Cut to the Chase

The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what--these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. ~William Zinsser, On Writing Well

In my former position as a medical writer, I was given large amounts of detailed information and it was my job to pare it down to the most important points.When I trained new writers, my favorite instruction was "cut to the chase."

Be concise, I advised.

Just the facts.

That was valuable advice for my new medical writers, and it's just as valuable for writers in all genres. When I go back to revise a blog post or an essay, I'm always dismayed at the amount of hyperbole. I tend to use two words when one will do, or add another clause to a sentence when the first one would have sufficed.

"Strip every sentence to its cleanest components," Zinsser advised. Not an easy task in any form of writing, and even more complex when the writer aims to write beautifully as well as to tell a good story.

To do it, you must know exactly what you want to say with pinpoint precision, and you must not fear the sharp point of a red pen.

If you can accomplish it, you've created a masterwork.


Note: My friend Andi is hosting a writing contest that will test your skill in this department. It asks that you write about the Best Gift You Ever Received in 75 words or less.