How to Write Tight

Cutting Verbiage
By L. Edward Carroll
Tutor at Creative Writing Institute

What’s wrong with simplicity? When you read a typical contract, business memo, or phone bill, that might be your first question. Those who construct such documents have their reasons for making them all but impossible to read but creative writers that want their readers to understand their message must simplify. It’s difficult to write easily read material.

Begin by deleting every word that isn’t absolutely essential. Look at multi-syllable words and replace them with shorter ones that convey the same meaning. According to William Zinsser’s, On Writing Well (p 7):

“Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what–these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.”

Writing is a process. No one writes perfect sentences from scratch. While writing your first draft, don’t be concerned with sentence construction, punctuation, proper grammar, and spelling. Get your thoughts down as fast as you can and don’t look back. After you’ve finished, get down to the business of editing and polishing.

Think conciseness. Get to the point quickly. Rewrite your sentences and see how many words you can save. For example, an excerpt from Quick Access (reference for writers) by Lynn Quitman Troyka (p 79) says:

“As a matter of fact, the television station which was situated in the local area had won a great many awards as a result of its having been involved in the coverage of all kinds of controversial issues.”

Why didn’t they just say – The local television station won many awards for its coverage of controversial issues.

Learn to spot empty words and phrases and eradicate them. Don’t use more than three prepositional phrases per sentence, and no more than two in consecutive order. Place “he said” and “she said” tags at the end of the sentence. Delete as many forms of the verb “is” as possible. On your last edit, replace the verbs with the jazziest verbs you can dream up. Balance long sentences by following them with two very short sentences. Get to the point! Get rid of the excess baggage and all that remains will be meat.

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2 thoughts on “How to Write Tight

  1. I’m terrible at editing my writing.After a point, I simply can’t judge my work. But keeping a few points from this letter in mind I think I should do better. Thank you for a very helpful letter!


    1. Welcome to the club! All of us have difficulty in editing our own writing. One great way is to read it out loud. That will make the errors jump out at you. Another good way is to read it aloud and record it. Wait a day and play the recording back. That’s a very effective way to pick it apart. A third option is to print it out. You’ll find that it’s always easier to edit a hard copy than to find your mistakes on a computer screen. Thanks for dropping by, Farheen.


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