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Tightening Your Writing
by Shannon Caster

I admit it; I’m quiet in person but a long-winded writer. When I see guidelines stating, articles less than 800 words are welcome, I tense up. Eight hundred words, is it possible?

One of my very first writing assignments the editor requested I condense my article from 1200 words to less than 700. She loved the article and wished to purchase it, but only had room for one short article in next month’s publication. Because she wanted to publish the article immediately, I had three days to decide and resubmit the final piece. I wanted this sale, but eliminating over forty percent of the article while retaining the original intent seemed far-fetched.

Four hours later I succeeded in my task. Most of all, I learned to tighten my writing and sharpen my editing skills. Need some tips? Get ready to revise with these twelve suggestions.

1. Eliminate over used words. Words including that, had, which, just, so, very, could, should, and would.

I found that I could get my child to eat vegetables.

Revised: I found I could get my child to eat vegetables.

Revised further: I got my child to eat vegetables.

2. Change passive voice to active voice. Has, was, and forms of to be with a verb ending in “-ed” signal passive voice.

The book was read by everyone in class.

Revised: Everyone in class read the book.

3. Use lists and bullets when possible to remove wordy paragraphs.

Tourists must visit five sights when traveling to Colorado Springs. First, there is Pikes Peak. Second is Garden of the Gods. Next is historical Manitou Springs. Then, check out the United States Air Force Academy. Last is Seven Falls on Cheyenne Mountain

Revised: Here’s five must see tourist sights in Colorado Springs.

1. Pikes Peak
2. Garden of the Gods
3. Manitou Springs
4. United States Air Force Academy
5. Seven Falls on Cheyenne Mountain

4. Cut examples down to one or two.

Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Subway offer discount coupons.

Revised: Fast food restaurants— like McDonald’s and Subway— offer discount coupons.

Revised further: Fast food restaurants offer discount coupons.

5. Replace adverbs with active verbs.

Tyler walked slowly up the stairs.

Revised: Tyler crept up the stairs.

6. Snip repeated words and phrases.

Steve wanted to go to the movies, to the game, and then to the bowling alley.

Revised: Steve wanted to go to the movies, game, and bowling alley.

7. Omit implied transitions—then, next, suddenly—when possible.

Elizabeth got the mail and then opened it.

Revised: Elizabeth got the mail and opened it.

8. Remove unnecessary prepositions—over, back, up, above.

Martha jumped over the fence.

Revised: Martha jumped the fence.

9. Reduce use of clichés.

The rain came down like cats and dogs.

Revised: The rain pounded.

10. Rearrange complex sentences.

Summer is a great time to visit Portland to see the roses in bloom.

Revised: Visit Portland in summer to see roses in bloom.

11. Delete “There are, There is,” and “It” from sentence beginnings.

There are many risks lifeguards face each day.

Revised: Lifeguards face many risks each day.

12. Avoid stating the obvious.

The stormy sky was the color of black.

Revise: The stormy sky was black.

Editors thrive on tight writing. If guidelines state 500-750 words, you are more likely to sell a sharp 500 word article than a wordy 750 one. Before you submit your next manuscript, check for unnecessary words. Make your writing irresistible to editors.

© Copyright 2006, Shannon Caster

Shannon Caster resides in Portland, Oregon where she can be found reading at the park, watching her kids at sporting events, walking her dogs, or writing on her laptop. Shannon frequently writes for children, parents, educators, writers, and any other audience willing to listen. Shannon welcomes visitors to her website at www.shannoncaster.com.

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