How to Prune Your Writing for
More Concise, More Successful Copy
By Will Newman
Successful copy uses just as many words as it needs … and no more. You see this in all the most successful promos.
Here’s Circle of Success member Kate’s question about this successful copywriting essential …
I’ve known for a long time that one of my biggest problems with writing is that I’m often long-winded. I try to be concise, but I have trouble finding the line between saying too much and saying too little. I don’t think I’m the only writer who struggles with this. Do you have any advice on teaching yourself to write more concisely?
I can answer her request with one word …
Concise – or tight – writing doesn’t happen as you put the words on the page. Your writing tightens with ferocious editing … not once or twice, but at least three times.
Every copywriter has his editing strategy. I’ve broken mine down to these six steps.
Tight copy step #1: Research
Tight copy comes before you begin writing. It comes from researching everything you can about your product or service. As you research, take notes, highlight, download, and organize.
After organizing your research, make a checklist of everything you need to include – your big promise, benefits, proof. Use single words or short phrases. Then, on to the next step … writing.
Tight copy step #2: Write big
Tight copy comes from writing big. Don’t try to be concise as you write.
Seems weird, but if you try to be concise as you write, you won’t write in your natural writer’s voice. You’ll struggle. And, in struggling, you’ll fail at being concise.
So, write big. Do not edit as you write. Editing comes after you’re finished.
Here’s a master secret about editing. Give your copy a chance to rest before you edit. You’re used to what you’ve written; so you can miss obvious problems. Plus, when you’ve just finished writing, everything sounds great. Or, sounds like garbage.
When you schedule your writing, set aside three or four days (or more) before editing. If you don’t have the luxury of letting your copy rest that long, give it at least a day.
Tight copy step #3: Evaluate the whole
When you’re ready to edit, print your copy. Start at the beginning, and give it a quick read-through just to get the flow and sense of it.
Ask yourself if it makes sense as it stands, even if it needs changes. Use your checklist. Have you made your major points, presented your big promise, woven the promise through the copy? Have you expressed the benefits, so the prospect sees his life improve in some way?
In other words, have you employed all the strategies and secrets of powerful, successful copywriting you learn from AWAI? (We’ll cover this part of copy review in greater depth in future Golden Thread articles.)
If the copy falls short at this point, go back and fix areas that need repair. If your copy passes this first reading, it’s time to start pruning.
(You aren’t proofreading at this point. You’ll do that after you’ve finished the pruning. But, if you come across any obvious problems, fix them.)
Tight copy step #4: Hack off the big parts
When you write big, imagine yourself a master gardener looking at an overgrown tree. Your job is to cut away parts that don’t belong. When you do, the tree grows stronger and healthier.
Look at every single paragraph closely in context with the paragraphs before and after. Ask yourself: Is this paragraph necessary? Have I said the same thing earlier? Does it really add to the copy?
Be brutal. If the paragraph isn’t absolutely necessary, hack it out. Continue through your entire copy.
When I started copywriting, I hated cutting out chunks of copy. So, I saved copy I’d cut to a special holding file. I knew if I needed it later, it would be there for me. I seldom needed it.
Tight copy step #5: Trim out sentences
For your next step, go back and reread the copy sentence by sentence. Have the same fierce attitude about getting rid of unnecessary sentences. The more fluff you purge, the more concise (and better) your copy will be.
Tight copy step #6: Clip out words
You’ve probably guessed the next step: Eliminate unnecessary words. Sounds easy. But this can be difficult and takes several readings.
Why? Because we’re used to using more words than we need. Here’s an example: The sentence I just wrote started out as, “Because we’ve become accustomed to using more words than we need to.” Twenty-three words became 10. Shorter … and easier to understand.
We don’t have space today to discuss strategies for eliminating words and phrases. We’ll do that in the near future.
But for now: Cut most adverbs (words ending in -ly) like “actually” or “completely.” Look at phrases like “all of the.” This can be shortened to “all.” “Have to” becomes “must.”
Look at “that.” You can cut many of them. Six paragraphs above, I wrote: “I knew that if I needed it later …” I deleted “that,” and the meaning didn’t change.
Editing copy to make it concise takes a hard heart. We writers fall in love with our words, and pruning them takes courage. But, your copy grows stronger when pruned of unnecessary words.
How do you feel about cutting and hacking your copy to make it stronger? Is it hard to do? Or easy? Let us all know your thoughts below.
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