3 steps for refining and tightening your copy

3 steps for refining and tightening your copy

Not everyone can be a great writer. But everyone can work to improve their .

Whether you write for a living, or just in your day-to-day life, these 3 simple tips could help you improve.

Make your words work harder

Every word should have to earn its place on the page. As Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times sportswriter Red Smith said: “writing is easy. All you do is sit at the typewriter until drops of blood appear on your forehead.”

In other words, writing should be difficult. It should challenge you. It should push you to justify every word.

Something can almost always be said with fewer words. Consider the following example:

On the face of it, this would appear to be a rather obvious question. (14 words).

Depending on how brutal you are, you can cut this sentence down easily. Much of it is unnecessary and adds nothing to our understanding.

It’s an obvious question. (4 words).

The refined example carries weight, it is punchier, and every word has earned its place.

Avoid ‘writing’ language

Using complicated words is a recipe for disaster. Try not to use words you wouldn’t use in conversation.

At Formative we follow the classic rule of the TV news broadcasters – targeting language at an audience of intelligent 14-year-olds. Keeping your words simple and your tone conversational is key to engaging, tight .

There are extreme examples of this – take a look at plainenglish.co.uk for some of the best – but some might slip you by.

Her main aim being to ensure there was a facility for the young people.

We can all understand this – although exactly what ‘facility’ is being talking about isn’t clear – but you wouldn’t speak like this to your mate in the pub. Its formality makes it clumsy.

This tip is also about avoiding long sentences. Repetition rarely happens in speech, and it makes your writing looked unloved and rushed.

Be your own harshest critic

“When you start writing you’re 98% pure writer and 2% critic. After you’ve written for a length of time, you’ve learned a great deal about your craft, and you’ve become 2% pure writer and 98% critic.” David Westheimer, journalist and novelist.

This is about more than a proof read. It’s about being really honest with yourself to help you achieve steps one and two. Just because you’ve written it, doesn’t mean it has to stay. Removing redundant words will help you write tighter copy. Looking out for meaningless modifiers (totally unique, completely full, etc.) will refine your writing. Checking for accidentally repetition will help develop a conversational tone.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to hit delete and start again. If you’re not happy, what chance has your audience got?

Credit to Andy Drinkwater for examples and quotes.

This article was originally published by Formative Content who create high quality content for a range of global clients. To find out if we could help your brand, get in touch on 01494 672122 or office@formativecontent.com.

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