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Monday, June 3, 2013

Catholic Bloggers' School: tighter writing

by Connie Rossini

This post is the first in an intended series to help us improve our blogs for the glory of God. I hope to post an article once a month, with interviews, quotes, and guest posts from various experts in the future.

 "Content is king," says the cliche. You may have the world's greatest insights, but if your writing is difficult to read people will skip to the next blog. How many millions are there, after all?

A first step in improving your writing is making it tighter. That means saying the same thing in fewer words. Consider these two paragraphs:

1)    Many years ago, when I was first submitting articles to be published in our local diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Times, I realized I was using too many words. My natural tendency in writing about a subject was to use about 800 words, but my editor wanted to limit the column to 500-600 words. That meant I had to chop at least 200 words (25%) off my first draft. It was a challenge! However, I found that I could do it while improving my writing. I learned to make every word count. I got rid of unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, parenthetical phrases, and the like. After a few months of practice, I found it was much easier to write a shorter column from the start. I had formed the habit of tighter writing. My new "natural" column length was just right for the needs of my editor.

2)    When I first began writing columns for our diocesan newspaper, I found my natural tendency was to use 800 words. My editor wanted a column of 500-600 words. I had to chop 25% off my first draft. What a challenge! However, I found I could do it while improving my writing. I learned to make every word count. I excised unnecessary modifiers and parenthetical phrases. After a few months' practice, it was easier to write  a shorter column from the start. I had formed the habit of tighter writing. My new "natural" column length was perfect for my editor's needs.

I cut 45 words to go from version 1 to 2 without sacrificing clarity. The second paragraph may not be  brilliant, but it's concise and precise. Using fewer words requires stronger verbs and nouns, which are more poignant. It breathes confidence and expertise. Readers trust you not to waste their time.

Avoid these common phrases

Here are some commonly used phrases and more concise substitutes (some of these examples are taken from The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White):

Every now and then - sometimes
Over and above - beyond
I thought to myself - I thought
as to whether - whether
owing/due to the fact that - since/because
end result - result
my personal opinion - my opinion
for all intents and purposes - (It's best to rewrite the sentence without this phrase)

Get rid of the words very, really and about. They weaken your writing. Choose stronger verbs that don't need a modifier. For example, leaped  is not only less wordy than jumped high - it also paints a more vivid picture.

Use active, not passive, voice. Instead of, It is believed by most people, write, Most people believe.  Avoid starting sentences with there is or there are.

Short blog posts can still be wordy, while long posts can be tightly written. Almost everyone uses needless words from time to time - er, sometimes. Don't focus on the number of words, but on the necessity of each word.

Try this: Write a new post and count your words. Try to reduce them by 10-20% without sacrificing clarity. Then share your post with us by linking to it in the comments below.

Connie Rossini is the administrator of Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network.  She blogs at  Contemplative Homeschool.


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  2. From Terry (who's experiencing technical difficulties):

    Before writing for Catholic Insight my posts were around 500 words but CI has a length requirement of 800-1000 words, which makes it difficult to write.....and read! Submissions for their print articles in the magazine is between 1000 - 2500 words and that just kills me!

    1. I have also had an editor want 1000+ words for a book review. That was really difficult. It became more like a college paper than a blog post. As an editor once told me, it's much easier to cut out words than to add them!

  3. Thank you for this lesson, Connie. I'll return later with my link.

  4. I find this excellent. If we're the best writers we can be, we can better do the work of Our Lord. Which is the point, right?!!

  5. I'm going to learn a lot here!

  6. The lessons here are invaluable! Thank you.


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