Hard-core editing - when every word counts

Sometimes, every word counts. Maybe clients or tutors prescribe a word-limit. Or bosses won’t read beyond a page. Maybe you've a section that annoyingly spills just onto the next page. You could remove a sentence or adjective... but assume you can’t, you need them all.

Below are  ways to reduce word-count - the italicised words aren't needed. Simply remove them, no rephrasing needed.

That: “We’re sure that he’ll attend”

Which: “The car which I built is fast”

The: “The bosses thanked the staff for their input”

Possessives: “Edit your reports to ensure they’re concise”

... and edit a bit more: “Edit reports to ensure they’re concise”

Repeating personal pronouns: “You're selling and you want to close”

Introductions: “It should be noted I like it”. Or: “it must be recognised...

Introductions with added emphasis: “It’s most important to note I like it”

Saying the same thing twice: “It was confusing and tough to understand

(This last one - saying the same thing twice - happens a lot. Very often. Regularly.)


Next are ways to reduce word- or page-count but which require a slight rewrite:

Use contractions: I’m here, not I am here.

Use the active voice: Pat did it, not it was done by Pat.

Reverse sentences: it confused me, not I didn’t understand it.

Avoid gerunds (they end in –ing): it confused, not it was confusing.

Avoid the obvious: reports, not written reports (it's obviously written...)

Use defined terms: I like the ‘graphs’ section, not I like the section on graphs.

Use better words: tolerate, not put up withEnsure, not make sureCan't, not am not able to.

Use plurals: write good reports, not write a good report. This also helps avoid the he/she conundrum when writing:

With the conundrum: “Be nice to the boss, she prefers it”
Without it: “Be nice to bosses, they prefer it”

Notice in the above list, I use the word not, not instead of. Or - I suppose - I use not, instead of instead of

Use short words. Adopt, not implementStart, not commence. Also, if using illustrative names and numbers, choose short ones: “Fiji’s six secrets”, not “Australia’s seventeen secrets”. When I write, I talk about Lincoln, not Martin Luther King. About Pat, not Victoria. About IT and HR, not Marketing and Compliance. I also – if pushed for space - give three examples, not four (“IT, HR, Sales, Finance”).

Try reversing sentences, plus use so or “-“, not because. Compare these:

“People like it because it beats doing real work”
“It beats doing real work, so people like it”
“People like it – it beats doing real work”


Individually, each tip doesn't do much. Collectively, they cut reports by 10% easily – and 25% sometimes. Without loss of meaning. Your writing is more direct too.


Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | jon@jmoon.co.uk | www.jmoon.co.uk

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