I asked whether this blog’s readers find that they write too much, too little, or the right amount in their first drafts, and about 60% answered “too much.” Here are six tips for editing your first drafts when they are too long.
1. Drop the first few sentences. Lots of people (including me) need to warm up as they start writing and don’t really get to the point until a few sentences in. Warming up is good for working out, but not for writing at work. Get right to the point.
2. Jettison the background information. We often assume that people need more history than they really do. Sum up any critical background in one sentence and tell the readers where to find additional background or to contact you if they need it.
3. Focus on what you want from the reader. Are you expecting the reader to take a particular action based on your memo or whatever it is you are writing? If so, focus your draft around that. What do you want them to do? Why should they do it? How should they do it? Cut everything else that doesn’t contribute to moving that reader to action.
4. Watch for tangents. It’s easy to stray from the main point. Watch for tangents and babbling streams of consciousness. Turn those sections of your draft into separate memos or articles.
5. Cut the the wordy phrases, redundancies, cliches, etc. Shorter is better. Cut out all the words that don’t contribute meaning. You’ll find lots of tips on writing more clearly and concisely here.
6. Read it out loud, then cut any parts you read quickly or skipped over. If you find yourself zooming through sections when you read something out loud, it likely means that section isn’t that important and can be edited out.
Do you have any favorite tips for editing your own work? Leave them here in a comment.