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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Nonfiction Writing, Part 3: Writing Concisely

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

One of the biggest struggles people have when writing nonfiction is writing concisely. We have a tendency to be overly wordy when we speak, and that translates to excessively detailed writing. In some instances, such as fiction writing, detail can be to your advantage. But in most nonfiction writing, the goal is simple: have a point, and make it. To do so in as few words as possible takes both skill and an immense amount of editing.

So where does one start? My advice is to break it down into four easy steps.

Step 1: Weed out the extraneous words.
Removing unnecessary words may seem rather obvious, but you'd be surprised how many you will discover with a quick read-through. Since most of us write like we speak, there tends to be an entourage of the words that and of, as well as excessive adjectives/adverbs. This step is all about clearing out the clutter.

Step 2: Enhance your writing.
Replace weak verbs with strong ones, and eliminate helping verbs when possible. Improving verbs is an age-old rule the works for fiction and nonfiction alike. It makes your writing stronger and more professional.

Step 3: Edit the document until it is 50% of its original length.
One of my professional writing teachers in college introduced me to this step, and in my opinion, it's genius. The idea is to write your draft, then rework it so it's half the size. If your document is two pages, make it one. If it's ten pages, make it five. Doing so casts out fluff words, and you are left with a more straight-forward document.

Step 4: Repeat Step 3 until the original meaning is lost.
This is where the editing process gets interesting. If you thought Step 3 was hard the first time, wait until you repeat it. When you continue to halve your document until it is transfigured into a new document with a new meaning, you've reached the point where your document is as concise as it can be.

The process is challenging, but the end result is worth the effort: a clear, easy, and concise document.