Trimming Your Copy Down to Size

You’ve been asked to cut down your press release so it can fit into a newspaper, or to trim the content of your brochure or website to match your designer’s specifications. You are sure that absolutely every word you’ve written is essential or illuminating and you can’t bear to get rid of a single woHow will your customers know what you’re offering them if half the content you’ve slaved to create is missing?

As a journalist accustomed to sticking to the stringent word-counts imposed by editors, there is always a way to say what you want with fewer words. The process of editing is a little like losing weight; the first few words fall off easily. In an earlier blog entry, I spoke about the importance of identifying an angle. This is the easiest way to reduce the weight of your words. Everything that does not fit with that angle can be removed.You probably secretly know the parts which are less relevant anyway.

The next step to take is to trim the sentences themselves. If you’ve included a quote in your press release, or testimonials on your website, they can usually be trimmed down. If you’ve got a long, rambling sentence, they can usually be chopped in half. If you read through the document, you will probably find that you have repeated yourself several times in an effort to make yourself understood. Get rid of the repetitions and keep the sentence that expresses your point with the fewest words. Another way to shorten a sentence is to get rid of the passive voice. The passive voice does not identify the person who does the action, so it can lead to ambiguous and awkward sentences. It’s best to use an active voice, identifying yourself and your company as the entity delivering the action. This automatically shortens your sentence.

For example:

The range of home-based services offered is extensive and of very high quality.

can become

We offer an extensive range of high-quality home-based services.

This may appear to be only a slight shortening, but every little helps. Shorter sentences will lead to a more streamlined article.

Another way to reduce bulk is to get rid of adjectives. Adjectives appear to be a writer’s best friends and it’s easy to luxuriate in the colourful, vibrant images they can create. But one well chosen adjective is far more descriptive.

Our chocolates will give you a delicious, sensuous and enriching eating experience.

can be trimmed down to.

Our chocolates will give you a sensuous experience.

Choose the adjectives which most accurately reflects the benefits your products and service bring. In this case, chocolates work on the senses, so sensuous is the best one to choose.

Finally, avoid overused words. This is a great way of removing those last few stubborn words that refuse to shift. ‘Would’ and ‘and.’ are words that work well in spoken communication, but add unnecessary weight to sentences when written down. ‘And’ can easily be replaced by a comma.

Reliability and consistency and thoroughness are the watchwords of our business

can be replaced by:

Reliability, consistency and thoroughness are the watchwords of our business.

Meanwhile, instead of writing, ‘I would have to say that our products offer real value for money,’ why not simply say.  ‘Our products offer real value for money.” It effectively halves the length of your sentence.

Above all, be ruthless. There is always a shorter route to getting your message across. The greatest ideas in history have been expressed in one line or less, ‘I think, therefore I am, E=MC2, D’oh! So take a scalpel to your documents. You have a great message to get across.  Good editing will remove all ambiguity and allow your message to shine.


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