Remember in school when you were asked to write a three-page paper on a subject you could only write a paragraph about? I’m sure you employed all the tricks—double spacing, using lofty, cumbersome, long-winded phrases to put as many words as possible in your sentences, widening the margins, etc. to make the paper the required length. Well, I must admit, I did too. However, as a web content writer I am on the other end of the spectrum and usually required to edit my work down to the lowest word count possible. Why? So people will read it!
If we create content, we must be kind to our readers and write succinctly. They want your information, but they don’t have time to wade through excess verbiage!
So how do you turn 75 words into 25? Let’s find out.
When a client asks me to edit a biography, or piece of descriptive copy, the decision making process begins. I ask myself, what can I take out without letting the message fail?
TECHNIQUES FOR THE FIRST EDIT
Cut the Words. Save the Message. Basically, I write the content in as few words as possible. Then I look at it again to see what I can take out. And I keep doing that until I can’t cut any more words without losing the message.
Here’s my actual editing “blueprint” for an Eblast I recently did for a company that provides personal services. Eblasts as you know, must be as short and engaging as possible. People don’t have patience to read for information. You have 3-5 seconds to make the impression. Yet I was required to keep all information in the text, but make it as succinct as possible.
Original text from the client:
If you are still taking your own dry cleaning out you are missing out on a big convenience, excellent quality, and turnaround reliability right here ….all at competitive prices. We have a great dry cleaners that picks up and delivers here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and orders are returned in two days (except weekends). You can drop off and pick up with a Leasing Consultant anytime that the office is open, including Sundays. Our cleaners uses only organic materials, which preserve the fabrics and leave them feeling softer. Also, their pressing is exceptional.
The length is 92 words. Wouldn’t you rather read 69?
THE FIRST EDIT:
Stop the drycleaning drops! Take advantage of our convenient, reliable drycleaning pickup for our residents, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Our competitively-priced, high-quality cleaners use organic materials, to preserve the fabric and produce softer clothes. Clothes are pressed with precision and care and returned in two days (except weekends). Drop off, pickup and valet bags for your convenience are available at the leasing office during business hours, including Sundays.
So what were some of the techniques I used to condense and edit this version?
Use Action Words. Good copy motivates readers to do something. When I write, I try to motivate the reader by the words I choose. Depending on the medium (in this case an Eblast where the reader will not have much patience to read), dropping the reader into the action rather than explaining a situation can work best. In this case I encourage the reader to “Stop the drycleaning drops!” and “Take advantage” of a convenience. Not only do action words reduce word count, they also make a more interesting read.
Combine Sentences. When you combine two or more related sentences, you usually save words. In this case I took parts of several of their first, second and fifth sentences and got across many of the ideas within in my first two sentences.
Take care when combining sentences. As you become more comfortable combining, it is easy to lose words, especially important ones that describe the important features and benefits of the product. In this case these included:
- Quality (cleaning)
- Competitive prices
- Schedule (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
- Organic materials and benefits
As you edit, make sure you retain all of these important points, as I have done in EDIT ONE.
THE SECOND EDIT
Now, I look at the writing to see if it can be edited further. Guess what? It could! I got it down to 58 words with no loss of message…
Usually when you do this, you create more readable content.
Imagine..hassle-free drycleaning! Take advantage of convenient, reliable drycleaning pickup for residents, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Our competitively priced cleaners use organic materials, for softer, longer-lasting clothes. Garments are pressed with precision and returned in two business days. Drop off, pickup and valet bags for your convenience are available at the leasing office during business hours, including Sundays.
So what did I do now?
Clinch the Opener! If you are writing marketing content, as this is, you must grab the reader’s attention right away. I spend a lot of time developing the opening line of my content as I know it will make or break the reader’s decision to continue reading. In this case, I wanted to quickly bring the reader into the reality of using the service. While “Stop the Drycleaning Drops!” does that as well, I felt the version in EDIT TWO had the same effect in a more positive way. Which do you like better?
Rewrite the Awkward. The client described the cleaner as using organic materials “to preserve the fabrics and leave them feeling softer.” In my first edit, I changed it to read “ to preserve the fabric and produce softer clothes.” Better, but not quite right. I finally ended up using adjectives to describe the service: “for softer, longer-lasting clothes.”
Examine the Writing for Repetition or unnecessary adjectives. In this version I realized I had the word “clothes” repeated in sentence three and four. Try not to do this or you will bore the reader. And they will wonder why you couldn’t think of another word! So I started the next sentence with the word “garments.” I also removed the words “and care” from the description of the pressing. After all, if you are pressing precisely, you are pressing with care. Again, cut the words, keep the message!
TIPS FOR GENERAL EDITING
In general, none of us likes to cut anything from our writing and most of us think everything we write is truly necessary. However, as you struggle about what to cut from your writing, ask yourself this question: If I cut this word/phrase will the reader still get the message? If yes, cut away!
Try to eliminate parentheses. As a rule I try to avoid parentheses in my copy because I feel they jar the reader as they make their way through a fluid passage. In EDIT TWO I omitted the parenthetical text (except weekends) by simply saying it more succinctly—the drycleaning takes two business days.
Say it Specifically. Most of my edits from ONE to TWO had to do with saying things more simply and specifically. In general, this is what we strive to do in our editing. Can you say it more easily? Many times we just use too many words. Period!
Bullet Points I can’t talk about editing without talking about bullet points. In this day and age, we look for and expect to see bullet points in content. If you ever find yourself listing in your content, such as…
…use bullet points! The reader will thank you for it by reading them through!
In fact, the reader will thank you for all your editing hard work, hopefully with a response to your call to action! If you are looking to turn 100 words into 25, and need some editing assistance, feel free to contact me.