Do your editors find your business writing wordy? Vague? Unclear? Follow these five quick tips to trim your writing down, clarify your ideas into plainer English and keep your writer engaged.
Tip 1: Remove False Subjects
False subjects (i.e. there is, it is, there are, this is), usually lie at the top of a sentence and displace the main subject. To remove false subjects, simply use the find function in Microsoft Word for the words, (“this,” “there,” etc.), and reframe the sentence to avoid the structure. Examples follow:
- False subject— It is possible he won’t qualify for the job.
- Real subject – He won’t qualify for the job.
- False subject – There is a lot of gossip in our neighborhood about the school closing down.
- Real subject – Neighbors gossip about the school closing down.
Tip 2: Eliminate Wordy Phrases
Look for wordy phrases in your writing. Examples include:
- At this time vs. now
- At which time vs. then
- Based on the fact that vs. due to/because
- In a number of cases vs. many, or some
- It is obvious that vs. obviously
Tip 3: Avoid Hedging Phrases
“I think that,” “in my opinion,” “I believe that,” “If it were up to me, we’d do XYZ.” Hedging phrases add nothing but wordiness to your writing. We know you think your idea because you’re writing the idea down, so rip these unnecessary phrases out.
Tip 4: Use Concrete Words and Strong Verbs
Straightforward words and strong vs. weak verbs help remove wordiness, and make your writing clearer. Bottom line: Remove words you wouldn’t use in daily conversation. Consider the following examples:
- Assistance vs. help
- Encounter vs. meet
- Inform vs. tell
- Make a decision vs. decide
- Make an announcement vs. announce
- Come to an agreement vs. agree
Also, look for weak to-be verbs (is, was, were, would, could, etc.) and replace these wordy constructions with more active verbs instead.
Tip 5: Finesse By Hand, Mind and Ear
Years of daily practice makes news reporters and journalists excellent self-editors. Consider the following newsroom tips on how to expertly proof your final work:
- Proof by hand. In your final edit, print out your document and remove any extraneous words, such as “this,” “that,” constructions etc. by pen. Having the hard copy in your hands frees up your mind to edit more aggressively.
- Read your writing aloud. If you stumble reading your sentences, chances are your reader will struggle following your thought. Reading aloud also helps ensure you have varied sentence patterns—another tip for tight writing.
- Space out your first and final draft. Often the best self-editing ideas emerge after a good break. Your mind needs time to absorb the content and analyze the validity of your structure, research, and language. Some writers (like me) edit best immediately after painting, or some other indulgent and restful activity. Allowing my mind time to relax helps me become more decisive after. So, ensure you’ve exercised, relaxed, and preferably slept well, before your final polish of your writing.
Follow these five quick tips and you’ll shave words, even paragraphs, off your business writing. Happy editing!
Debbi G McCullough runs Hanging Rock Media, an editorial services company, and edits and writes for the Guardian’News & Media Guardian Labs studio. She also teaches business communication part-time at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.