We prune trees to keep them healthy

Cutting off the dead and overgrown branches makes the rest of the tree stronger.

Pruning your copy and content makes your writing stronger, too.

You can do this by:

  • Removing dead words
  • Cutting back long, rambling sentences
  • Weeding out the waffle.

5 Good reasons to prune your copy

When you prune your copy, it will:

  1. Have better focus and flow
  2. Be more concise and easier to consume
  3. Have a clearer and more compelling message
  4. Be more punchy, powerful and effective
  5. Keep your readers engaged and interested.

10 things you can cut from your copy to make it stronger

So now you understand the value of pruning your copy, how do you go about it and what are the best things to cut?

1. Cut the extraneous details

When you add too much irrelevant and unnecessary detail to your copy, it’s easy to go off on tangents and lose sight of your message. The trick is to find and remove them when you edit your piece.

Cutting them out will streamline your copy and strengthen your message.

Remove anything that doesn’t:

  • Stick to the topic
  • Support your message
  • Strengthen your case.

2. Cut the unnecessary words

You don’t get extra credit for using more words than you need to, so keep it concise and don’t use several words where one or two would suffice.

For example:

  • In order to —> to
  • This is a subject which —> this subject
  • Due to the fact that —> because
  • With regard to —> regarding
  • In the event that —> if.

3. Cut the waffle

Waffle is defined as writing that’s vague and trivial.

It’s filler. The kind of content a student might use to bulk up their word count when they’ve run out of meaningful things to say.

But writing copy, is all about distilling and refining your message, making it clear, clean and streamlined. And this means the waffle has to go.

What counts as waffle?

Any section or sentence that doesn’t:

  • Add something valuable and interesting
  • Introduce something new and relevant
  • Improve clarity and understanding
  • Make valid and necessary points.

4. Cut the non-specific and indefinite words

Indefinite words make your writing sound woolly and vague. 

Cutting words like these from your copy will make it more powerful, assertive and confident.

Here are some examples of non-specific and indefinite words:

  • A bit
  • Can
  • Kind of
  • Like
  • May
  • Quite
  • Rather
  • Really
  • Reasonably
  • Somehow
  • Somewhat
  • Stuff
  • Things
  • Very.

5. Cut the long and rambling sentences

Long sentences can be convoluted and difficult to read.

For clarity, ease of reading, your sentences should be anything from one word up to a maximum of around 23 words. To maintain a good flow and to keep your audience engaged, you should vary your length sentence lengths.

An easy way to identify which sentences are too long is to read your copy aloud. If you need to stop for breath before you get to the end of a sentence, you should probably shorten it.

As a guide, ideally, each sentence should make one point — or two points at most.

6. Cut the ‘crutch’ words

‘Crutch’ words are supporting words. You might have been tempted to add them to make your copy sound more sophisticated, but, often, they’re not necessary.

Here are some examples of crutch words:

  • Absolutely
  • Actually
  • Basically
  • Completely
  • Essentially
  • Generally
  • Just
  • Literally
  • That
  • Totally.

7. Cut the jargon

Jargon is the specialised terminology you use in your industry. It’s language you know, understand and use regularly — but your customers don’t. If you use it in your copy, without explaining what it means, it will confuse your customers and make them think twice about buying from you.

Corporate jargon — also known as business speak — may also be unfamiliar to your customers. Or it may just make them cringe and groan. Because this jargon is incredibly annoying and roundly hated.

Examples of corporate jargon include:

  • Blue-sky thinking/thinking outside the box — otherwise known as thinking
  • Buy-in — agreement on a course of action
  • Core competency — to describe a person’s strength
  • Low-hanging fruit — aka easy wins
  • Peel the onion — meaning to dissect a problem or issue layer by layer
  • Reaching out — aka making contact
  • Solutions — a vague and overused word that could mean anything
  • S.W.A.T. team — meaning a group of experts.

8. Cut the formality

Unless you’re writing official/formal communications or legalese, you can drop the formality.

Some might say formality makes your writing sound professional, but, if you’re writing copy, all it does is make you sound stiff, corporate and boring.

Copy should be conversational and engaging. It should sound human and relatable to make a connection with your audience.

How to sound more conversational

Writing conversationally means writing more how we talk.

When we talk, we use contractions, for example:

  • What is —> what’s
  • Who is — who’s
  • Where is —> where’s
  • You are —> you’re
  • They are —> they’re
  • It is — it’s.

And we make our copy accessible, using words most people can understand without needing a dictionary.

9. Cut ‘that’

The word ‘that’ isn’t always necessary. If your copy still reads well and makes sense without it, you can remove it.

10. Cut the unnecessary punctuation

Punctuation plays an important role in your writing, but make sure you only use it where it’s needed. Overuse can be jarring to read and will interrupt your flow.

Need some help to prune your copy?

Sometimes you’re too close to your copy and you need an objective eye to show you where the problems are.

I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance copywriter, content writer and no-nonsense copy editor.

I once whittled down a client’s copy from two sides of A4 to half a side of A4. When I cut out all the dead wood, his piece was strong, focused and powerful — and he thanked me for it.

If you’d like me to do the same for you, it’s easy to get in touch.

Photo by Matt Glover Photography

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