How to trim your writing
When time and space are limited it is important to keep
writing short; whether it be a report, article or proposal. Here are a
handful of hints to help you trim your writing from the get-go.
After spending countless hours writing a report for your executive
committee, word comes back from your director; "it is good, but way too
long". You are left frustrated and in a panic because you can't see
anything extraneous about it and have no idea where to start cutting
back. What do you do?
Similar situations come up quite often in the sports business world with
reports, articles, proposals, and executive summaries. Inspired by the
Harvard Business School Publishing's 'Guide to Better Business Writing',
here are a handful of hints to help you trim your writing from the
get-go, without losing the meaning.
Hint no.1: Shift to an informal tone
Writing a report or proposal may naturally
cause you to write in a formal, bureaucratic tone. As a result, you will
lean towards using bigger, more sophisticated words and complex
sentences. However, if you downshift to an informal tone, you may you're
your writing becomes shorter. One way is to use contractions like
'we're' instead of we are, or use personal pronouns. You can always go
back to revise later, but writing the first draft this way will set you
off in the right direction.
Hint no.2: Take a good look at the structure
The old advice from our teachers was
to introduce our message with introductory paragraphs and preview each
point that will be made thereafter. This goes well for longer reports
and essays, but when you are strapped for space, (and time!) there is no
need to announce what you'll say - just say it. Also, if a section
exists mostly for show, go ahead and cut it. Readers don't know what you
planned to write, so they won't miss it if its not there. Let anything
go that doesn't emphasise your main point.
Hint no.3: Shorten a sentence whenever you can
The best sentences are often the
shortest. The cumulative effect of shortening sentences and phrases can
be great, even if each change saves just a little space. Additionally,
excessive verbiage and sentences can disguise the main point and leave
you with an ineffective piece. Over 75% of revision is in eliminating
words, the other 25% is improving those that remain.
Hint no.4: Replace longer words with shorter, simpler ones
In the search of
shortening sentences, one should not overlook the actual words used. It
is generally better to use the shorter, 'familiar' synonym, like
"shorten" for a word than the fancier, perhaps more precise word,
"abbreviate". This holds especially true in the international sports
world where not everyone speaks the same language and where documents
are often translated.
Hint no.5: Use formatting creatively
It may seem like diagrams take up a lot of
space. However, they may help you cut down on the words needed to
explain your message. Tables work well for comparing and contrasting
because they keep you from having to repeat concepts and names in the
running text. Maps and flowcharts can convey complex relationships in an
easy-to-understand way. And, as an extra added bonus, the audience's
expectations may change when looking at a diagram.