At a recent workshop on editing poetry, I was told to cut a third of my poem. That seemed impossible -- I had chosen the perfect words for my beautifully crafted poem. Each word needed to be there!
Except when I did the exercise, I realized there was a lot of clutter.
It's easy for clutter to creep into our writing. We add it, whether out of habit or because we think it makes us look more intelligent. But it scares readers away.
There are two copywriting offenders I avoid like the comments section on a news site: words that add length without adding any meaning, and words that make meaning less clear, rather than more.
This post will focus on words that make your copy longer, but not better, and I'll tackle the second offenders in another post.
Unnecessary length is an evil to be avoided because it loses your readers. They don't read, they scan. They are busy people and they don't have time to traipse through the jungle of cluttered copy. Your mission is to make their journey as easy as possible.
A good starting point is by looking for the words below, and taking out your red pen whenever you see them.
Words that make your copy longer, not better
that - that is a tricky but crucial one. While there are times it needs to be there, at times it sneaks in as an extra word without meaning. "He said that he regretted hitting reply-all" has the same meaning as "He said he regretted hitting reply-all" but with more words. Never choose more words.
believe - unless you're a church or another religious body in the business of belief, there's no need to waffle. "We believe in the power of technology to transform society" is much longer than "Technology transforms society" -- and look at how cutting believe let us cut other unnecessary words too.
seems - seems weakens your thought. "It seems the entire world has a crush on Justin Trudeau" is not as strong as "The entire world has a crush on Justin Trudeau."
very - you can cut out adverbs. Very, really, somewhat, mostly, generally -- take them all out. Say "we deliver quickly" rather than "we deliver very quickly" or "our clients are driven and professional" rather than "our clients are generally driven and professional."
just - "I'll just ask Sylvia" vs "I'll ask Sylvia." There's a gender dynamic to this one, too -- if you're a woman, just may be undermining what you're trying to say.
helping / working to - if the next word after helping or working to is another verb, take out the helping and the working to. "We are helping to create a better world" is longer and weaker than "We are creating a better world", and "Our company works to improve waste management" is weaker than "Our company improves waste management."
Just like that, your writing will be clearer and more concise without these six words and phrases. (And you'll also get better at knowing when the rules are meant to be broken, because there are times when a well-placed "just" has to be there.)
Looking to cut more?