Mastering the Art of Writing Shorter

Hands down, the biggest challenge for me throughout college was learning how to write shorter. Prior to mastering this art, I would sit down, get comfortable and then go to town on my assignment. Whether it was an end of the year research paper for my American history course, a short essay for that Intro to Philosophy class or a story for my fiction writing seminar, it always turned out the same: pages proliferated with beautifully unnecessary jargon that made the final product spill over into an insanely long document. While it was well-crafted and still read fluently, it was invaded by words that could have been omitted, sentences that could have been consolidated and phrases that sometimes didn’t even belong. Ouch.

It was a hard pill to swallow, yet I nonetheless washed it down with a refreshing gulp of pride and eagerness to keep trying. It wasn’t until I strolled into my Business and Professional Writing class that I was hit with an almost unbearable dose of reality…I write way too much.

Thanks to this class and the never-ending learning process, I now take pride in my ability to quickly turn this writing mindset on and off. And now as a content marketer targeting an audience with an average attention span of only seconds, this has become more helpful than I ever would have foreseen.

Here are some best practices I can pass along to those of you still plagued by the insatiable need to keep writing:

Do the word limit challenge: Sit yourself down and give yourself a word limit to abide by. Whether it’s 100, 50 or only 20 words, don’t stop writing until you’ve successfully gotten your message across while remaining within this boundary. How else do you think you’re going to confine your company’s tale to only 140 characters on Twitter?

Keep a close eye on lists: Bullet points or numbered lists can sometimes overwhelm your writing. Are you trying to compile a list of top honeymoon destinations? Just list them. Are you attempting to bring forth the top three features of your company’s core offering? Let ‘em rip, but steer clear of adjectives and descriptive pronouns (“I,” “We,” “He/She”) that could make them sound too personal.

Get your head(line) checked: The headline is essentially the brain of your work. It should never be more than one sentence and should condense words when appropriate. For example, a quick scan on the Web just brought up this blog from the New York Times. The title…“Unarrested Development: The Actor Michael Cera Is Now Writing and Directing, Too.” Sigh.

First, don’t confuse writers with a header and a subheader. A much better fit would be: “Michael Cera, Writer and Now Director.” Short, sweet and to the point. You have better things to do then navigate through an ill-written headline, and nine times out of 10, that’s exactly what you’ll do.

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