Wednesday, April 18, 2007

weekly writing coach: space edits

We're big fans of self-editing, and it makes sense: Why not cut your own words, rather than wait for someone else to do it? You'll please yourself and your editor/boss/red penciler and spend less time agonizing. While we recommend a series of six self-edits to improve your manuscript (in ways ranging from active verbs to cadence and flow), a different editing task involves making quick cuts in your copy to fit the space allotted -- and that's when we pull out these five easy edits for space:
1. Cut widows: Any paragraph that ends with a short line -- one or two words on the last line of the paragraph -- has a "widow." Cut any words in the paragraph to bring that short line up. You'll save an entire line, but won't need to cut more than a couple of words.

2. Look for repetition: Are you using the same words again and again? Combine those points and shorten the relevant sentences.

3. Reduce the article's scope: For drastic cuts, when you need to reduce your text by one-third to one-half, consider your article or document as a whole. Can you omit one category of information, focusing instead on one topic rather than two or more? If you're writing about safety tips for drivers,for example, keep the focus on what to do before you leave OR what to do while you're on the road, rather than both.

4. Cut adjectives and adverbs: Nouns and verbs create shorter, stronger descriptions, adding "fiber" to your manuscript, while adjectives and adverbs lack nutritional value--and take up space. "Omit needless words!" as Strunk and White advise.

5. Omit or shorten quotes: They may be your favorite parts of the article, but when push comes to shove at production time, narrative beats a quote -- the latter should elaborate on a point already made. If space is short, it's expendable.
Ask about our self-editing seminars for your writing team. Email us at

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