How to cut your copy down to size
Whether you’re writing a webpage, a report or a Tweet, you’ve usually got limited space to make your point. So it’s worth looking at which words are working for you, and which ones aren’t.
As copywriters, we’re often brought in to copy-edit text that our clients have drafted. As well as looking at the language, the style and proofreading it thoroughly, clients usually need a hand to get the text under a word or space limit. That word limit might be rigid – for an award entry, for example. Or it could be more flexible, like half a page in a brochure.
As a rough guide, we find it’s usually possible to chop around 20% off the word count without changing the content. But if you’ve overshot by more than that, you’ll have to cut out some of the content, too.
Three copy-editing tips
If it’s your job to whittle down the word count, here are a few of our tried-and-tested tips.
1. Clean out the clutter
Grab a red pen (or the digital equivalent) and strike out all the spare words that don’t add meaning.
You can cut phrases like “in order to” down to just “to”. “Going forward we plan to…” indicates the future tense twice, so prune it back to just “We plan to…”.
And home in on phrases that are trying to be all-encompassing, but end up sounding vague. Take out any instances of “various” or “a wide range of”.
Say what you mean or give an example rather than trying to include everything.
2. Keep it active
Take a closer look at the longest sentences in your text.
People often get tied in knots trying to make verbs into nouns and vice-versa. “We carried out an assessment…” can be written as “We assessed…” Plus it makes you sound much more authoritative.
Are you writing in the passive voice? “An investigation was carried out by Team A…” is longer and harder to follow, than just “Team A investigated…”.
Are you writing something that’s just plain ridiculous? “Only carriages A and B will be platformed at London Waterloo.”
Don’t be afraid to rip up whole sentences and re-write them.
3. Get creative with content
If you’ve absolutely got to squeeze everything in, then see if you can be creative about how you structure the text.
Does your text contain a long, detailed explanation or a set of figures that’s only of interest to a few readers? Then move it into an appendix.
Have you got a sentence with a long, wordy list? Then turn it into a bullet-pointed list.
Is part of the space given over to an example or a case study? Then turn it into a separate fact box, a sidebar or move it to another webpage altogether.
Finally, there are some people who have the opposite problem – they’re too concise. If that’s you, then try giving your copy to someone who represents a typical reader, or someone who doesn’t know as much as you about the subject.
See if they can follow what you’ve written and ask if they would include anything else, because what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to others. If it meets with their approval, then congratulations – maybe you should be a copywriter.