a businessman stares in disbelief with his head in his hands at a laptop

Write Shorter: 3 Ways to Get to the Point

Not a good reaction from your reader.
Not a good reaction from your reader.

We all know that nobody has time anymore. TLDR, anyone?

So it’s important to get to the point in your writing. Sometimes that means literally keeping your word count at a minimum. But even if you’ve got a 5,000-word White Paper due, when you write concisely the reader will stay with you.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to drone on and on. So edit yourself:

Secret writing weapon #1: You know more than the reader.

It happens to every writer. You know the beginning of the story and the 72 steps that it took to get to the end of the story. When you start writing, you can’t see how you can possibly leave steps 8, 17, 43,50-65 and 71 out. You can. The reader will have no idea what is missing, as long as you don’t leave out key information.

For example, if you are doing a profile of your chief financial officer intending to display his experience and gravitas, you don’t need to include a story about his college days as the treasurer of the Film Club. Unless, of course, you work for a movie company and that was his introduction to the business. Pick and choose what is truly relevant. Discard the merely interesting.

Secret writing weapon #2: Transitions

One paragraph should blend seamlessly into another, just as one sentence should relate to the one before it. If you spend the time making the transitions work, you will make it easier for your reader to glide through the text and stay focused on your story. Find the thought in the last sentence of a paragraph and use it as the springboard to the first sentence of the next paragraph. But avoid clumsy introductory lines like “The reason for that is…” or “The next step they took was to…” Those are just words explaining that you are about to explain something.

When you have a lot of information that you need to cram into a relatively short space, consider putting it in bullet points. When you’ve said all you need to say and need to jump to another point in your story, use a subhed to let your reader know “we are moving along.”

Secret writing weapon #3: Say it once

So happy to read, he's sharing!
So happy to read, he’s sharing!

People tend to repeat themselves when they talk. Even the most articulate among us will make the same point using slightly different words. So if your story includes quotes from key executives or experts, don’t feel compelled to include every word they say. Find the meat of their quote and discard the fat.

Discard your own fat, too. Don’t set up a quote by describing what the person is about to say. Example: Mr. Big Exec is getting high marks from employees for his new approach to benefits. He believes that month-long sabbaticals benefit the business as well as employees. “A one-month paid sabbatical is good for business,” he says. “People come back relaxed and are more productive.”

Just take out the second sentence.

It’s difficult to listen to somebody who constantly interjects “ummm” and “er” during a speech. That’s exactly what excess writing feels like to the reader. And all you have to do is cut it out.