Beautifully concise sentences don’t flow naturally from me. I seldom write a sentence that I don’t need to edit. I used to think that meant I wasn’t a good writer. But then I learnt the hard but freeing truth. Good, clear, and concise writing takes effort, time, and a magic ingredient — editing.
Without editing, my sentences are long, unfocused rambles full of half-formed ideas roaming wildly among unnecessary words. I have to tame my tangents, rein in my excesses, and give my wayward words the discipline they need.
I won’t lie to you. Editing your sentences involves serious discipline. You must be prepared to:
And when you’re sweating mentally from the effort, remember that the time will come when you can stand back and think: ‘Ahhh. That’s better!’
Here are three editing tips to try next time you need to tame wild sentences.
Watch out for ‘false subjects’ and change them to true ones. Bringing the true subject of a sentence to the front usually leads to a shorter, clearer sentence. (Hint: Delete ‘It’ or ‘There’ when they appear at the start of sentences.)
There was an uncomfortable silence.
The silence was uncomfortable.
There were three horses that went towards the washed-out bridge.
Three horses went towards the washed-out bridge.
Use the ‘Delete’ key to get rid of wordy phrases like ‘in order to’.
I’m going to the meeting in order to bring the issue to the table, so they understand how complex it is in terms of delivering a cost-effective solution for this client. (31 words)
Did you spot the three wordy phrases you could edit or replace?
I’m going to the meeting
in order to bring raise the issue to the table, so they understand how complex it is in terms of to deliver ing a cost-effective solution for this client.
I’m going to the meeting to raise the issue, so they understand how complex it is to deliver a cost-effective solution for this client. (24 words)
Verbs are easy to relate to and understand. We ‘eat’, ‘sleep’, and ‘work’. Sometimes verbs get buried in wordy phrases (for example, ‘comply’ becomes ‘be in compliance’ or ‘agree’ becomes ‘form an agreement’). Just check words that end in ‘-ment’, ‘-ation’, and ‘-ance’ to see if you can replace them with the verbs they’re based on.
Even though we undertook an analysis of the risks, we weren’t prepared for what happened.
Even though we analysed the risks, we weren’t prepared for what happened.
At the meeting, they talked about the containment of wild horses in national parks.
At the meeting, they talked about containing wild horses in national parks.
Editing takes time and practice to master, but you won’t regret gaining the skills. Your writing and any writing you edit will be shorter, clearer, and better for its readers.
Learn to edit your writing and polish it afterwards: Editing and Proofreading workshop
Learn to edit other people’s content for government or business: Editing workshop