Make Every Word Work: Tips for Writing Tight Sentences

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People are busy and distracted. To keep their attention focused on your copy from beginning to end, writing tight sentences is key.  

Tips for Tight Sentences

Mark Twain said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Here are some tips to identify those wrong words so you write more precisely and concisely.

Active Voice

Use the active voice instead of the passive voice. It’s clearer, livelier, and shorter.

  • Passive: A new promotion was proposed by Josh.

  • Active: Josh proposed a new promotion.

Get Rid of Extra Words

When writing tight sentences, you want to avoid expletive constructions. No, this isn’t about cuss words or swearing. Expletive constructions are those non-subject starters of there is/there are/there was/there were; it is/it was, etc. They add nothing to the sentence, so try to leave them out.   

  • Wordy: There are sentences that start with expletives and they sound long and clumsy.

  • Tighter: Sentences starting with expletives sound long and clumsy.

  • Wordy: There is a TV reporter at the opening ceremony.

  • Tighter: A TV reporter is at the opening ceremony.   

Use Simple and Clear Words

You don't need to use fancy language to write well. Use simple and clear words instead of wordier phrases.

  • Wordy: Despite the fact that it is projected to be a good sales quarter, there will be times when staff will be asked to monitor expenses, especially in regard to their travel arrangements.

  • Tight: Although sales should be up, we’re still expecting staff to watch their travel expenses.

Use Strong Verbs

When writing tight sentences, it's best to lose the adverbs. Adverbs are those "-ly" words that describe verbs. In his best-selling book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King advises ditching adverbs in favor of a stronger verb.     

  • Wordy: Josiah firmly closed the drawer.

  • Tight: Josiah slammed the drawer.

Get Rid of Filler Words

Watch for filler words. Also known as fuzzy or waffle words, these space-takers rarely deserve their place in your copy. Common culprits include actually, really, basically, clearly, and literally.

  • Filler: You could actually lose 10 pounds with this really easy workout plan.

  • Tight: You could lose ten pounds with this easy workout plan.

  • Filler: The crowd was really impressed.

  • Tight: The crowd was impressed.

Avoid redundancies. Many redundant phrases have crept into our everyday speech, so we don’t notice them. Proof slowly and ask yourself if every word is necessary. Grammar Girl has more on this.   

Some examples:

  • 6 a.m. in the morning = 6 a.m.

  • ATM machine = ATM

  • A distance of five miles = five miles

  • Clearly articulate = articulate

  • Combine together = combine

  • Inner thoughts = thoughts

  • Lasting legacy = legacy

  • Lift up = lift

  • More preferable = preferable

  • Natural instinct = instinct

  • Reconsider again = reconsider

  • Unexpected surprise = surprise

  • Vacillate back and forth = vacillate

  • Very unique = unique

  • Warn in advance = warn

  • Redundant: I heard the sound of sirens while we collaborated together on our future plan for the month of July.  Tight: I heard sirens while we collaborated on our plan for July.

Be Precise

Avoid imprecise words when writing tight sentences. Choose descriptive words over lazy ones. Delete “things” and “stuff” and find more descriptive nouns. Try to find a stronger verb for “put” and “said".

  • Imprecise: The animals made their way around the things on the floor and went into the other room.

  • Tight: The puppies scurried around the overturned chairs and into the kitchen.

Turn Nouns Into Verbs

Turn nouns into verbs. Again, these are common spoken expressions, but for tighter sentences the nouns can be used as action verbs.

  • Go for a walk = walk 

  • Make contact with = contact

  • Make a decision = decide

  • Make a prediction = predict

  • Take a shower = shower

  • Too many nouns: We made an arrangement to take a hike up Mount Morris Tight: We arranged to hike up Mount Morris.

Summary

Make every word work. When writing tight sentences, remember to use simple and clear words. Including redundant words has become a habit in our everyday speech, so you want to keep an eye out for words like "actually" and "really". If you can say the same idea in fewer words, then be as precise as possible.

Is writing tight sentences not in your skillset? Or maybe you enjoy writing but you'd rather work on other aspects of your business. Copywriters are writing experts who can craft precise copy for you. If you would like some help with writing your next piece, you can hire a copywriter here.

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