Editing for Economy

Editing for economy means eliminating words that don’t add anything to the meaning of a piece of writing. It is quite eye opening to see just how many words you can remove without affecting the purpose of your blog, article, or eBook. In most cases, editing for economy actually improves a piece of writing overall, by letting readers get to the point easier.

For content writers and the businesses that employ them, every word counts. While economy in other forms of writing means getting the most meaning out of the least amount of words, for us it literally relates to cost, as the name implies. Content writing usually comes down to numbers of words or pages, so eliminating “deadwood” in our writing is definitely an economically beneficial process. A few easy-to-use techniques can help content writers get the most out of their writing.

Recognize Doubling

English speakers’ tendency to double up on phrases in order to sound more professional or intellectual actually has an interesting source in history. Back in the eleventh century, when the ancient French overtook Britain, the languages of the two nations blended to create a substantial part of the English we speak today. At the time, the new blended language became the language of choice for the upper class, and writers attempted to use doublets of English and French words to sound more educated.

The doublets were phrases that included both an English and French word of the same meaning, so people of either nationality could understand important documents. Some such instances of doubling that are still very popular today include null and void, law and order, and cease and desist. Because it is commonplace now, it is hard to realize that these phrases are three words saying one thing. To get to the point, try one of the words or a synonym that captures the meaning of the phrase. For example, null and void simply means invalid.

Along with the specific examples of French-English doubling, another issue is simple redundancy. Often times, we use more words than necessary to express an idea. “Absolutely essential”, “whether or not”, and “social visit” are all examples of pleonasms, or redundancy. In the given examples, “essential”, “whether”, and “visit” express the idea just fine without accompaniment.

Choose Specific Words Over Abstract Words

Another common thing writers do is pair their specific words with general or abstract ones, or pair a specific word with its vaguer category. Examples of this include:

  • The month of June (month is general, June is specific)
  • Upright position (upright is specific, position is general)
  • In the year of 1973 (year is general, 1973 is specific)
  • The shirt was black in color (black is specific, color is general)

Instances of this type of unnecessary plugging are easy to eliminate to improve economy.

Use Vertical Lists to Minimize Repetition

Sometimes, we need to cut repeating words or phrases to increase economy. Imagine a blog detailing the benefits of an item called the High-Tech Glass Cleaning Machine:

“Our High-Tech Glass Cleaning Machine is the number one machine of its kind on the market. The High-Tech Glass Cleaning Machine cleans glass up to 10 square feet in less than one minute. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly glass cleaning social, try our High-Tech Glass Cleaning Machine.”

Sure, you can use prepositions some of the time, but as most writers know, using “it” repeatedly just doesn’t sound good. What can you do? Try a vertical list. The above example would look like this:

“Benefits of the High-Tech Glass Cleaning Machine:

  • Number one machine of its kind on the market
  • Cleans glass up to 10 square feet in less than one minute
  • Eco-friendly”

A vertical list saves all of the important meaning and cuts the word count in half. Another time to use vertical list is in an instruction-type list where the instructions use the same verb repeatedly. An example would be:

“To complete the scavenger hunt, first find the blue ribbon. Then, find the red car. After that, find the broken chair.”

Not only is the verb “find” reused in each sentence, but the order indicators of “first, then, after” add to the word count as well. Using a vertical list, the instructions look like this:

“To complete the scavenger hunt, find:

  • The blue ribbon
  • The red car
  • The broken chair”

Why Longer Is Sometimes Better

The goal of economic editing is not to eliminate as many words as possible, but simply to reduce useless words. Some situations exist where more words actually benefit a piece of writing overall.

  • It’s ok to repeat keywords. Unless it obviously distracts from the writing, repeating key words does not reduce economy. It is important for writing to be clear first, and economical second. Removing key words or phrases and replacing them with shorter but weaker synonyms or pronouns can damage clarity.
  • Don’t cut the actor. Shortening a sentence by using passive voice and removing the subject does not help your economy. If anything, it will add more words as you try to explain an unclear sentence or add another sentence to introduce the actor. A longer sentence is better than guessing who or what we’re talking about

Editing for economy can be a tricky task for the uninitiated. Many more techniques exist to help cut down on wordiness, but at the end of the day, a professional writing and editing team will always be able to get the most out of the content businesses need.

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Marya Belanger

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