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Q: How can you make your writing 50% better?

A: Cut out 33% of the words.

I’ve been reading a series of articles by Jason Zweig, a writer for the Wall Street Journal. The figures above are his.

He is a strong advocate for cutting your writing. As he put it:

The point of cutting your writing isn’t to make it shorter. The point of cutting it is to make it better.

He goes so far as to outline his method for cutting words. Here it is:

  1. Include everything you want to include in your draft.
  2. Keep a copy of the draft for posterity.
  3. Find the weakest paragraph and delete it. Then the next weakest. Do that until you can find no more weak paragraphs.
  4. Next, delete the weakest sentences.
  5. Then delete all the adverbs. If you choose the right verb you don’t need an adverb.
  6. Last, there could still be some minor nips and tucks you can make to tighten up what’s left.

Note that this strategy starts with a chainsaw and ends with a scalpel. In my experience as a teacher, too many people start with the scalpel, deleting a word here and there. That approach is not going to yield a dramatic improvement in the writing.

Don’t underestimate the power of editing. It makes all the difference in communicating your message effectively.

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