One of the things that sets writers apart is their flow, and clutter hinders flow.
Writing that’s crowded with junk, slows readers down, causes them to stumble, softens your message, and turns people off.
To help sharpen your work, here are some tips to cut clutter from your writing.
Prune your sentences
Overly wordy sentences are a major source of clutter.
To reduce it, go through your work and find word groups that can be converted phrases to single words.
- “At the time of publication” can be changed to currently.
- “Despite the fact that” can be converted to although.
- “In the event that” can be cut down to if.
The second way to prune your sentences is to pluck out unnecessary words.
- Why write, “send out” emails when you can just say send?
- Why are people “testing out” things they could just test?
- And, are analysts “matching up” data instead of simply matching it?
Because we have a tendency to add extra words. And it’s a bad habit.
A third way to sharpen your sentences is by removing empty openers, such as “there is” and “there are.”
- “There are some board members who disagree” can be chopped down to some board members disagree.
- Saying, “there is research to support her claim” doesn’t provide any more information than saying research supports her claim.
Cut the high-street vocabulary
Have you ever found yourself drawn to an article, a speech or any other form of communication because it was loaded with big words?
I doubt it because big, fancy words are a turnoff. Yet, writers like to flaunt their high-street vocabulary.
Big words make you less relatable and your work less enjoyable. They give readers unnecessary work to do and add bulk to the page.
Just the sight of sentences drawn out with lengthy words can make readers want to pass because they see it for what it is—clutter.
Cut it out.
Avoid the tendency to say the same thing in multiple ways or to re-illustrate a point that you’ve fully illustrated already.
Being repetitive and providing examples that aren’t needed is like crossing the line with decorations. You go from adding a nice touch to creating a mess.
Also, avoid delving into minute and technical details when they aren’t required.
If you tell us Lisa washed her face, we don’t need you to walk us through the process by writing that she turned on the water, wet her face, squeezed the product from the tube and smeared it on her skin.
Cut clutter from your writing by leaving out those sort of commonsense details.
Likewise, if you’re writing that an appliance is recalled because of a defective power button, there’s no need to give readers a full lesson in how the machine is built.
General audiences won’t care and most won’t read it. You’ll have wasted your time and taken up space that could be left free.
Don’t turn your writing into anyone’s showcase
When you cite or quote people, add only the titles and information that’s relevant. And if the individual has multiple relevant titles, narrow them down the strongest for your topic.
If you’re quoting Dana Walker in an article about a legal topic, it’s relevant to note she’s a partner at Ross & Walker Law Firm and she’s the president of the Women’s Legal Association.
But we don’t need to know that she chairs the National Museum Society sits on the board for the Vegan Institute of American, or is a working mother of three.
Learn to keep things to yourself
Readers don’t need or want to know everything that you know.
One of my early writing mistakes was feeling obligated to use the information that I got from sources and interviews.
I felt like I was wasting people’s time if I asked them questions but then didn’t use their responses.
Eventually, I realized I was using the information whether it made into the article or not because I needed it to write with authority.
You cannot write securely on any subject unless you have gathered far more information than you will use, Gary Provost said in 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.
So, accept that withholding information is part of the writing process and stop cramming all the details you gather into your writing.