The Blog Library
I had a mean biology professor once.
Okay, fine. He wasn’t mean, he just made life terrifically inconvenient. He assigned an 18-page paper. Then, once we’d finished, he demanded that we turn in the same paper in only 12 pages.
As in, cut the length by a third. Still delivering the same paper.
So we scurried back to our writing holes. I sat at my desk and squinted. Finally I complained to my roommate, who took my paper on her laptop into our room and returned with a couple pages cut. I reread it, and barely noticed what she’d taken out. Then, I kept going.
The professor was correct: You can usually cut things by a third, say the same thing, and appear more focused.
At minimum, you can usually eliminate 20% of the words without losing a single shred of meaning.
How do you do this?
Step One: Cut redundancy.
You’d be surprised how many unnecessary, redundant phrases you can pack into one sentence that mean the same thing and don’t add anything new.
You’d be surprised how many unnecessary, redundant phrases you can pack into one sentence that mean the same thing.
You’d be surprised how many redundant phrases you can pack into one sentence.
You’d be surprised how often you repeat yourself.
Get the point?
Here’s a good way to judge what to cut: If the sentence means the same thing without that word, you don’t need that word.
Step Two: A word from Stephen King:
After Stephen King got detention for self-publishing a high school ‘newspaper’ that mocked all the teachers, a guidance counselor set him up with an internship at a local newspaper (presumably to uh, retrain his interest in journalism).
King said that the editor gave him the best piece of writing advice he ever received:
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
Read that twice, folks. It’s gold.
So, what do cutting redundancy and axing “things that are not the story” look like in practice?
We turn to a paragraph offered up by a P4P reader.
(It goes without saying that these are her words, and my suggested words are for her to use, and plagiarism is unwise from both ethical and business standpoints. However, she has been kind enough to let you peek into this process, and the process is what will make you powerful.)
From Lori Fuller’s What To Expect page:
My photography approach is simple. I try to photograph my subject’s in the most authentic way possible. My style is more candid, less posed, and focuses on capturing the true essence of who you are as a family.
Let’s ask ourselves some questions.
Does “my photography approach is simple” and “the most authentic way possible” really mean anything much different than “My style is more candid, less posed, and and focuses on capturing the true essence of who you are as a family”?
Or does “More candid, less posed” perhaps already imply that you’re authentic (candid) and simple (less posed)?
Doesn’t candid kind of mean authentic already? No, they’re not exactly the same, but if it’s an actual candid photo, you know it’s not inauthentic. And in practice, doesn’t ‘candid and less posed’ already mean that it would feel pretty simple and “true” to a client?
Remember, you’re writing your website for your clients, not for yourself. From a client perspective, these sentences probably say the same thing a couple of times.
After all – what’s the story here? To teach clients what to expect. So anything that doesn’t change their expectations, or only adjusts them to a meaningless degree, is information they probably don’t need.
What if she simply said:
My style is more candid, less posed, and focuses on capturing the essence of your family.
Does that feel fresher? Easier to read?
Now for the rest of her paragraph:
“My experience in working with young children for over 15 years has helped me understand their needs and development, and allows me to naturally connect with just about all of my youngest clients! “
We can shorten this right off the bat for our first rough cut:
My 15+ years experience working with young children helps me understand their needs and development. I connect naturally with my youngest clients.
See what we did?
When you re-order the sentence a little, you can cut extra words like “in” and “for over.” I find the result a little clearer, too.
My experience in working with young children for over 15 years
= My 15+ years of experience working with young children
You can usually cut verbs down to their shortest form. Here, “help” doesn’t need to be in the past tense, since it’s still currently helping her:
has helped me = helps me
(That little verb-shortening cheat is magic. Remember it.)
Finally, let’s think this one through:
just about all my youngest clients = my youngest clients
Honestly, saying “just about all” seems to highlight the fact that you’ve run into a few exceptions. Don’t use “all” unless you mean all. If you want to communicate that you can work with kids of all kinds, just say that – “…connect with youngest clients. Yes, including the ones who always seem to have ideas of their own – they are welcome here.”
Now, guess what? We’ve cut redundancy and other unneeded words, but we can keep going. What is the real story here? What about:
After 15 years of working with kids, I understand their needs and development well enough to connect naturally with them.
Want to know how I did that? I read our first modification out loud. Then I looked away from the screen and tried saying it the way I’d say it to a person sitting across my dinner table.
Most of you probably wouldn’t say “experience in working,” most people would just say “working.”
So let’s put our final version together:
My style is more candid, less posed, and focuses on capturing the essence of your family. After 15 years of working with kids, I understand their needs and development well enough to connect naturally with them.
Starting word count: 72
Ending word count: 36
We cut that by exactly 50%.
I’d argue it carries the same practical message to the client.
Now, Lori might look at that and say “Wait, you cut something I needed” or “well, now it feels too stripped down, and not emotional enough.”
At this point though, she has room to play. She can add extra ideas and still be briefer than where she began:
To make it more personal to a client, add the word “you” up front. And we can tack on a word about how she’s good even with the lil’ rascals at the end:
Your photography session will feel more candid, less posed, and focused on capturing the essence of your family. After 15 years of working with kids, I understand their needs and development well enough to connect naturally with them (even and especially the kiddos who always seem to have ideas of their own).
Word count: 53 – still 26% shorter than where we started.
Think of writing like a balloon – if it feels like it’s too big and about to burst, let some air (words) out. If you think you’ve deflated it too far, just add a little back in.
Words, like air, are not a scarce resource. Attention is the scarce resource. Cut words to increase attention.
Try it out and let me know how it goes!
Want more help? I wrote two ebooks – one to guide you through creating a client-centric website, and another to help you fill it with persuasive, brief, powerful text (plus – learn how to write a blog post in 20 minutes or less). They’re called Irresistible Website and Irresistible Words.
They rarely go on sale, but as it happens, we are coming up on Black Friday – woo-hoo! Check them out now and get yourself on my email list so you’re sure to know when the sale goes live.