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The Best Concise Writing Tip I Ever Learned

Posted By Christine On July 6, 2009 @ 3:23 pm In Concise writing, Your Voice Inc. | 1 Comment

Ever read a blog, an article, or an entire book and thought, “Wow, the author could have told me that in a few bullet points, a couple of paragraphs, or without those extra 100 pages”?

I learned the most basic and most critical tip for how to write more concisely in my English class back in middle school. I had to write a story about a personal event and was given only a time limit. When the class was finished the teacher asked us to count the number of words in our story.  I wrote about 1,000 words and was feeling very proud of myself, as if I had accomplished a great feat.

The teacher told us to take that same story and write it with HALF the number of words.  I did not believe it could be done, and my ego told me it was a perfect story just the way it was.   Reluctantly I started crossing out all of the unnecessary words.  When I recounted my words, I was surprised that I was able to cut the length in half and still tell a good story.

Once again, the teacher told us to cut that second version in half.  This time it was more difficult and I was forced to think of ways I could replace entire phrases or sentences with fewer words.  I was honing my writing skills and I didn’t even know it. When my 250-word story was finished, it was much better because I had carefully chosen words that kept the story interesting.

Note to Self: Writing and editing can be a very cerebral and complicated process, but don’t let it overwhelm you.  Go back to the basics, and back to the 7th grade: Count your words and start to see what you can do without.  It really works and it also respects the value of your readers’ time.

P.S. This blog was originally 566 words and with two attempts I was able to reduce it to 314 words.  To view the first version, click on the link below.

The Best Concise Writing Tip I Ever Learned

Ever read a blog, an article, or an entire book and think, “Wow, the author could have told me that in a few bullet points, a couple of paragraphs, or without those extra 100 pages”?  Our time has always been valuable and now with the explosion of social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, learning to write more potent content has been an essential tool for communication.

I learned the most basic, yet most critical tip for how to write more concisely when I was in middle school.  Each year the school held an elective week in which we did not attend our regular classes, but were given the opportunity to choose among special classes that would not affect our grades and were not regularly offered.  I remember picking a Creative Writing class because I thought it would be interesting and, truthfully, easy.

One of our assignments was to write a story about something that had happened to us.  The general guidelines were that we were given a length of time to write and we could write as much as we wanted.  When our time was up the teacher asked us to count the number of words of our story.  I remember coming up with about 1,000 words and feeling very proud of myself, as if I had accomplished a great feat.

We were then instructed to take that same story and write it with HALF the number of words.  We, or at least I, thought the teacher was crazy.  I proceeded to reread my story and started crossing out all of the unnecessary words.  When I recounted my words, I was surprised that I was able to cut the length in half and still relay an interesting story.

Surprisingly, we were once again instructed to cut our stories in half.  Like most children, I did not like to be told what to do, especially if it meant repeating the same process (or chore) over again.  But I thought that if I could do it once, I could do it again.  This time it was more difficult and I was forced to think of ways I could replace entire phrases or sentences with a few words that said the same thing.  In essence, I was honing my writing and storytelling skills.

When my 250-word story was finished, it was still interesting, but now it was also potent.  It had very carefully chosen descriptive words and phrases that engaged the audience.  I could not believe it could be done and when we were instructed to read our stories to the class individually, I was very appreciative that they were all short stories, both from a presenter’s point of view and as an audience member!

When trying to write a concise message we go through filtering questions in our minds without even realizing it.  “Is this necessary or relevant?  Can I do without this phrase?  Will another word or phrase have more impact?  Am I rambling, going off point or adding too much detail?”  When you look at writing and editing as a very cerebral and complicated process, go back to the basics.  Take the advice of the 7th-grade version of this writer “count your words (now we can use the Word Count feature), and challenge yourself to start crossing out words and consolidating details.  It works and it also respects the value of your readers’ time.  (566 words)


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