Editing for economy—cutting useless words—takes time and effort. However, this edit saves time and effort for your reader, and you are more likely to get the result you want. French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote a famous postscript: "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." True genius knows shorter is better.
When you edit for economy, cut useless words so the remaining, useful words have a greater impact. Your document becomes more clear, efficient, and vigorous. As an extra benefit, you reduce the number of grammar and punctuation errors. For example, when you cut a useless modifier, you don't need to worry if the modifier is in the wrong place. Use these seven techniques to find and cut useless words:
9.1 Cut useless verbs.
9.2 Cut useless prepositions.
9.3 Cut who, which, and that.
9.4 Cut useless repetition.
9.5 Cut redundancy.
9.6 Cut useless comments.
9.7 Cut useless modifiers.
After editing for clarity, you are ready to edit for economy. When you edited for clarity, you already cut many words—as many as 5 percent. Usually, you can cut another 10 to 40 percent of the words from your draft with no loss of meaning.
What causes so many useless words in our documents? We identify three causes: oral tradition, writing assignments, and manners.
Oral tradition. Speakers have always used extra words to slow the transmission of information. These extra words are useful in speech. The speaker can use the extra time to ...