One of the most effective ways to overcome a potential customer’s skepticism about taking the time to read your analytic product is to purge your prose of unnecessary words. This mirrors my advice in an earlier post for analysts to be as concise and clear as possible. Perfecting the purge is so important that I made it the first tip in my free Proficiency1 course, Ten Tips for Improving Your Analytic Writing.
Trimming unnecessary words is the most common edit I make when reviewing analytic writing, suggesting it’s a skill most analysts could stand to sharpen. It’s also unfortunately a practice that makes many writers sad, as purging can squeeze the life out of prose. The effective use of adjectives, adverbs, and analogies might allow nonanalytic writing to soar, but they bog down analytic products, adding length and potential confusion, so trim them whenever possible. Such pruning is critical for producing a crisp, clean style that would make a horrible novel but is necessary for an effective analytic piece.
I recommend three main tactics for purging unnecessary words:
- Use the fewest words possible. This seems obvious, yet it’s the primary source of my edits. A simple rule to follow is if the meaning of the sentence doesn’t become vague if you delete a word, delete it. Also, look for opportunities to say the same thing using fewer words. One of my favorite substitutions is replacing “negatively impact” with the shorter, simpler “harm.” Finally, note if you overuse unneeded words; for me it’s “that,” which for some reason I insert constantly in places where it adds nothing to the sentence.
- Don’t state the obvious. Don’t tell your reader things your writing clearly implies. If you say a new project requires doubling the existing infrastructure, you don’t have to tell me it will also be more expensive, but you can tell me exactly how much it will cost. You also don’t have to tell your reader things they already know. If you’re writing for an oil executive, for example, don’t use up valuable words explaining oil prices would rise if Iran closed the Strait of Hormuz. Getting this right requires you know your intended customer well.
- Drop extraneous information. Anything that doesn’t directly support the primary analytic line of your piece is an excellent candidate for purging. If you’re writing about the threat of protests to my personnel overseas and the protests’ causes have nothing to do with my company, I don’t need to know about them. Contextual information can sometimes be helpful, but put it in an appendix, text box, or hyperlinked document so it doesn’t undercut the conciseness of your piece.
Learning how to purge your writing is a critical element of being an effective self-editor. The more you can apply the above tactics to your prose, the better you’ll be able to trim words before they get to your reviewer. Getting this right is a lifelong effort for any writer, and I continue to work at it. I did a lot of pruning in this post, for example, but am sure I could do better.
For more on purging your prose and other ways to become a better writer, check out my free Proficiency1 course, Ten Tips for Improving Your Analytic Writing.