When you think of the word “economy” you may think “low cost,” “bare bones” or “plain.”
But if you look it up in the dictionary and you’ll find the word has other meanings.
One is: “the careful, thrifty management of resources.”
Another: “an orderly, functional arrangement of parts.”
And another: “efficient, sparing or conservative use.”
When it comes to writing, economy is a good thing.
Just like cash-strapped families cut back during the recession, writers should economize when it comes to the words they use.
Less really is more.
I’ve come to this conclusion after a spending most of the last year editing. If my experience is close to the norm, and based on what I hear from other editors I think it is, I now know why editors are famously cranky. They spend way too much time whittling down wasted words, changing passive voice to active and finding meaning buried in jargon.
So I’m on the stump for a new economic stimulus plan – getting writers to use fewer words.
The best practice for developing an economic writing style is being forced to fit a complex topic into as few words as possible, something news wire reporters and headline writers have down to a science.
Though most freelancers probably don’t perform that kind of work, we still have to write to a word count, making it imperative that we practice economy of scale in our writing.
Cutting out needless words and phrases and paring stories down to the bone isn’t the most fun part of an assignment. But if you can get past the emotion of killing your words, you can end up with writing that is, as they say in the news business, light, tight and bright.
And that’s the kind of writing that brings editors back for more.
Here are 10 suggestions for economizing:
1. Don’t use the same word more than once in a sentence.
2. Use active voice – your writing will be livelier, and you’ll use less words in the process. If you don’t understand the difference between active and passive voice, here’s a concise explanation, courtesy of good old Strunk and White.
3. Don’t use 10 words to describe something when five will do.
4. Include only the most relevant details. Save the rest for something else, such as a reporter’s notebook, your blog, a tweet, another story.
5. Read your story out loud to discover awkward phrasing that can be rewritten to be shorter, clearer or better sounding.
6. Finish a story the day before it’s due so you can sleep on it and come back in the morning with a fresh eye for what can be cut without changing the meaning.
7. Ask a writer you respect to read your manuscript for sections that are confusing, rambling or just plain boring.
8. Don’t quote when you can paraphrase. Save space for only the best quotes – they’re the spice in the stew.
9. Don’t feel obliged to quote everyone you interviewed for a story. It’s OK to paraphrase (see above) or use sources as background for consensus viewpoints expressed in the piece.
10. Unless the story, situation or publication requires it, there’s no need to include people’s full titles on first reference in a story, especially if they’re extremely long, ambiguous or full of jargon. The same goes for company divisions, or association chapters. Use a short-hand description first and then include a more complete description on second reference if necessary.