Tighten Your Writing with Word Economy

When money is short, you may tighten your belt by cutting your budget to economize. Likewise, you can practice word economy by tightening your writing.

Word economy is essential in newspaper, magazine and newsletter writing, where space is limited. Editors must carefully plan each issue and set word limits. Exceed those limits and you complicate the editor’s task. Disregard those limits regularly and you may lose assignments.

The best way to cut word count without sacrificing content is to eliminate unnecessary words and phrases. Depending on how bloated your writing is, you could reduce word count by 10 percent or more with good editing.

After you’ve finished the first draft, switch to an editing mode. Look at the manuscript as though you’ve never seen it before and cut the fat.

Examine each word and phrase. Follow this maxim: Don’t use several words when one will do the job. Can you name something with one word instead of two? Can you replace that five word phrase with two words?

To tighten your writing, eliminate these bloaters:


  • Formal and archaic expressions that slow down communication. Examples include words like henceforth and hereafter, for all intents and purposes, suffice to say, deem it inappropriate, pursuant to his request, null and void. Keep your word choice conversational and contemporary.

  • Redundancies. Don’t use two words that convey the same meaning. The adjective or adverb in each of these samples can be dropped: official business, current trend, new innovation, advance planning, end result, first priority, basic fundamentals, entirely eliminate, join together.

  • Clich├ęs. Avoid such writing as: easier said than done, in the final analysis, leaves much to be desired, placed its seal of approval on, a step in the right direction, in this day and age, in the event that.

  • Vague expressions. Don’t use vague, wordy expressions to mask uncertainty, as when you can’t be precise about a number. Instead, use one simple word to express the concept. Examples: a great number of times – often; a little less than – almost; a small number of – few; a large number of – many; once in a great while – seldom; in the majority of cases – usually.

  • Jargon. Every field has its gobbledygook. These in-group words may create an aura of exclusive knowledge, but they inhibit communication. In your writing, translate the in-words of various professions into plain English. Replace impose parameters with set limits; rapid oxidation with fires; indemnify the insured with cover; duly constituted authority with government agency; and collateral damage with civilian casualties.

  • Fear of simplicity. Some writers believe that wordiness equals eruditeness. They sprinkle their manuscripts with excessive phrases when one word will do the job. Common offenders and suggested replacements include:
    at no time – never
    at this point in time – now
    in the near future – soon
    during the time that – while
    once in a great while – seldom
    called attention to the fact – reminded
    came to a stop – stopped
    draw to a close – end
    called a meeting – met
    due to the fact that – because
    despite the fact that – although
    on behalf of – for
    in the event that – if
    told his listeners that – said

    When your manuscripts carry all that extra weight, communication slows down. Word economy makes writing leaner, more muscular, less encumbered. By learning to write tighter, you’ll please editors, save them time, and find your manuscripts are edited less.