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 every unnecessary word. 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 E38 Academy course, Ten Tips for Improving Your Analytic Writing.
Trimming unnecessary words has always been 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 just bog down analytic products, adding length and potential confusion, and you should trim them whenever possible. Such pruning is critical for producing a crisp, clean style that would make for a horrible novel but is necessary for an effective analytic piece.
I recommend three main tactics for purging unnecessary words:
- Always use the fewest words possible. This seems obvious, yet I find it’s the primary source of my edits. A simple rule to follow is if the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change or become vague if you delete a word, delete it. Also, anytime you can substitute few words or one for many, do it; I just substituted “vague” in the previous sentence for “less clear,” for example. Finally, be aware if you tend to overuse certain 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 expensive—but you can tell me it 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, don’t use up valuable words explaining oil prices will rise if Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz. Getting this right requires you know your intended customer well, of course.
- 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 our personnel overseas and the protests’ causes have nothing to do with our company, I don’t need to know much about them. Contextual information can be helpful, but put in in an appendix, text box, or hyperlinked document so that it doesn’t detract from the conciseness of your piece.
Learning how to purge your own 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 and phrases 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 one-hour course, Ten Tips for Improving Your Analytic Writing.