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Tips to Tighten Your Writing for Clarity

As skilled writers, we pride ourselves on our ability to craft a paragraph from a single sentence and create messages that have a lasting impact. However, writing is a skill that needs practice over-time, and there is always room to grow. New techniques evolve and styles adapt to break through the clutter. Crisp, clear and concise messages take work.

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. ~ Blaise Pascal

Sometimes, we forget about the basics. We forget how pivotal concise messages can be in gaining consumer or community attention. Tight sentences are easier for readers to decode; they increase readability and readership. Sentences with extra words, such as fluff instead of essential adjectives, can harm your messaging.

If you’re writing copy for a social media post or creating an email marketing strategy, word count is essential. Here are tips from Betsy Mikel at PR Daily and Karen Hertzberg at Grammarly to tighten your writing and improve your communications efficiency, internal or external messaging, or marketing.

1. Eliminate excess prepositions. Removing prepositions can cut multiple words from a sentence. Looking for opportunities to make something possessive is an easy way to do this.
Original: He serves as editor of the company newsletter.
Consider: He serves as a company-newsletter editor. OR: He edits the company newsletter.

2. Toss “there is” and “there are” from the beginning of a sentence. Rewrite your sentences to start them in a more interesting way.
Original: There is no reason I can think of to explain his behavior.
Consider: I can think of no reason to explain his behavior. OR: I can’t explain his behavior.

3. Lose linking verbs.
Original: Mary is a teacher at Glassboro High School.
Consider: Mary teaches at Glassboro High School.

4. Purge the passive voice.
Original: A significant budget reduction was accomplished by the research department.
Consider: The research department cut its budget significantly.

5. Cut long sentences in two. Keep your sentences to one idea. Punchy, attention-grabbing ideas stay with stakeholders. Readers get lost and bored if one sentence contains too many ideas.

6. Unleash the real verbs lurking in verb-nouns.
Original: Harry made a suggestion that we reschedule the meeting.
Consider: Harry suggested that we reschedule the meeting.

7. Don’t use “start to”. Did you start to cook dinner, or did you cook dinner? More likely than not, you don’t need “start to” in a sentence. Cut “in order to”. You rarely need it. That phrase drags your story out more than it needs to by delaying the meaty part of the sentence.
Original: I am going to the kitchen in order to make a sandwich.
Consider: I am going to the kitchen to make a sandwich.

8. Replace “thing” with a better word. Oftentimes “thing” is a sign of lazy writing. Try to replace all “thing” or “things” with a more descriptive word.

9. Steer clear of the -ing trap. Whenever you see an “-ing” in your copy, think twice about whether you need it–because you probably don’t.

10. Cut “were” or “was” and replace that “-ing” with past tense.
Original: We were starting to read the book.
Consider: We started to read the book.

11. Create an outline. When writing without a proper structure, you can start to ramble without making your intended point. Set your ideas in an outline, so you know which path to follow in your piece.

12. Let your writing rest. Acting as an editor and a writer is critical for tight writing, but it can be difficult to switch between them. After writing a draft, let your mind rest and reset to editor-mode before returning to make changes. 

13. Read your writing out loud. Reading your writing out loud is a great way to see the parts you stumble over. Try to revise the parts where you stumble, so they can be said or read easier. 

14. Keep a list of mistakes you make often. After you finish your first draft, pull out your list of common mistakes. Having them easily accessible allows you to identify mistakes quickly and revise accordingly. 

15. Avoid cliches. Look for overused phrases that could be rewritten in a fresh way.

Look for overused phrases and rewrite them in a fresh way.

No matter how extensive your experience as a writer, practicing these tips will increase your message clarity. Next time you write that first, second, or perhaps the third draft, pull out this checklist (or copy and paste into Grammarly) and tighten your copy to increase message effectiveness.

Published on: November 16, 2020