More words don’t always translate into more meaning.
You’ve heard me say this before…
It’s important to avoid excessive wordiness in your writing, especially when you’re in a business setting. Your colleague’s, reader’s, or customer’s time is precious. They need to know what you need, what you offer, or what you’re suggesting quickly and concisely.
If you find yourself rambling, it might be due to a lack of focus in your message, and that needs to be addressed. If you are unclear about “why” you’re writing, the “what” and “how” you’re writing will give it away.
We’ve all been hardwired to write essays that meet a certain word count – e.g., 1000 words on the merits of a new book, 600 words about the meaning of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms – but it isn’t necessary for everyday business or nonfiction writing. So, how do you chisel the point of your message?
Chisel the point!
Do you want to have precision and clarity in your writing? Then take time to do this simple exercise:
Sum up the point of your communication in one sentence.
After you’ve done that, you can take a step back and decide what supporting information you absolutely need to share to get your point across.
This might mean referring to research or someone else’s communications.
Then after you’ve finished making your case, run through this checklist:
- Did I put any unnecessary facts in the message?
- Did I add any phrases that weren’t relevant to the point?
- Did I consider what my reader was expecting from my message?
- Did I give any thought to making my sentences flow?
- Did I get straight to the point or take too many detours?
That last point – avoiding the detours – is an important one. You need to resist the urge to use “filler words” that come across as fluff. This includes dodging phrases like:
- It goes without saying…
- The fact of the matter is…
- In other words…
- Further to my point…
- To be honest with you…
Get with the formula…
If you’re writing fiction, you would definitely steer clear of following a formula. But when it comes to writing clear, concise business communication, you’ll be doing yourself – and your reader – a favor if you follow these simple guidelines to whack wordiness.
Use no more than:
- 5 paragraphs per page.
- 5 sentences per paragraph.
- 15 words per sentence.
- 3 syllables per word.
It might seem like an onerous task to edit your own writing, but the minutes it will take to shave your message, reduce wordiness, and share only the salient points will win you points with your readers.
This might feel clunky and time-consuming at first, but hang in there. Like any new routine – diet, exercise, sleep – you’ll get into a rhythm, and it will become second nature to you.
Take a practice run.
Not sure you can follow these guidelines? Take a practice run at reducing the wordiness in your emails and letters. Pull up something you sent last week…something that was important but hasn’t been addressed by your reader yet. Then run it through this filter:
- Count the number of paragraphs. Fewer than 5?
- Count the number of sentences in a paragraph. Fewer than 5?
- Count the number of words in a paragraph. Fewer than 15?
- Now circle the words that contain 4 syllables or more, such as dis·pro·por·tion·ate·ly.
How did you do? Be honest! Did you identify areas where you could have taken a shortcut and saved your reader time?
If you follow these four steps, you’ll gain clues about where your rambling takes you. Detours dilute your message and can affect how you’re perceived by your audience.
If you’d like to learn more about the ways you can trim the fat from your writing, contact me, or sign up for my Word Trippers Tips program and get tips delivered right to your inbox every week for a year.
Did you find this article helpful? Here are three more to help you communicate with credibility, clarity, and efficiency:
This article was originally published in 2010, but has been updated in June 2020. Feel free to comment below.