Editing Equals Deleting Words

A question I usually ask myself when first editing a document is, “how can I reduce this by a third?”

Usually, people add more words because they think that those words help make the point accurately and completely. And it’s my job to find a way to say the same thing with fewer words.

But not always.

Sometimes, people use more words when fewer would have been MORE complete and get closer to making the actual point.

Here are two tidbits from my daily train ride to and around Melbourne:

FIRST: At the end of the ride, the announcer says something like:

“Please make sure that you haven’t left any personal belongings that you brought with you on the train.”

Every time, they say this “personal belongings” thing, so I assume it’s part of a script.

But they really aren’t saying what they want to say. They don’t want me to remember only my personal belongings, do they? (Not that I’m sure what constitutes “personal belongings” vs. other things I could have brought. But that’s part of the problem.)

They really want me to get anything that I brought on the train.

So if they said to make sure I didn’t leave “anything” (rather than just personal belongings) then they’d not only save words, but make the point they really want to make.

SECOND: This sign lets you know that you could be on video:

My behaviour could be monitored. What about my fashion choices?

In fact, I could be monitored, so why not just say, “you” instead of “your behaviour”? Who is that helping?

And then, why not leave off the “during your journey” part, too?

Isn’t it possible that I’ll be monitored while waiting for the door to close, before my journey starts?

Please understand that I’m not saying that the sign is confusing. I’m saying that the extra words aren’t helping anyone, and in fact are hurting the message by being wrong as well as being wordy.

Do you see stuff like this in your work or daily routine? Does it drive you nuts?

3 Responses to “Editing Equals Deleting Words”

  1. wongword
    August 16, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    http://www.metafora.ch/ContenuPDF/00041.pdf

  2. Eva Blaskovic
    September 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    I loved your examples. Re: “Do you see stuff like this in your work or daily routine? Does it drive you nuts?” My answer is yes, it does. These are the same people that say writing is easy. That drives me even more nuts. There is no comprehension for the skill required for good writing. The figure skater whose Axel jumps look effortless has countless hours of training. So it is with good writing.

    • admin-Robert
      October 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

      Exactly. The reasoning seems to be, “if you own a pencil, then you can write.” Well, yeah. Going with your example, they can write, like I can ice skate if I own skates!

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