an object having something done to it. “Dorothy yelled at the waiter.” “The rhino gored the pumpkin.” “The twister devastated Joplin.”

4. Write a 100-word article only using simple sentences.

Take the same exercise in No.1, but try to limit your sentences to no more than four words. Short and snappy will be the sound you hear when you read aloud the article.

5. Describe a topic in a sonnet.

This is another variation on No. 1; this time, try to explain a complex or broad subject within the framework of a sonnet. You don’t have to rhyme or use iambic pentameter for each line, just get your story into 14 sentences of 10 syllables each. This will help you to write within boundaries and will teach you a little about poetry and help you pick up a style.

6. Describe a topic or idea using the PAS formula.

The PAS formula stands for Pain-Agitate-Solve—and the idea is to limit your idea to only two sentences per element so it looks like this: Insecure? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. However, stay that way and you’ll never accomplish anything of significance. Fortunately, the book “Insecure No More” can teach you how to be confident and courageous in just 30 days. Buy it now.

There was a period in my career when I had to write hundreds of succinct product descriptions. Without this formula I would’ve struggled.

Your turn

Consider tackling just one exercise a day. When you have finished, feel free to share you exercises in the comments below. I’d be happy to comment on them. A version of this article originally appeared on The Copybot.

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