Put your writing on a diet

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Slimming down what you write needn’t mean your copy loses weight – it actually makes it stronger. Important points will stand out more and people will be more likely to read it.

We all cave into temptations now and again such as stuffing our copy with redundant words. But just as you might choose an apple instead of a cupcake (yeah, right) try to choose less flabby words and phrases for your writing.

The word ‘that’ is a good place to start.Most of the time you don’t need ‘that’ in a sentence. Here’s an example:

“And while I’m not denying that I could be allergic to my cat, there’s no doubt that he lifts my spirits and that his presence is extremely therapeutic.”

Remove all three ‘thats’ in the above sentence and not only does it still make sense, it’s now nice and trim.

I’m not suggesting we should eliminate ‘that’ altogether – it’s often very necessary – but avoid it when it doesn’t add anything.

Just and really.

Like ‘that’ these words are very often redundant:

“I’m just thinking about leaving early.”

“I’m really trying to help you write more effectively.”

In these examples, not only are both words unnecessary, they actually weaken the sentence. They sound hesitant and apologetic.

In order to. Now here’s a phrase I find particularly bothersome. It’s so flabby and chunky, and I can’t think of an instance when it would be necessary. Why not just say, ‘to’?

“He left the house early in order to avoid the traffic.”

“He left the house early to avoid the traffic.” Nothing wrong with that.

If you’re tempted to use ‘in order to’, try using ‘to’ on its own and you’ll find your sentence reads better. And it will certainly be less stuffy.

The opportunity to. I come across this quite a lot when editing copy written by people in education or public services. Here’s what I mean:

“Children are given the opportunity to take part in outdoor activities.”

Why not: “Children can take part in outdoor activities.”  Or if you want to emphasise it a little more, “Children get to take part in outdoor activities.”

Solutions. This is a particular bugbear of mine. It’s so over-used and usually has no purpose in a sentence. It doesn’t sound punchy or of the moment – anything but. And in almost every instance it can be removed without affecting the sentence. Other than to improve it that is.

Here are some examples:

“We offer the most efficient window cleaning solutions in your area.” (Unless we’re talking about the stuff that goes into the water of course.)

“We’re well placed to offer your clients a pension solution that meets their needs.”

You see? Bye-bye solution – you won’t be missed.

Here are some more flabby words and phrases and their slimmer alternatives:

Flabby                                                                        Slim

adjacent to                                                                near

at this moment in time                                           now

a total of 14 birds                                                     14 birds

circle around                                                             circle

completely unanimous                                          unanimous

cooperate together                                                  cooperate

consensus of opinion                                            consensus

in spite of the fact that                                            in spite of

In the red examples the redundant word says the same thing.

So before you hit send, cut out the carbs and give your copy a little work out. Its slimmer style will be much clearer, will grab more attention, and it will be easier to read.

Happy dieting. Now where’s that skyscraper sized Toblerone …










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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. And speaking of useful - scroll down and take a look at the Oxford Dictionaries tool.

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