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Why The Delete Key Is Important

November 8, 2011

“If you can delete a word from a sentence without changing the meaning, do so.”

I don’t know who said that (or something like it) but they were right. Editing should ensure clarity as well as factual accuracy, style and everything else.

This is particularly difficult when you’re editing your own work. After all, you wrote every word so they’re all there for a reason, right? Not necessarily. We’re all excessively wordy sometimes, especially if we’re writing in a conversational style.

You want examples? Alrighty, here’s a couple.

A few weeks ago I was editing a short article about property. This sentence leapt off the page as a great example of unnecessary wordiness (or a freelancer trying to fluff out their word count):

“The demand and supply forces in the current market have ruled a mandate that has dictated that…”

How many unnecessary words are there in that single phrase? Almost half the sentence is useless. The author could have written “Demand and supply in the current market dictate that…” and used nine words instead of seventeen. The meaning is the same and it’s a lot clearer.

More recently, I ran into the problem in my own writing. As you’re probably aware, Jill has finished her first edit of Going The Half-Hog, my book on freelance writing without marketing. Apart from the 143 corrections, changes and comments she made (aaargh!), she wrote almost an entire page of commentary about my distaste for advertising and marketing. According to her, the tone of one particular section was excessively venomous.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t often get nasty about subjects but when I do, I really let loose. The frequency of the expression “marketing whore” on this blog is testament to that! However, in her opinion – and mine once I’d read her well-considered argument – was that I sounded like a crazy man or someone with an axe to grind. That could alienate a large number of readers or make them wonder whether they can trust the opinion of someone so obviously deranged.¹

I sat and rewrote the section for over three hours. It was only a page long but every time I tried to express myself better, I fell into the same trap of sounding like Mr. Straightjacket, complete with foaming mouth and gnashing teeth. Not good.

In the end it was my lady who came to the rescue. She’s such an inspiration! I explained the problem and she solved it with a single phrase: “You need another solution.” Somewhere in my brain, synapses fired, a light-bulb lit and I knew what to do.

I deleted the entire section.

In four words, she gave me the insight to step back and realise that the page-long diatribe I had vomited onto virtual paper was completely useless. It didn’t add anything to the book and, in fact, detracted from the subject. It made me look like a ranting idiot rather than conveying useful information.

Lesson to learn: if something you’ve written doesn’t add value to your work, press the delete key. You’ll feel better, believe me.

¹ This is a superb example of why you need an editor for your work!

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