I’m just between two publications – one is almost ready for print, the deadline for materials to the other is in a few days. Having edited a bunch of texts and returned a few for rewriting to their authors, I think it’s a good time to write about the art of writing a concise text.
All too often I receive an article with double the amount of text that was originally agreed on. And it’s quite understandable in the non-profit publications. Contributors rarely are writing for living, instead they most often are writing out of passion to the topic – they have much to say. I as the editor, on the other hand, have only limited amount of pages to offer. To make the equation work, cuts are inevitable.
This is not the perfect scenario for many reasons; the contributors often don’t like it, it increases the work load of the editing process and regarding some skillfully constructed articles it is difficult to cut any excess that really isn’t there.
Better to write to the correct length from the start.
One simple rule to writing goes a long way: planning. Plan ahead what you want to say about the topic. What are the angle, scope and elements of the text – is there going to be quotations from an interview, for example. Then allocate space for all these within you text range and take care not to overstep the limit.
If you find afterwards there’s too much text anyway, check that you haven’t fallen victim to the three major enemies of concise text:
- Redundancy. This is surprisingly common in all texts.
- Excessive use of adverbs and adjectives. One modifier is quite enough and often you don’t need any!
- Rambling. Is everything you’ve written really within the topic?
With these three things in control, you should be able to keep your text in line. And if you truly have too much to say for just one article, consider turning it into a series!
Hungry for more detailed advice? Mark Nichol at DailyWritingTips has some sound advice for streamlining your writing.