5 Steps to Reduce Clutter

Cluttered writing not only takes longer to read, it’s much more tedious and more likely to cause confusion. Obviously, this type of writing has no place in business.

Yet, business writing is often cluttered with jargon, redundancies and ineffective (sometimes lengthy) examples. When writing an email, presentation, report or article, we’re often told to “write clearly and concisely.” But what does this adage mean, exactly? How can business writers eliminate clutter to produce clearer and more concise writing?

There are many strategies to do this, but I think these five steps are the most important:

1. Determine what is vital: Pare information down to only the most important and relevant by carefully considering the project type and audience. This is often one of the most challenging aspects of writing, so take your time.  

2. Avoid redundancies: Replace redundant expressions or words with only the precise words needed to make your point. Check out this great list of common redundancies to eliminate from your writing.

  • Cluttered: In order to increase profits, we will look for new ways to cut costs.
  • Revised: To increase profits, we will look for new ways to cut costs.

3. Avoid empty openers: Eliminate “there is,” “there are” and “there were” from the beginning of sentences. “There” doesn’t add to the sentence’s meaning–and just clutters your writing.

  • Cluttered: There is a prize for the department that submits the most entries.
  • Revised: The department that submits the most entries receives a prize.

4. Reduce long clauses and phrases: Try to reduce the wordiness of your clauses and phrases. Converting to the active voice often does the trick!

  • Cluttered: The presenter who went first offered an interesting idea that we should implement.
  • Revised: The first presenter offered an interesting idea that we should implement.

5. Designate a final editor for collaborations: Collaborative writing yields a unique and interesting final product, but can often be cluttered with different writing styles and voices. Ensure the project is as concise as possible by designating a final editor–one member of your team, another colleague or a professional editor–to unify and streamline the writing.

Remember, reducing clutter isn’t about making your writing shorter, but making every word important. Creating more concise writing will convey your message more clearly, while showing your co-workers that you value their time.

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