Editing Principle 02: Make Every Word Tell

It is sadly true that you can never assume readers will read to the end. Few professional writers make that assumption, and that’s what makes them pros, I suspect. They’re so worried you’ll stop reading that they try really hard to make it hard for you to do so.

How to decrease the odds of your audience quitting on you? Here are three ideas:

  1. Examine each word in a sentence and ask: "Does this need to be here? Will the sentence make sense without it?" If a word is inessential, cut it.

  2. Eliminate repetition. Repeating words prompts readers to tune out. Using "innovative," for instance, four times in a paragraph drains rather than adds meaning. Repeated adjectives are the biggest drainers of rhetorical punch, with repeated nouns next. Repeated verbs are less of a problem, if only because they're less common.

  3. Revise a paragraph until you think it’s perfect. Then cut by half. Revise again. This was our tenth-grade English teacher’s advice and it holds up.

P.S. “Make Every Word Tell” is lifted from Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style.