We all know people who ramble. They include every boring and insignificant detail, speak in five-minute-long sentences and take forever to get to the point. When they finally reach the end of their story, most people have either walked away or lost interest.
If you were reading their words, would you read right to the end? Or would you find something more informative, less boring and shorter to read?
We all have a tendency to ramble. It's natural. And the more excited we are about a subject, the more likely we are to ramble.
Unfortunately, if we ramble in writing, our readers may not get to the "good stuff." And if that "good stuff" is your website, your byline or a product you wish to promote, your rambling has just cost you money.
Now, I certainly don't want to curb your excitement, and I don't even want to thwart your tendency to ramble.
Instead, I want you to get wildly excited about your topic. I want you to ramble as much as you like. Then I want you to edit.
When you edit, try to cut as many words from your article as possible. The number of words cut depends on the length of your first draft and the desired length of your finished article. That said, you should usually try to cut your word count by at least 20 percent - and the more words cut, the better. If that leaves your article too short, try rambling on for even longer before you get to the editing stage.
I don't have the room here to list everything that helps cut down the words in your article, but I will share some key points:
- Identify your points and sub-points. When we ramble we tend to go from one point, to another point, then back to the first point, then to an unrelated sub-point. You get the picture. By identifying points and sub-points you can structure your article and ensure each point and sub-point is only addressed once.
- Indicate the importance of each point and sub-point. I like to use a highlighter for this. Pink for very important, yellow for fairly important, and so on. When you run out of colors, ask yourself if the material left is important enough to be included, or whether it can be cut.
- Get to the point. Ramblers take forever to get to the point. First, they will tell you what they were wearing, what the weather was like and why Cousin Sue happened to be there at the time. If you're taking a lot time to get to the point, cut the beginning from your article. This goes for paragraphs, too.
- Say what you want in the shortest possible way. You all know the sentence about the quick brown fox. This sentence not only uses every letter in the alphabet, but it says what it needs to with as few words as possible. A rambler would write "The fox, who was very quick, and happened to be brown, ran up to and jumped over the very lazy dog." I'm sure you'll agree that the original is much better.
These items won't cover everything you need to look at when reducing your word count, but they do provide a good starting base. If you want to remember them, just think of the biggest rambler you know and the things you would like to say to him: "You already said that." "Is the weather important?" "Get to the point." "I have to go soon. Can we hurry this up?"
Readers won't wish they could say these things to you. They'll just find something else to read. Keep your word count low and you'll keep your readers with you right to the end.
Liz Palmer is a freelance copywriter and editor, based in Australia. She works with businesses and writers, offering a range of proofreading, editing and copywriting services.