15 Ways to Write Tight

You’re busy, I know. So are the people you want to be read by.

Then why do you go on and on? Why does it take so long to take get to the point?

Why can’t you follow the examples of Chris Brogan, Ernest Hemingway and other masters and write tight?

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start with a clear idea of what you want to write about. This prevents wordy wandering.
  2. Build trimming and polishing into your writing time. It is part of the process.
  3. Copy your first draft. This way you can chop aggressively with no worries. Once you have made your document as short as possible, you can add back anything you regret cutting loose. You should be surprised by how little there is.
  4. Delete individual words that are redundant. For example, why write “free complimentary” webinar when “free” and “complimentary” mean the same thing?
  5. Zap words, especially the big ones, that have snuck in from your professional or technical jargon. Speak your readers’ language; don’t try to teach them yours.
  6. Nuke anything that could be replaced by “ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.”
  7. Scrutinize your adjectives and adverbs. Do they help readers understand what you’re saying? Reduce, refine or remove.
  8. Replace fuzzy expressions with precise terms.
  9. Reorganize. In the heat of writing, words and ideas often get misplaced. If you move them to where they belong, you may find many can be shortened or deleted.
  10. Pretend you are being charged money for each word you write.
  11. Think about how you would tweet your content.
  12. Replace longer descriptions with links for the relatively few people who want more information.
  13. Make sure your statistics, arguments, stories or other content support your most important ideas. The more clutter you clear, the more brilliantly your diamonds will shine.
  14. Never, ever try to word to a certain word length. Just because the space is there, you don’t have to use it. Remember that most people will focus on the introduction and not read to the end.
  15. Detach yourself emotionally from your words. When I first started writing professionally, I was crushed when editors would tell me to chop by a third. Turns out they were right. Writing tight is so much better.

Any tips to add? Please share them in the comments.

About the author:

Toronto writer and blogger Barb Sawyers is the author of Write Like You Talk Only Better, the secret to pulling ideas out of your head and onto the page.

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40 thoughts on “15 Ways to Write Tight”

  • ntathu allen says:

    Great tips. Had a chuckle when reading “Pretend you are being charged money for each word you write.”. Definitely brought your message home. take care and thanks

  • guest says:

    Great list! I’d add to watch for “that” problem…that is, overuse of filler words like “that” which don’t add anything to what you’re writing.

  • #3 is a great idea. I always start a new file called ‘cut parts’ which I have to fish through to find something I remember being there before. Copying the document is good advice.

    Thanks!

  • Sam says:

    Thank you so much for posting these tips. I even used your site as a reference site for m university English class. English is not my first language, so I found the site very useful.

  • Because our time is limited, this article really hit the mark. I will keep these tips in mind when wrting my blog!

  • Thanks for the excellent tips. I’ve printed and intend to practice your advice.:)

  • Khaalidah says:

    6 and 7 are my favorites. Ya da ya da ya da…

  • Here’s another tip to add to your terrific list: READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. Somehow, wordiness becomes so much more apparent when you’re reading out loud. (For instance, if you have to gasp for breath, that’s a good sign your sentence is too long!!)

    • Chioma says:

      these tips are terrific. came at a time when i thought elaborate descriptions were good. obviously less is more. # 1 and #10 hit home. good article.

  • Liz says:

    Here’s another idea to add.

    Keep your intro paragraph short and to the point using tips 1,6,8,12. Start with a factual statement that is closely related to your topic and quickly lead into the body.

    So many writers, and I’ve been guilty of it myself, often get too wordy at the start of an article or post. You lose readers that way.

  • Sean Chang says:

    Hi Barb,

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Here’s one I picked up from A-List Blogger Club – write in short sentences.

    This would naturally keep the writing succinct and make it easier to read as well.

    @Khaalidah: I like #6 too. Totally cracked me up!

    My nightmare would be to end up with nothing but radiation after this step. Lol.

  • The Writer's Midwife says:

    These are great . . . thanks.

    I’d like to add: Stay in touch with your body’s internal feedback system as you write.
    It’s almost always the case that when I disconnect from my body, my writing gets
    too “heady” and will end up feeling disconnected to my readers. Stop periodically
    to close your eyes, breathe, make sure you’re still in touch with the main purpose
    of your communication, and then have at it!

    Happy writing to all.
    Elianne

  • Your post has inspired me… ;-)

    15 Ways to Write Tighter

    You’re busy, and so is your potential audience, so don’t take so long to get to the point! Follow the example of Ernest Hemingway and write tight. Here’s how:

    – Start with a clear idea of what you want to write. Stay on target.

    – Build trimming and polishing into your writing process.

    – Chop aggressively, but don’t discard your first draft. Once your piece is short as possible, add back anything you can’t live without.

    – Eliminate redundancy.

    – Eliminate jargon and big words.

    – Reduce, refine or remove adjectives and adverbs unless they are essential to the reader’s understanding.

    – Be precise, not wordy.

    – Pretend every word costs you money.

    – Be concise as a tweet.

    – Replace long descriptions with links to more information.

    – Be sure statistics, arguments and anecdotes support your most important ideas.

    – Never worry about the word count.

    – Detach yourself from your words. They serve you, not the other way around.

    Please share your best tips in the comments!

  • Tabita Green says:

    I think being a minimalist helps when you’re writing. Just like I get a thrill from taking a bag of stuff to Goodwill, I get a thrill from chopping extraneous words, sentences, or even paragraphs. Great list. Thanks!

  • Linda H says:

    Love this post! I’ve read so many articles that are ya da ya da ya da, written by presumed professionals it’s incredible.

    Article intros vary according to how you learned to write. Journalists may bury the facts to get readers to read more for filler space…. sad but true. Writers place facts up front so the who, what, when, where, how and why are in the beginning. Huge difference.

    Thanks for sharing these points.

  • This is a good list, Barb. Thanks. I especially like number 6: ‘Nuke anything that could be replaced by “ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.”’

    Writing song lyrics or poetry is a good way to learn to write tight. There’s no room to waste a word in a three-and-a-half minute song or a potent poem!

  • Brandon Dean says:

    #15 I wouldn’t say detach yourself emotionally from your words. Emotion is what makes you feel a connection when reading. I think a better tip (or wording) would be: Detach yourself from thinking you need to write a 500 word section to be emotionally conveying. Hope that helps!

  • Trevor says:

    Informative post.

    I find it useful to brainstorming every thought without judgement (5 minutes) then eliminating the extraneous and creating an outline in point form. Then I create a thesis statement or summary sentence. If it takes more than one sentence, it will be to complex for a blog post or article.

    When editing, I look and listen for ways to use more interesting language, as well as cutting anything that distracts from the central focus.

    As Daphne pointed out, read it aloud, or better yet, have someone else read it to you, a great way to find out if you are really as funny as you think!

  • Verb Sleuth says:

    Good post! May I suggest using active verbs, as Matthew Selznick did above my computer. Using active verbs calls for attribution, and eliminates using ‘it’ or ‘that’.

    Thanks for your post.

  • Verb Sleuth says:

    Sorry! Some editor, I. That should read, above my comment.

  • Pankaj Rai says:

    Envisage practical tips for systematic & organised writting.

  • Patrick says:

    Stopped reading after you mentioned Hemingway and Chris Brogan in one sentence.

    • Patrick, you gave me my first laugh of the day.

      There’s a reason the author name-drops Brogan, of course… just as there’s a reason I was able to chop the word count in half (see above.) I suspect it has everything to do with SEO.

      Brogan’s name in the same breathe as “other masters” stuck out like a sore thumb and screamed “keyword,” which detracted from the author’s perceived authority and is also why I cut it.

      The verbosity in an article about brevity puzzled me… until I realized the original word count was just past 300 words — what some advise to be the minimum to pass Google’s “worthwhile content” test.

      There are good points in the post… but to me, it breaks its own rules and the author was a bit too concerned with writing to the machine and not the reader.

  • Hi Barb,
    I wholeheartedly agree. It’s harder to write “short” than “long”. I have a word limit to my blog posts and my first draft usually exceeds it. What works best for me is to chisel down in any way I can to respect the limit. I’m always surprised at how I can get my point across with fewer words. This works like magic for me! It challenges me to be succinct.
    It’s funny how it takes longer to write a shorter piece!
    Lori

  • Jodie Renner says:

    Excellent points, Barb! And you write so succinctly! You obviously follow your own advice! :-)

    I’ve just posted part II of a similar article, called “Cut the Clutter and Streamline Your Writing,” with tips and examples, if anyone wants to check it out at Crime Fiction Collective: http://crimefictioncollective.blogspot.ca

    Thanks again for these great tips!

    Jodie

  • Thomas says:

    This is great! It’s like a high school english class wrapped up into a simple 1-page read!

  • I should hang this list over my desk.
    And practice: Don’t be wordy. Get the right word. Don’t be redundant.
    Your ideas are great. Thank you.

  • Sally Spratt says:

    Thanks for the list. It’s printed and hanging over my desk right now.

  • Kelly Cousineau says:

    Barb
    Thanks for writing this article. I particularly enjoyed the rhyme in the title.

    As a novice writer, your original 15 tips, plus the tips you generated from others will help me in my pursuit of brevity.

    As a first time blogger, I was also intrigued by the comments related to serving the SEO gods. Will you please respond to these?

  • Julie Thomas says:

    Very good tips. I would also add, try writing radio commercials. Try selling the main concept of your piece in less than 72 words, so it can be comfortably read aloud in 30 seconds. Nothing teaches you brevity more than having to entertain and sell your point in no more than 72 words to an audience that would rather not be listening to you.
    Julie

  • eleanor says:

    #14 *work :)

  • Duff Johnson says:

    Loved the list. I would add one more:

    “Almost every sentence over 1 line in length should be cut in half.”

Comments are closed.